Interview: The Trek Factory Racing XC team

The Trek Factory Racing XC team visited South Africa for the first round of the UCI MTB World Cup season at Stellenbosch. We had the opportunity to chat with the team riders after the race at Meerendal Wine Estate. Hear what Emily Batty, Sergio Mantecón, Evie Richards, and Anton Cooper had to say about the inaugural Stellenbosch World Cup.

 

What was your experience of the Stellenbosch World Cup?


It was exciting for us to have a new race track, new features, and new things to focus on. None of the racers knew how they were going to perform on the track. It is also such a beautiful town but it was so dry and dusty which is also something different. I love and flourish in hot temperatures, so I enjoyed the weather.

 

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It was a really tough race. My performance result-wise was not what I was hoping to achieve. I am always after a top five, the medal positions, and ultimately the win.

 

There were a couple of riders who had just come off their cyclocross seasons and national races. Being a Canadian, I don’t have the opportunity to be race ready at this time of the year. Mid-season and World Championships are my goals this year, so I don't actually want to be firing on all cylinders this early in the season.

 

Did you adapt your normal training regime for the earlier race?


I have enough experience to know how to dial it all in on race day. I want to have a good performance but I also don’t want to be at my peak for the year so early in the season. How do I maintain that from March until the next race in May? Typically, I’m still in full training camp at this time of year.

 

What are your thoughts on the Stellenbosch course and features?


I love technical riding. I thrive and enjoy new technical features. While some riders might stress and lose energy. I feel that I have an advantage being comfortable pushing my own personal boundaries. I’m a climber as well and there was a bit of climbing but there could have been some more. I struggled a bit on the false flat power sections, like the start/ finish area going out.

 

How do you decide on what bike to ride in the race? (The full suspension Top Fuel or hardtail Procaliber)


I can train on one bike all week and be set on my mind that I will race that bike but I also don’t put pressure on myself to make a choice the day before. My mechanic understands that and it is just the way that I digest the track and observe it changing during the week. Tyre choice, the gear ratio sizes, and the frame choice are what I need to decide last minute before the race.

 

Because it was a rough track there were enough pedalling sections throughout the track where the full suspension helped. I believe the hardtail would have handled the features fine but there were those pedalling sections where the full suspension was still better. For me, it is all about feeling, a connection with the equipment and track.

 

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Photo credit: Trek Factory Racing XC/ Matthew DeLorme.

 

What is your typical bike choice back home?


At home in Ontario, we have really good trails. We don’t have the rocks, it is high speed, pedal through the corners for hundreds of kilometres. I’m still on 27.5 wheels for racing but at home, I think I would prefer 29er because of the speed. And if it were down to one bike, I’d choose the Top Fuel because you can really push the bike hard and it's comfortable. But when it comes to racing, the weight is important and if I feel that the track penalizes weight, I’ll reach for the hardtail.

 

You have changed between 29” and 27.5 during your racing. What is your current thinking on wheel size?


I was one of the very first riders on 29er when I was a youngster with the Trek team. I did four years on the 29 wheel and then the last three years I’ve gone with the 27.5 wheels. At the same time, I’ve transformed into a stronger, snappier, and more agile rider. When I was younger I had less strength and experience, I didn’t have that same connection with the 29” but now when I get back on the 29” I carry the technique from the 27.5 to the larger wheel size. So now I’m kind of relooking at the 29” wheel having that strength to muscle the bike around. It is going to be course dependent, for instance, Sea Otter is a hundred percent a 29” track.

 

Your dog Buddy seems to get a fair amount of your attention on social media. Tell us about him.


I’ve been doing the sport for a long time and I plan to do another two Olympics, my life revolves around the sport, so I’m not currently considering kids, so my fur child is my child.

 

He is a Welsh terrier. They are independent, rambunctious, and stubborn. He has a problem child kind of attitude. He’s a bit of an athlete himself hounding to be taken on trail runs and he can keep up with us at our endurance pace for 10 to 20 kms.

 

Where ever my husband and dog are that is where my heart is. I’m very rarely at home so I have to take the family with me sometimes. When we can, we take him on trips with us. He now even flys on the plane with us. He knows what the luggage is, so when we are packing, he knows that if he is obedient he will get to come with us otherwise he goes to the grandparents, so he is really good on the plane.

 

If you had not become a professional mountain biker, what do you think you would be doing?


I think I would have pursued snowboarding, snowmobile racing, and (as I got older) I also discovered dirt bike racing. We have a small slope back home which had a pretty good park and we spent five days a week playing in the park in winter.

 

I’ve also really taken a shine to race car driving. Through one of my sponsors, I’ve gotten involved with Porsche and now attend their local track days when I can.

 

As one of the more experienced riders in the Trek Factory Racing Team, do you consider yourself as a role model for the younger riders?


We all got to this level through doing things that work for us individually. But I am an open book when it comes to anything to do with performance, communication, and sponsorship. I’m happy to pay it forward. It took a lot of work for my husband and I to build up this knowledge.

 

Age means nothing in our sport. The age groups vary so much. It is simply about performance.

 

 

How did you find the Stellenbosch race?


I injured my leg last year, but I have been working very hard in my recovery. I did a couple of stage and XCO races early in the season. My UCI ranking is not so good, so my start position was bad. On my first lap, I was in 33rd and ended up 11th. The course was very dusty and difficult to pass, so I am very happy with my performance.

 

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What are your thoughts on the race course?


I think it is a complete course. It has a good physical component. Especially with the weather, it is hot. Fun to ride with lots of flow. The organizers did a very good job.

 

It was my first time in Stellenbosch. I’ve been to South Africa many times to Pietermaritzburg for World Cup and World Championships. I also did the Cape Epic in 2011.

 

How did you decide on which bike to race?


I arrived on the Tuesday. I looked at the course and thought it was one hundred percent a Top Fuel course. On Wednesday, I was on the Top Fuel and I used a dropper post for the first time. The evolution of the sport is influencing the bike choices with dropper posts, bigger wheels and tyes. For me, the Top Fuel was an advantage over the Procaliber for this course.

 

What did you do to prepare for the early start to the season?


It changed a lot. This year the season starts in March and finishes at the same time in September. So if you are in top shape at the beginning, it can be a long season. I just try to follow the orders of my coach. But it is important to get a good feeling in the first race. Last year, with the injury, it was important for my mental strength to have a good feeling from the beginning of the season.

 

If you had not become a pro cyclist, what would you have done?


I wanted to study architecture or engineering but at the last moment, I studied sports science instead. I had to stop my studies to become a pro cyclist as there is too much travelling and sponsor commitments. Hopefully, I can recover my studies in the future and continue my relationship with the sport.

 

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Photo credit: Trek Factory Racing XC/ Matthew DeLorme.

 

Have you considered doing the Cape Epic again?


I would like to repeat it. I am a very good rider in marathon races, and it is something I have to do again. You need a good block of rest afterwards. This year, we have six weeks to recover. The team decided not to do it, we thought about it but we have another commitment. Hopefully in the future it can work out.

 

What is your favourite track on the World Cup circuit?


I was really impressed with the Stellenbosch track. I like the course and I like the weather plus there was such a good passionate crowd. Everything considered, I loved it. Also Nové Město and Lenzerheide. I like that they are technical with little rest in-between. The heart rate is always high, on the ups and downs. You are on the limit all the time.

 

Other than your race bikes, what do your ride?


I do half of my training on the road bike with the rest on the mountain bike. I really like the Domane road bike. It is very comfortable and works on some gravel roads. I also train a lot on an enduro bike, the Slash. I sometimes use an e-bike on recovery days to get an easy ride with low heart rate and have some fun on the trails.

 

How does riding an enduro bike help?


You don’t find the features of an artificial course out on the trails. This is something you have to practice in a bike park. It is easy to learn on the enduro bike because the bike does the work if you make a mistake. On our cross country bikes, you have to be perfect.

 

How often did you use the dropper?


Some sections I could ride with a normal post but the dropper makes you more confident and you can relax more on the course with extra rest. Normally on every down, I used it.

 

How do you decide on bike set up?


We decide on everything at each course, making a perfect setup for that course. We are very lucky to have two very good bikes to choose from and then all the components to pick from there. The final decision is mine but I like to ask the mechanic. They watch the course and they know about the course and how it changes.

 

Do you take input from your team mates?


It is not a team sport XCO racing but we normally train together and we discuss the tyres and share information on the course. Normally we try to work together, which helps. Every rider is different but you can have a different opinion of the track.

 

 

How does it feel to be racing with Trek?


I’ve been riding Trek bikes since I started racing. And to be on the Factory Team is unreal.

 

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Does anyone ever ask you when you’re going to get a real job?


I saw an ex-teacher in the grocery store the other day and she asked when I was going to get a job. My dad was quite defensive, say that this is her job now. So I’m planning to go back to the school to explain it to everyone.

 

How did you find the Stellenbosch race?


It was quite hard having just raced cyclocross all winter. Going from the mud to dust was a big transition. Also, the technical features, the rocks and the jumps are just so different from the cross skills I’ve been learning. I’m happy with my position but I know there is more to give in the coming races.

 

How did you find the features on the course?


Everything was a bit challenging. I’m getting used to a new bike and coming over from the cross bike. The features were really cool and snapped me straight back into the mountain bike season.

 

It felt like the technical sections broke up the climbs. It was a bit of everything, there was no single long climb. I know my friends watched from home and they thought there was so much going on, it was cool to watch.

 

Have you worked on your technical skills?


My confidence sometimes gets in the way. Tracy Moseley helped me out a lot last year. With her, I was able to conquer the Lenzerheide course for the first time, so there is definitely progression and I’ll be back on her farm down the road for some more.

 

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Photo credit: Trek Factory Racing XC/ Matthew DeLorme.

 

How was your preparation for the early start of your mountain bike season?


It was probably more of a problem on the technical side. Less time to get into the swing of it. With racing cyclocross, I had the race experience on my side. And I have Commonwealth Games coming up in April.

 

What bikes do you train on back home?


My mum hates how many bikes I have at home. Hanging all over the house. I train on my two mountain bikes at home and road bike but I do 90% of my training on my mountain bike to stay in position. Obviously, there are also my cross bikes and I have a town bike to go shopping.

 

Where do you spend most of your time?


I moved away from home two years ago but I’ve now moved back this year. I’m a real home girl so I just enjoy it more. I started riding with my dad and being home with him helps.

 

How do you balance cyclocross and mountain bike racing?


I try to go into the cyclocross season a bit late for quality rest. Obviously, I’d like to do a full season. When there is no Olympics or Commonwealth Games, I’ll try fit that in. I’m not great at resting so working with my coach helps me with that. The two disciplines complement each other well so I am quite lucky. I love them both, so I couldn’t stop one of them.

 

I feel like cross has always been a fun thing to do in winter. It’s a good atmosphere with all the supporters and it is very laid back. I feel it is a bit of a show race for an audience.

 

Does the crossover improve your abilities?


Definitely. Just having that consistent race experience. The more I race the more confident I become, especially having started young. As long as you’re on a bike, anything is going to benefit you.

 

Is there any compromise in the way you setup your bikes?


Only just this year I had my cross set up sorted. Previously, I had been riding borrowed bikes including my first World Champs win. Not until this year have I had people asking me how I like my setup. Before that I’ve been happy to just a get on a bike and ride.

 

How do you keep track of your setup for each type of race?


I keep a diary of every race and the tyres I ride and pressures and I go back each year to look what I thought about that race the previous year. It also helps crossing over between cross and mountain bike because you can forget.

 

What is your favourite course in World Cup series?


Nové Město. I love my family coming to watch, it’s easy to access for them there. And the noise, it’s so loud its hard to focus.

 

 

Was it always your plan to become a professional rider?



If you asked me at the start of 2011, with a year and a bit left of high school, I didn't have a clue what I was going to do. The dream was to be a pro mountain biker but it wasn’t a reality that many recognised then.

 

When you win your first big race overseas, you really get noticed, especially if you're not European. Brands wonder whether there is something marketable.

 

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What prepared you to be so successful in your first overseas races?


At that stage, there were some strong Elite and U23 men in New Zealand. I was still a junior. Thankfully the commissaires let me race with the elites although I was cut short during the race.

 

If I were just racing the juniors, I was just clearing up. It gave me someone to compete against. You only know how strong you are when you have someone to chase.

 

How has the success of New Zealand riders changed things back home?


People who are not aware of mountain biking ask some funny questions. They’re not disrespectful just trying to understand. But we’re becoming a bit more recognised in New Zealand because we’re sports mad and people love to hear about us doing well.

 

The kids' scene is booming. Participation numbers are up and the schools cycling programmes are growing.

 

Myself, Sam Gaze, and Ben Oliver are our top three core group of riders. In far as national programme support there was never anything there for us and now they are recognising that there is talent that they need to develop.

 

The Stellenbosch race, how did you find it?


It was pretty good. It was a funny race for me, a real roller coaster. The start was really good and the first lap and second but then, once the pace remained high, I was not able to maintain. I could probably only last another lap or two at that speed, so I backed off a bit and start working with another group. There were times in the race when my legs felt like lead but then recovered and felt fine again.

 

It’s hard being the first World Cup of the year when you haven’t done too much racing against stronger opponents. Overall, I am happy with sixth. I had only one better result last year.

 

How does the timing of the first World Cup impact your training and season?


A lot of Europeans train here but for someone else in the Southern Hemisphere training at home at this time is good. It would have been easier for me to get to Europe than here. So it’s not perfect for me.

 

It would be good to see this World Cup a little bit closer to the rest of the series. It might work better for everyone else, I could head straight to Europe instead of home to New Zealand before heading to Commonwealth Games and back to Europe. But it’s never perfect for everyone.

 

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Photo credit: Trek Factory Racing XC/ Matthew DeLorme.

 

Will we see some changes on the podiums this year with the younger riders stepping up?


Every year people have been saying that. Absalon and Kulhavý haven’t been consistent recently to compete with Nino. The younger guys can be really good for some races but it's hard to be consistently good at every World Cup. You need experience and lots of training in the legs so you are more physically robust. Younger guys fluctuate a lot more. I find myself picking and choosing races.

 

Your thoughts on the Stellenbosch course and features?


There was nothing that was a real challenge. There were things that you could make a mistake on easily. In the manmade sections, there is only one line, it is one dimensional in that sense, you don’t have to think coming in. Compared to the natural tracks where there are lots of choices.

 

My favourite was the Varsity Drop out area. It seemed more natural and raw rather than being made for TV to look visually imposing.

 

What was your bike choice for the race?


I used the Procaliber hardtail because I felt really good on it here. I grew up racing hardtail and it is my prefered bike for the majority of courses. I only need a fully to pedal through rough stuff. I’ve never encountered a technical section where I feel I’ll be slower on the descents on the hardtail. Natural courses like Nové Město with the routes and rocks, you need a full suspension to sit and plow through the rough. On a hardtail, you’ll get caught up pedalling through those sections.

 

What other bikes do ride back home?


Back home, I only ever train on my Procaliber. But if I had to pick one bike for everything the Top Fuel would suit me well. I train a lot on the road. Probably half my hours on a road bike.

 

Trek Procaliber Bike Check:


Get an up-close look at Emily Batty and Evie Richards's Trek Procaliber race bikes here.

 

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1 Comments

MASVPurple, Apr 06 2018 10:12

nice pictures

would prefer video f