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Haley Batten was so in the zone that nothing could faze her.
Except, perhaps, stealing a glance at the rainbow stripes whizzing through the trees on the track ahead of her.
“I could see Pauline [Ferrand-Prévot] a couple times, and I was like, ‘no. No! Wait, what’s going on,” Batten told VeloNews.
While she may have been momentarily surprised to be riding within sight of world champion Pauline Ferrand-Prévot, Batten didn’t show it. Instead, the 22-year old just kept riding her own ride — all the way to a third place finish at her first elite World Cup XCO race in Albstadt, Germany on Sunday.
“It was one of the those days, it’s so rare that you get that,” Batten said. “From start to finish, I was in that place, racing hard and so in control of my effort and just steadily moving to front of the field.”
Short track temp check
An 11th place finish at Friday’s short track (XCC) race put Batten in the second row for the XCO call-up on Sunday. Start position in the World Cup races can have a tremendous effect on a rider’s ability to move to the front during a race.
That position put Batten at an early advantage, and the Trinity Racing rider said she felt great by the time Sunday’s race rolled around.
“Coming off the short track, I could tell that I felt really good, that my body felt really strong,” she said. “To some extent it depends on where you are mentally and physically. You have to be so aware of what you feel like race week. Maybe your prep wasn’t the best in the world, or your legs feel a bit off, but you have to race really smart with the body that you have on race day. Wherever your legs are, you have to tap into that and race accordingly.”
In fact, Batten’s good start position was initially derailed when Kate Courtney slipped off her pedal in front of Batten on the start line. Then, a rider in front of her dismounted on one of the early climbs during the first lap.
Batten said she watched a handful of riders pass her as she waited to get back on her bike, and like that, she had fallen into a position in the 20s.
“I was watching the replay, and it was like, ‘oh I’m a little ways back there on one of the first climbs in the start lap,'” she said. “But it didn’t even faze me. I was so excited to be there, to see what my body felt like and race the best I could.”
Prior to 2021, Batten spent a full four years racing in the U23 classification because she “wanted to learn how to win and learn how to win consistently.”
While she now has the opportunity to put to test all that she gained as a U23 rider, Batten also gets the additional opportunity that short track racing presents. To have more than one race per week, Batten said, is a huge advantage when assessing fitness and mental headspace.
Another advantage to being a first-year elite?
“There are really no expectations,” Batten said. “I’m just so excited to be racing at this level, it’s like, ‘let’s just see what I can do.”
‘I just wanted to be there’
While an hour and a half of intense MTB racing might seem like an eternity for us non-elites, Batten said that her effort on Sunday felt more like a flow state than a suffer fest.
“I honestly was so in the zone that race that the 1.5 hours went by really fast and my body felt so capable,” she said.
After the early snafus on the beginning lap, Batten steadily worked her way forward with each kilometer. The 4.2 km circuit at Alsbtadt is non-technical and full of climbs, and Batten cruised through the forest, off-camera for the first two laps. Then, for viewers, it was as if she appeared out of nowhere.
For her, there was a similar feeling.
“I moved into third a bit earlier than I remember,” she said. “I think I spent the last 2.5 laps there. I wasn’t in the battle early on. I was moving up and moving up, and then I was like, ‘oh, I’m riding with Kate!’
Even as Batten overtook former world champ and fellow U.S. Olympic long team member Kate Courtney, she didn’t feel like she was getting in over her head. Sure, she had the occasional fleeting thought — “can I hold this?” — but her mental training had prepared her to ignore it.
Most importantly, Batten simply knew that she wasn’t out of her league; in fact, she was right where she belonged.
“I’ve been ready for this for a long time and shown glimpses in results,” she said. “I’ve been prepared to do it but just hadn’t done it yet.”
Batten said that it wasn’t until the final stretch to the finish line when she got a high-five from her boyfriend that she realized what she’d just accomplished. You can read the story on her face as she crossed the line.
“It was so hard for me to believe that I’d actually done it,” Batten said. “It felt like someone else had done it. I’d wanted to be that racer for so long and that’s what I train for every day. At some point in the race, it was like, I just wanted to be there.”