The story behind Davison’s wild ride to MTB worlds silver

Lea Davison took the biggest result of her career with second at mountain bike worlds. Now she's ready to challenge for a medal in Rio.

American Lea Davison clawed her way onto the podium at the mountain bike world championships in the Czech Republic, winning silver after a disappointing start to the race. With an impressive drive through the pack to finish second on the day, Davison announced herself as a legitimate medal contender next month as the best women take to Rio for an Olympic-sized battle.

But Davison’s silver medal did not come easily, and it wasn’t the race she was planning for. “I just barely missed the crash that happened on the start,” she says. “It shocked me so I wasn’t moving up as quickly in the start as I wanted to, and I got caught out in a bad position.” At the end of the first lap, Davison found herself hovering around a distant 16th place. But the leaders were still within sight and she knew she had to go, and go now, to get herself back in the race.

Photo: Specialized
Photo: Specialized

Attacking on the second lap, Davison put everything she had on the line. She didn’t mess around with tactics, didn’t care what was going on around her. She just kept passing the next woman in front of her as fast as she could. Surprising herself, Davison made her way into the top five by the start of the third lap and was just 30 seconds off the third-place rider.

With one lap to go, the American was still trailing the leaders by 30 seconds, and she started coming to terms with a fourth-place finish. She was proud of her effort, having attacked the entire race. Suddenly, halfway through the lap, Davison came upon the third-place rider Sabine Spitz standing in the bushes on the side of the trail. The German rider had flatted, but Davison was convinced Spitz had simply dropped a chain and was back on her bike and chasing. “I just went totally ballistic!” Davison said.

Just as she realized the bronze medal was in her hands, Davison came upon another rider off her bike, in the last technical zone. Maja Wloszczowska of Poland, who was in second place, was stopped with a puncture as well and Davison rode herself into the second place. “It didn’t sink in until I came over the rise and I saw the finish line,” Davison says. “I just started losing my mind, I was so excited!”

Photo: Specialized
Photo: Specialized

Looking toward Rio

Davison’s never-give-up attitude paid dividends with an impressive move from 16th to second place at the world championships. Not only did she prove to herself that she could put in this effort consistently for the entire race, but a silver at worlds takes some pressure off as she looks toward Rio.

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“I’m approaching it like any other race,” she says. “It’s a phenomenal opportunity to ride as hard as I can and just soak up the experience … I want to go in relaxed enough that I can actually absorb the experience.” But that doesn’t mean her training and racing schedule will be relaxed over the next six weeks.

Davison explains that the Rio course is a power course: “It’s kind of a like a road race with high-speed rock gardens.” So she’s been focusing on strength and leg speed this season to prepare for the challenging conditions. Over the winter, she did 30-minute high-cadence spins on the trainer before every ride, and recently she’s spent a huge amount of time motorpacing to prepare for the fast Rio conditions.

It is the hardest training block she’s ever done, but with challenging training comes confidence, especially after the worlds result. “Worlds just adds to the excitement. It was a great stepping-stone and now I’ll go home for another big training block to prepare for the Olympics.”

Davison sounds calm and collected talking about her chances to medal in Rio. But her excitement about the Games is hard to miss. With dreams of standing on the podium in Rio, Davison also knows that it’s about the experience as much as the result. She knows the Olympics are special and that only a lucky few get to live this dream — even fewer get to live it twice. “Every part of the Olympics is so cool,” she says. “You become addicted because it’s such an incredible experience.”

The only thing that could make it better would be that prized Olympic medal swinging from her neck at the end of the day.

Photo: Specialized
Photo: Specialized