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Mountain

Who is Judy Freeman and why is she on the Team USA world’s roster?

Earlier this month USA Cycling announced its picks for the 2009 UCI mountain bike world championships, starting Tuesday in Canberra, Australia. A quick look at the list of elite cross-country riders reveals the usual heavy hitters of America off-road racing: Mary McConneloug, Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski and Adam Craig, to name a few. There’s also the name Judy Freeman.

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By Fred Dreier

Freeman racing in Colorado earlier this season

Freeman racing in Colorado earlier this season

Photo: Tom Moran

Earlier this month USA Cycling announced its picks for the 2009 UCI mountain bike world championships, starting Tuesday in Canberra, Australia. A quick look at the list of elite cross-country riders reveals the usual heavy hitters of America off-road racing: Mary McConneloug, Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski and Adam Craig, to name a few.

There’s also the name Judy Freeman.

Freeman, who rides for the Tough Girl-Scott pro team, is arguably the most unknown rider to represent the United States at the world championships in five years. Freeman has no signature lines of clothing or products. She has never been featured in a major cycling magazine. She had never raced in Europe, and has only raced in only two World Cups.

Freeman, 35, is just another domestic pro trying to make a name for herself in the fickle world of women’s bicycle racing.

“I was completely surprised that I (was named to the world’s team). It’s a dream come true,” Freeman told VeloNews. “I was in New York for the (August 15 Yankee Clipper Pro XCT) when someone told me they’d seen the USA Cycling press release and that I was on the team. I had put an application in (to USA Cycling) but hadn’t heard anything.”

According to Marc Gullickson, USA Cycling’s director of mountain bike development, a spot opened up for Freeman after regular worlds team member Lea Davison chose to forego the competition in order to race the final two World Cup rounds. Freeman, along with fellow Coloradans Katie Compton and Georgia Gould, received a discretionary slot for the event.

“I’m excited to see how (Freeman) will do. I know she hasn’t had a ton of international experience,” Gullickson said. “But she’s had some really impressive rides this year. I think the (Canberra) course will be good for Colorado riders.”

Gullickson said Freeman’s improvements this year weighed heavily in USA Cycling’s selection committee’s decision. Freeman, who turned pro in 2003, regularly cracked the top-20 in major domestic races, such as the Sea Otter Classic and select NMBS events before this year. But in 2009 she’s been the woman to beat at Colorado’s Mountain States Cup events and a regular top-10 finisher on the Pro XCT. She finished seventh in both the cross-country and short track at this year’s national championships, held at Sol Vista resort in Granby, Colorado.

Where did the extra speed come from?

Freeman is not shy about discussing the root of her improvement. Like millions of Americans, Freeman was a victim of the economic downturn at the end of 2008. In November, she lost her job at a Boulder, Colorado-area marketing firm, and found herself seeking employment. After a few months of dead ends, Freeman said she turned to her trusty pastime of racing bicycles.

“I’ve always been sitting in these two worlds, one as a worker and the other as a competitive cyclist,” Freeman said.

But with so few paying jobs available in women’s mountain biking, Freeman has had to find other ways to pay for her racing. She’s led mountain biking skills clinics and coached to get by during the summer months. She had to trim down her proposed racing season, and substituted regional Colorado events for national-level races. She’s reached for her credit card more times than she’d like to admit. But the world’s nomination, she said, is a just reward.

“It can be frustrating. There are a lot of us trying to make racing work in this country and there just aren’t that many opportunities,” Freeman said. “That’s life. I saw (losing her job) as an opportunity to focus on racing.I told myself I’m going to embrace (racing full time), stretch my dollars and make it happen.”