This phrase is literally and metaphorically relevant for all mountain bikers. Strava cycling pro Lea Davison tells us “there are times in every season where I crash, I’m covered in dirt, and literally have to pick myself up and try again.”
Fueled by maple syrup, Lea had her hand in every sport from a young age. It’s no wonder her persistence, positivity and hard work have lead her to the front of the pack. We caught up with the Vermont local after her best season yet to learn how she shakes those pre-race nerves, trains in the off-season and uses Strava.
Lea Davison Rider Journal: I grew up in Jericho, VT on a lot of maple syrup. My mom, Lucia Davison, was a product of the pre title IX generation so she didn’t have any athletic opportunities. As a result of this, she and my dad threw me and my sister, Sabra, into every sport possible. I grew up running, playing soccer, little league, swimming, sailing, skiing, and even windsurfing. I discovered that mountain biking was the perfect blend of fitness from cross country running and skills from downhill ski racing, both sports which I was very involved with at the time.
What aspect of the sport would you find most difficult to live without?
Freedom. Freedom to travel the world. The opportunity to work hard, push my limits, and see where it will take me. I get to ride my bike everyday. It’s incredible.
Do you get pre-race nerves? What do you do to shake them?
YES. I most definitely get really nervous before races. My friend Elke Brutsaert once told me that nerves are good because it means you have the potential to do really well.
If I weren’t nervous, it would mean that I didn’t care. Nerves are good sign. It means I have high energy going into the race.
However, I do have to control them. Too many nerves can mean I will race too tense. I try to smile on the start line and take some deep breaths to relax. I also try to focus on the opportunity that I have to do my best rather than being scared of the race.
Tell us about your 2013 season: What are some of the highlights?
The absolute highlight was riding to fourth place in the last world cup of the season in Norway. I was second wheel from the start of the race and in the lead group. I felt amazing and it was so incredible to really be in the mix in a world cup.
The other season highlights include winning the XC national championships (I’ve been gunning to wear that USA kit for a long time now), a fifth place finish at the Mount Saint Anne World Cup in front of my family and friends, and winning the Catamount Classic ProXCT Finals in front of my hometown and the Little Bellas.
At Langkawi you were leading when you took a wrong turn. What was going through your mind when you realized what had happened.
At first, I was really frustrated because Maja and I had worked so hard to get a lot of time on the other girls. I was feeling fantastic that day and really taking advantage of it. Then, after a long two hour spin finding our way back to the hotel, I came to the conclusion that, if making a wrong turn when leading a stage race is Malaysia is the worst thing that happened that day, it’s still a pretty good day. I just decided to move on and focus on the opportunities in the four stages that followed. And it worked out.
You’ve ridden all over the world; what’s the most exotic place you’ve mountain biked? Describe what makes it unique.
I’ve been lucky enough to get the opportunity to ride all over the world, but Malaysia is the most exotic place I’ve mountain biked. It’s so unlike any other race I’ve ever been a part of. It’s on an island. It’s in Asia. It’s muddy and it’s in the jungle. It’s hot. The food and culture are very different to where most of the world cups take place in Europe. Instead of the typical European bread, cheese, and meat for breakfast, there’s curry for breakfast in Malaysia. It’s wild.
Who do you consider to be your biggest rival?
The world cup fields are deep enough to not have one main rival. There are too many fast girls to just focus on one. If I had to name a person, it might be Georgia Gould because we absolutely battle it out once the gun goes off. But, most importantly, she’s my best friend on the circuit and I’m one of her biggest supporters.
How relevant is this phrase to you: “dust yourself off and try again”
This phrase is literally and metaphorically relevant. There are times in every season where I crash, am covered in dirt, and literally have to pick myself up and try again.
The moment that comes to mind from this season is the World Championships in South Africa. There was this steep A Line with log stairs and a sharp ninety-degree corner at the bottom. On my first attempt, I unclipped at the top of the feature, somehow rode through it with one foot in, and then tanked it into the fencing at the bottom. I was lucky that my hip took most of the impact on the fence post and nothing else. I was able to get up and ride again, but it took me a couple days of visualization to work up the courage to ride the stairs again. The day before the race, I rode it, and then I rode it in the race.
Do you have any mentors or role models, how do they influence you?
Andy Bishop is my coach, my mentor, and my role model all wrapped up into one. He rode at a very high level on the road (Tour de France) and on the mountain bike and he lives in Vermont. I’ve finally found a coach that really works for me and understands. Working together, we went to the Olympics. I sometimes call him my ‘life coach’ because I feel like he dictates my life more often than not.
Also, I always seem to use Katerina Nash as my benchmark in races. I know if Katerina can do it, I can do it. So, it’s fantastic when she wins world cups because it inspires confidence in myself.
What is your go-to bike snack?
I really love the salty Margarita Clif Shot Bloks and Clif coconut Mojo bars. Inspired by the Feedzone Portables cookbook, I’ve also really gotten into pancake sandwiches. I love pancakes and I’ll take two and slap some almond butter and coconut butter in between them. It’s delicious.
How have you used Strava in your training?
Strava is functioning as my new training log. It’s more fun to track my training than writing everything down in a notebook. My training becomes way more socially interactive and I can track my personal records on climbs and segments that I frequently use for intervals. It’s a great way to track improvement, plus it’s always really fun to get QOMs. Since I ride in new places a lot, I always use the segment explore to locate good interval climbs and create training routes. I spend a lot of time looking at that Strava map.
Do you cross-train with other sports? What does your off season look like? What are you most looking forward to?
My off-season is comprised mostly of cross training. I go to Kauai for November and December to stay with my girlfriend Jojo’s, family. I use this time to surf and put in a huge strength training block with my strength coach, Bill Knowles, which HP Performance designs for me. Then, I return back home to Vermont to cross country ski and my sister Sabe kicks my butt into shape. Sabe’s main sport is nordic skiing. I usually compete in the citizen biathlon race every Thursday (shooting and skiing) and then race in a couple of marathons. It’s so important for me to get off the bike and work on my fitness in other ways. I need that refresher mentally and physically. I’m looking forward to it all. I love Kauai and I love snow.
What is your best piece of training advice?
Work hard. Work harder than any of your competitors because that’s the only thing you can control.
Recover. Rest and recovery is so often overlooked and probably the most important thing. A body needs time to rebuild so take at least one easy day per week.
If you could pass one thing on to the next generation of cyclists, what would it be?
Equality. I would like to pass on a cycling world that is completely equal for female cyclists; equal prize money, equal media coverage, equal race opportunities, and equal career opportunities.
My sister and I are working on creating that world by getting more females on bikes with our nonprofit mentoring on mountain bikes program, the Little Bellas. We also made another step in the right direction with this year’s Catamount Classic. G-Form put up more prize money for the women than the men to make up for lost time, and the women raced in the premiere time slot in the afternoon after the men raced.
What’s your secret talent (it doesn’t have to be bike related).
I’m the best at silly, goofy dancing. Only my sister could give me a run for my money. I also love making Thai food.
Anything else you would like to share or think we should know?
The Little Bellas runs camps for 8-14 year olds at the Sea Otter Classic in Monterey, CA, Beti Bike Bash in Colorado, Catamount Classic in Williston, VT, and Providence Cyclocross Festival in Providence, Rhode Island. We also run weeklong camps in Vermont during the summer and Sunday sessions in the summer. Find out more information and sign up Littlebellas.com