What do Alison Sydor, Marie Helen Premont and Catharine Pendrel have in common? All are fast Canadian cross country racers that were or are at the top of their sport. The 23-year-old Emily Batty is well on her way to adding her name to that list.
"I was fortunate and had a super on season all year long," Batty told Cyclingnews. "It was my most successful season yet."
Batty had a fantastic 2011, during which the first-year elite category rider just seemed to get stronger and stronger. Her consistency paid off and she earned an eighth place overall in the World Cup.
She kicked off the season with a 16th at the Pietermaritzburg, South Africa World Cup and then 15th at Dalby Forest in the United Kingdom and in Offenburg in Germany. Racing on home turf in Mont-Sainte-Anne, Quebec, Canada, Batty logged a career-best seventh place. After an 18th place at the Windham World Cup in New York, Batty backed up her Mont-Sainte-Anne result with an eighth place at Nove Mesto na Morave in the Czech Republic. In the final World Cup in Val di Sole, Italy, she finished 12th.
Batty capped of her season by matching her eighth in the World Cup with an eighth place at the world championships in Champery, Switzerland.
"I think I met a lot of my own little objectives that no one else really knows about. The small things are important toward my larger goals," said Batty. "I learned more this year than I ever have. Leading in to the Worlds, I wanted to do well in the Czech Republic. I was aiming for 10th and I got eighth. In Italy, I wanted to be top 15, and I was 12th. In Worlds, I wanted top 10 and was eighth."
Part of her success came from all the work she concentrated on her known weaknesses in 2011. "For example, starts are so crucial at a World Cup, and I improved a lot on them. We worked on my ability to sustain max efforts for longer period of time. Our races are 1.5 hours long."
Nutrition proved to be another important factor for Batty. "It's hard to stay gluten-free, but for the most part, that was a big deal to me," she said. "I also eat minimal dairy. I function better and have way more energy being gluten-free. Digestion is huge for athletes - we consume so much more food than the average person. I believe now that I do have an allergy for wheat.
"[Fiance] Adam [Morka] and I have never been grain eaters, so we never eat pasta or bread. We eat things like potatoes or sweet potatoes. We've never consumed wheat or grain products much, so the transition wasn't hard. When you completely stay away from it, you don't look for it."
When talking about the 2012 season with elite cross country racers, it's impossible not to discuss the London Olympic Games.
"The Olympic team is more realistic to me than ever before," said Batty. "At the end of 2011, there were a bunch of qualifiers for the Olympics. In my mind, I envision being at the Games. I'm training every day for that medal, and I stay positive and focus on that."
The first step to winning an Olympic medal is making the Olympic team, something that is a major accomplishment if you are a Canadian female cross country racer.
"Canada is ranked number one in the world," said Batty. "We have Catharine Pendrel, Marie Helen Premont and me competing for two spots. It makes it very difficult, but it's very motivating, too." At the 2011 Canadian national championships, Batty finished third after Pendrel and Premont.
By virtue of winning the 2011 world championships, Pendrel has locked up one of the spots. That means Batty is competing with veteran Marie Helen Premont, who first retired and then extended her career through the 2012 Olympic Games.
Several end of 2011 season events were important toward qualifying for the Canadian Olympic team, and the first three World Cups of 2012 will also be key.
"A lot of people are starting to ask 'What am I doing to prepare for the Olympics?'. The first step is to qualify, but at the same time, it's easy to get wrapped up in those first three races and forget that the actual goal is to be in the Games. I want to take one step at a time. At the back of my mind, it's preparing and then actually going if I make it. My day-to-day training includes lots of hours of thinking and preparing and dealing with my own heavy thoughts."
Batty calls Brooklin, Ontario, home, but it's not the best place to log winter training miles due to the cold climate. She and Adam typically travel to a warmer locale to get those winter and early spring miles in the legs.
"The South Africa World Cup is March 17, which is almost a month earlier than last year's [first] World Cup," said Batty. "In the past, Adam and I have always gone to Tucson, Arizona, on the first of January and stayed until the first US Cups in mid to late March."
The pair headed to the Southwest in the later third of November, nearly six weeks earlier than normal. "We prefer quality instead of sticking it out at home in the cold." Batty said they may also spend some time later on in California.
Batty is a mountain biker through and through, but she does not do much of her training on the dirt. "Most people do a lot of mountain biking in training, but we save most of our mountain bike riding for specific workouts.
"This season, when I went mountain biking, it was never for an endurance ride. That would teach me habits like cornering slower. Any time I had a super-specific workout, we'd find trail and work on it. I was doing my base endurance training on the road."
Batty calls herself a homebody and appreciates all the help she can get while on the road. In 2011, for the first time, Adam was able to travel with her to all the races.
"Typically I lose focus after seven days of being away without Adam, so having him there this past year made a huge difference. He is also my coach, and we work a lot on mental strategies and structuring race strategies.
"Staying relaxed and comfortable and centered showed up in my results this year. I think that's something I have to give credit for - I was fortunate that he was able to do that this year." Batty is counting on Adam again being able to travel with her throughout 2012.
"Hopefully, yes, he'll come again in what may be the most important year of my life. There's no reason in changing what works."
Batty and Morka are engaged to be married, and have set a wedding date that will not interfere with her Olympic preparations. "We've been talking forever about a wedding. My parents built a beautiful stone house on the north end of our property. We've been talking about where we'd stand and what the party would be like. We'd like to get married next September, but it would be stressful due to the Olympics, so we'll do it in September of 2013."
Morka proposed while the pair was in Italy this summer for the World cup. "We rode to the top of a mountain overlooking the Val di Sole, and he put his bike on the side of the trail, leaned it against the rail and then popped the question with a ring."
The rest of 2012
While Batty's focus will be on the World Cups and the Olympic Games, she expects to attend a few US Pro XCT events. "Some races will be used strictly for training and some will be important for sponsorship. The plan is to be at a handful of them, more likely later in the season."
Batty thinks that she will not be racing the Sea Otter Classic though she has had success there in previous years.
The young rider competed for the Subaru-Trek team in 2011, and she recently renewed her contract with squad again for 2012.
Going into 2012, her attitude will be very different than it was going into 2011.
"There is a difference between wanting to be in a place and knowing you should be in a place. It's different to know that you are more than capable of riding in the top 15 or top eight. I learned throughout the year in 2011 that my ability and fitness and strength were top 10 capable consistently.
"From the beginning until the end, I believed that I could be up there in the top 10. Now it's my own expectation."
Batty, who is five feet, two and a half inches tall, has fallen in love with her 29er bike since making the move from racing 26-inch bikes while part of the Trek World Racing team.
"I absolutely love it and I feel that I race faster on the 29er," she said. "I race technically way faster. I know with Willow (Koerber) having been on the 29er a few years ago, the question was 'Is it more for bigger, taller people?'. I think that I and other people have proved that my height is not an issue.
"It's a benefit to race the World Cup courses these days on the 29er. Each course has at least one distinct tech section on it and the bigger the wheels, the smaller the obstacle. I truly feel that I race faster on the 29er."
Batty said that as of 2011, she still had a choice to race 26er or 29er. "I had a 26-inch Trek Top Fuel, but I didn't ride it once this year. I went with the 29er Trek Superfly hardtail. At Worlds, my bike was about 18 lbs, 2 oz - it was so light. That's a big deal for someone of my weight."