By Sue George in Val di Sole, Italy
Colombian Laura Abril made history Wednesday at the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships in Val di Sole, Italy, when she won her country's first-ever cross country gold medal. She defeated Barbara Benko (Hungary) and Mona Eiberweiser (Germany) in the junior women's race.
Throughout the race, Abril looked smooth and pedalled with steady concentration as she powered her way to a win. The 18 year-old has been racing since she was just seven years old, but her coach, Andrea Bianco, who is also the Colombian National Team coach, said he has been careful not to give her too many hours of training per week so she does not burn out after such a young start.
When she was younger, she went with her mother to see a doctor about a two-centimetre discrepancy between the length of her legs. The doctor proposed an operation to help correct the problem, but it was too costly for her family, so he suggested an alternative: start cycling. Abril did just that, and eventually she was winning the Pan American championships and beating the Colombian elite women.
"No, she never had the operation to fix the discrepancy," said Bianco. "But you can keep the problem at bay. For example, we use special soles on her shoes. And we also have her do lots of working her upper body and core. If those are strong, you can deal with the limbs."
Wining the junior world championship demonstrates Abril's potential, but is no guarantee of success as many juniors have struggled to make the transition to the elite ranks. When Abril was asked about her cycling future, she said: "The future is unknown. Whatever life brings, I will do my best."
The 18 year-old is in her final year as a junior and will head to university this autumn to study psychology. "She is very set on studying that," said coach Bianco.
Only time will tell if she will follow in the successful footsteps of the likes of other university-educated young world champions like Marianne Vos.