One of the keys to a long and enjoyable pro cycling career is bit of variety. Kelli Emmett, 34, in her fifth year with the Giant Factory Off-Road Team, knows this as well as anyone. Emmett turned pro in 2000 after two years of amateur racing and is nearing the likely final few years of her career.
Speaking of her 2011 season, she said to Cyclingnews, "This year is different. At the beginning of the season, the team came to me and said, 'What do you want to do this year?' It was awesome to have that opportunity and not have a team say, 'These are the races you'll be doing'."
Emmett, who is originally from Michigan but lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado, was given a blank slate on which to create her perfect season. That should mean lots of motivation to do her favorite races and some new ones, too.
"If I can turn out better results and enjoy what I'm doing, it'll benefit Giant, too. I'm going to Leadville this year (for the Leadville 100), which is a new challenge for me. Leadville will be a big focus, I'd like to win it and to also check out the vibe."
One of her favorite races, the two-day contest at Downieville, is also on her schedule. It annually includes two big days of racing. "(Teammate) Carl (Decker) and I had great races there last year. We both won one day and the overall, but I didn't win the downhill - I was second in that. This, year I want to win both events."
Another major goal is the US Mountain Bike National Championships, which will be held this year in Sun Valley, Idaho in mid-July. "I've always been slightly disappointed by my non super D national championship races. With the lower elevation, I'm hoping for a top three this year."
Other events on her schedule include the marathon national championships in Bend, Oregon, singlespeed Worlds in Ireland, and a few stage races.
When asked about any conventional cross country races, Emmett said, "I will hit a few US Pro XCTs. I'll be in Wisconsin and the finals in Montana. I really enjoyed Wisconsin last year and Montana is new, it'll be fun to see what it's about."
She was absent from the first two rounds in Bonelli Park and Fontana - both in California. "Giant didn't feel like the first Pro XCTs were that important to them, so they were ok if we wanted to wait (to start racing). We had team camp, too. We're not focusing on UCI points, so I decided to do different training and start my season later. I hope to be stronger in July for the races I really want to focus on. I didn't have to be ready for the first week in March."
"I've been looking at the Trans-Sylvania Epic (mountain bike stage race in Pennsylvania). I'd love to do it, and it fits into my schedule. It sets up for great training for July racing. I'm toying around with the idea and it's a matter of getting some support out there. I'm not 100 percent signed up for it yet, but I love stage racing."
What will may be trickiest for Emmett is figuring out how to best train for such different events.
"My schedule is definitely unusual. I have a 40-minute downhill race in Ashland, Oregon. I'll be racing Leadville, and I'll be doing marathon and cross country nationals. It'll be interesting training for everything. It'll be a fun, and it's a new challenge."
"I did ultra stuff about five years ago, and I haven't done much since then. It's getting used to being back on my bike for a little longer than the standard three-hour training ride."
Whether Emmett takes on any more cyclo-cross is still to be determined. She sat out the most recent season and said, "I took a bigger break this year and enjoyed myself more. Cross is still up in the air. We got done with Worlds and I just wanted to take a break. I did some motorcycle races - enduros and harescrambles. I had a lot of fun getting on the dirt bike and riding them a ton. It was fun to do something different."
"It's crazy when you do the cross country season and the 'cross season. Year after year, you get backed up, and the last couple of years, I've noticed I needed a break."
Making the most of the end of a career
Emmett is at the age when many female cyclists bring an end to their pro racing. "I'm getting more toward the end of my career. You can just tell by looking at the races I'm doing. I'm trying to do the more fun events. I'm getting to the point where I'm like what's next?"
"I'm still having a great time racing, too . I'm just not sure how much longer although the end is in sight."
As she moves inevitably in the direction of retirement, she's been exploring some alternative career options. Emmett is in her seventh year of coaching. She works for a company in Michigan run by friends.
This past November, she started working for the Center for Creative Leadership in Colorado Springs. "Companies send in their higher level employees to learn basic leadership skills, but it also has a fitness aspect to it. We go do hikes early in the morning and I consult with them on diet and nutrition. It's great to meet a lot of people and help them toward their fitness goals. Getting involved with that has been a great eye opener."
Emmett got a later start in cycling than many pros. "I wasn't involved in a lot of athletics and sports when I was young. I moved to an island in the Carribean, Aruba, after high school for a year."
"It's a bad idea when you're 18 - I worked as a bartender and partied a lot. I decided to move there after going there for spring break. I postponed college, but the experience helped put my life in perspective as I had to take on full responsibility." In making that decision, her parents said she had to support herself.
"But being there, I'd wake up every morning and go to the bar and then realized by doing so, I wasn't ever going to go anywhere, so when I came back to college, I was motivated and got great grades and was focused. It was totally different than in high school. It was good for me - in the end."
Emmett admited she wasn't a typical athlete all her life. "I'd cheat on my swimming class and get kicked out of weightlifing class. It'd be funny to go back to a high school reunion and people wouldn't believe what I've done."
Emmett's not finished yet though - look out for her on the podium steps of all kinds of different mountain bike events this year.