Racing her first full season as a pro, Evelyn Dong has become a contender at many major US mountain bike events this year. Her progress up the ranks continued on Saturday, when she put in a top five performance at the US Cross Country Mountain Bike National Championships at Bear Creek Resort in Macungie, Pennsylvania. There, Dong finished fifth, just 11 seconds off fourth place.
"Last year was the first year I got my pro upgrade," said Dong, "and this is my first season that I've tried to race most of the Pro XCTs, at least the West coast ones.
"Last year was more about getting out and riding with friends and learning how to ride more technical stuff than I'm used to. There was a lot of crashing. This year, I decided to race more and crash less."
Dong comes from a ski racing background. She began ski racing when she was a freshman in high school.
"I ski raced for about 12 years. This was the first winter I didn't ski race. It was a nice break to not race all winter, so I could ride more."
What may transfer over best to mountain biking from ski racing for Dong is her mental game. "I'm kind of competitive," she said, laughing.
Her competitiveness has paid off as she's jumped straight into the deep end, racing among seasoned pros on the domestic circuit. She's still picking up on some cycling-specific skills, especially racing on very technical courses like the rocky trails used for this weekend's nationals.
"I'm more of a Rocky Mountains kind of a girl, so this was a bit of a change for me," said the 28-year-old from Salt Lake City, Utah. "The technical parts [of the nationals course] were more about grunting it out. It was more like fitness-based technical riding as opposed to like skill. I tried to keep pedaling and not get too negative out there. It was a real different kind of a course.
"I was just relieved to finish top five. I was nervous about this course. I tried not to think about it too much, but I knew it would be a weak spot for me. I tried to keep positive and people were telling me I was moving up."
Dong balances her racing and training with what she calls "a very flexible job" at Jans Outfitters in Park City, Utah.
She expects that her last major race of the season will be the Catamount Pro XCT, the US national series finale.
"After that it will be supporting some local races and riding for fun," she said.