Irina Kalentieva came originally from the little-known Russian province of Chuvash to conquer the world – the world of mountain biking She won the World Championship title in cross country last year in Fort William, and will look to defend that title next week in Val di Sole, Italy. She has lived in Germany for the past five years, and that is where Cyclingnews' Susan Westemeyer caught up with her.
Talking with the 30 year-old, one is struck by how often she mentions her motivation, leading to the question, does she ride with her head as much as with her legs? "My head – the motivation – is the most important. All the riders have good legs, good training, we are all equal physically. Five or six of us, all the same," she said. "But the one who will win in the end is the one who is strongest in the head, who thinks positively. For me, I use my head a lot in racing, for example in tactics." She continued, "In the World Championships, all are strong and it is very difficult, but I tell myself that I can do it. That is my strength."
That was also how the Topeak Ergon racer won the World title last year. "It was something very special, all the strongest riders in the world were there, even (Gunn-Rita) Dahle Flesjå (Multivan Merida). It was very special. I thought I could finish in the top three. The course was very good for me, the downhill, everything worked out 100 percent.
"I had the strongest motivation to win and to become World Champion, that helped. Perhaps I was no stronger than the others, but with this motivation ... that I one day wanted to become World Champion, that helped" to bring her the title.
To read the full interview, click here.