Haley Batten: remember the name. The American off-road specialist is the next big thing in professional mountain biking after securing two podium performances at the opening World Cup rounds in Albstadt and Nové Město na Moravě, and qualifying for the women's mountain bike event at the Tokyo Olympic Games – all in her first year in the elite ranks.
Batten, 22, grew up in Park City, Utah, among a cycling-centred family that travelled around on bike tours, and also enjoyed nordic skiing and camping trips. She started racing in a local mountain bike series at nine years old, following in her father’s wheel-tracks, while he raced the men’s category events.
Youth racing flourished into competitive junior racing and Batten secured her first junior national title at 14 years old. She achieved three more national titles as a junior and another in under-23 ranks. She joined Clif Pro Team in her last year as
a junior where she stayed for four seasons until moving over to the Specialized Factory, and then she signed with current team Trinity Racing in 2021.
Batten is currently living and studying at Quest University, a private, not-for-profit, liberal arts and sciences university in Squamish, British Columbia, Canada.
In an interview with Cyclingnews following her exceptional debut to elite women's World Cup racing, Batten explained that she is focussed on the next three Olympic Games in Tokyo, Paris and Los Angeles.
Cyclingnews: You're in your first year racing in the elite women's ranks. Did you feel ready to perform at a podium level in your first World Cup in Albstadt?
Haley Batten: No, I had good races in the under-23 category, but I had done two races in Austria and Italy in the few weeks before Albstadt, and they went pretty badly. It took a week to wrap my head around those performances mentally, but my fitness was good, and I had good signs in training. I knew that I was capable of good rides, but putting together those good performances was something that threw me off guard, and I wasn't expecting to podium.
CN: You took the bronze medal in Albstadt behind the French riders Loana Lecomte and Pauline Ferrand-Prévot. How did you feel during your performance knowing that you were racing at the front of an elite World Cup?
HB: It was a crazy race. I felt so strong and rode my way up from behind; I was 15th after the first lap. Once I saw the top riders, and I was getting glimpses of them ahead, and then I ended up there, it was surreal. I focused on racing my race and took it section by section, rode as strong, smooth and efficiently as possible, and honestly didn't feel the emotions until I was on the finish stretch.
It hit me hard. I was like, "what the heck" and "how did I do this." I was shocked. It was insane, and afterward, I was surprised, and it took me a long time to absorb what happened. It was crazy.
CN: What was it like for you standing on the podium in Albstadt?
HB: It's hard to put words to it all because it felt like a blur; it all happened so quickly. I crossed the line, so emotional and blown away, and then I was rushed around to interviews, to the flower ceremony, running over to the big podium. Having your name called up and standing on the podium with the best in the world was insane. Gosh, it's so hard to put into words, and it's taken me a while to absorb it, but for me, it felt like I finally showed what I was capable of, and that was rewarding.
CN: Your compatriot Kate Courtney was fourth in Albstadt, just behind you. What was said about the racing afterwards, and did you congratulate one another?
HB: It was cool to share the podium experience with Kate because we were on a team together when I was a junior rider, and although we have had different pathways, we've been in the same circle. We've done a couple of training rides, and we always cheer for each other. The US has been working hard to be a stronger force in the international field, and so it's cool to watch us work toward that together. Sharing the podium and showing that we can both be at the front on the field, pushing each other, was a cool experience.
CN: You went on to win the short track event and the silver medal at the World Cup in Nové Město na Moravě. Did it feel like another confirmation of your ability and strength to race among the best in the world?
HB: Honestly, in Albstadt, I had to find the emotional and perspective that I wanted to have going into Nové Město na Moravě, because that had been the best result I ever achieved at that level.
I had to reset and make sure that I was in a good place to do it again because so much was happening so quickly. To win the short track event confirmed my fitness was good and that I was racing smart and tactically well and strong. I'm motivated to compete in the next World Cup rounds because I feel like I belong at the top and want to continue working toward that goal.
CN: You secured a spot at the Tokyo Olympic Games after earning the silver medal at Nové Město na Moravě. Was that the goal?
HB: Yes, I knew I had the potential to be on the Olympic team, and after Albstadt, I knew I had a good chance. I spent a lot of time with my coach to understand the criteria and avoid becoming too political or uncertain. It's always been my dream to go to the Olympics, and I wanted to make it very clear that I belong there and that I earned that spot.
I want to see how I can perform, be one of the best, and represent Team USA well. Earning that spot - fully - by being one of the best riders was important to me. In Nové Město, the goal was to ride my best and prove that I could be one of the best riders and earn a spot on Team USA.
CN: You and Kate have secured your spots on the team for Tokyo. One spot is left, and the remaining riders on the long list are Lea Davison, Hannah Finchamp, Erin Huck and Chloe Woodruff. What are your thoughts on the team that could go to Tokyo?
HB: The long team was named in 2019, and the women's team is very strong, and I've raced and trained with them. We all want the best for each other. Earning three spots at the Olympic Games shows a strong team [nation] and a strong group of women. I'm excited about it.
I was named to the long list as an under-23 rider with future medal potential and an up-and-coming rider. My results showed progress and performance. Although the 2020 season had a lot of chaos, with COVID-19 and the postponement of the Games, it made my dreams more of a reality and a possibility because I had time to become an elite rider. It's a blessing in disguise for me, in a way.
CN: How did you handle the stresses and uncertainty of the pandemic?
HB: There was so much that came with the pandemic; beyond being an athlete, it made us all step back and gave us perspective. I had time to reflect on how grateful I am to be an athlete. I was lucky to spend time at home with my family, and being based at home was nice.
My coach and I planned the time well with a small off-season until racing started again. My team then, Specialized Factory, was based in Europe, and I was able to get over there to race Swiss Epic with Annika Langvad, which was one of the coolest races I've ever done and a great learning experience. It was one of the hardest races I've ever done in my life, but it was rewarding, and learning from Annika was a great opportunity for me. She's a legend; so cool, calm and collected, but on the bike, she's in full beast mode - no joke.
CN: Who else have you looked up to as a mentor?
HB: I was on the Clif Pro Team for four years, my final year as a junior and then three years as an under-23, and that team played a crucial role in the athlete and person that I am today.
I was on the team with Katerina Nash, Catherine Pendrel, Lea Davison, Georgia Gould, so many bad-ass women, the coolest women in cycling with amazing characters.
We're still good friends, and they have always been so caring and have given me good guidance in life. I'm forever grateful to that team. It's been cool to share this new experience with all the people who supported me along the way.
CN: What are your biggest hopes for Tokyo Olympics Games?
HB: The Olympics, in my opinion, is the pinnacle of mountain biking because it's the biggest event that you can compete at, and it only happens every four years - it's special and rare and exciting.
All riders are trying to be their best on that day. Earning a gold medal at the Olympics has always been a dream since I was young, and that is what I am preparing to do.
I'm not trying to get ahead of myself too soon. I have shown what I am capable of, but being able to do that consistently and sustainably within a long career is important.
I will continue to prepare at my absolute best, and I want to be the best rider on that day in Tokyo. I think that a lot goes into play there; a unique environment and the energy surrounding it, so I will learn and absorb a lot and gain experience looking ahead to Paris (2024) and LA (2028). I want to perform and be my best, but I also want to have perspective.
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