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Donovan returns to racing

Leigh Donovan racing to fifth place

Leigh Donovan racing to fifth place (Image credit: Dave McElwaine/

Remember Leigh Donovan? The 38-year-old former downhill World Champion is back racing with a goal of making the US World Championship team headed to Mont Sainte Anne, Canada, later this season.

"I am going to start racing more regularly trying to do about five major races this year," said Donovan, who showed her comeback is on track with two fifth places finishes among an international-caliber field at the Sea Otter Classic this past weekend in Monterey, California. She raced both the downhill and the dual slalom.

"Mont Sainte Anne is a good course for me, and it's the 20th anniversary of the mountain bike worlds," she said. "It's been 15 years since I won the worlds, and it would be meaningful for me to be part of that event." The first mountain bike World Championships were held in Durango, Colorado, in 1990. Donovan won her world title in Kirchzarten in 1995. She has also won silver (1996, Cairns) and bronze (2001, Vail) World Championship medals.

While in retirement, Donovan has kept busy. She has her own retail women's clothing boutique for high-end (non-cycling) clothing and is raising a five-year-old daughter. "I had to branch out into the women's world for awhile after I retired. I had a lot of growing up to do. I had to find my woman's side and find some female relationships."

Now she's back in competition for the sheer fun of it.

"It doesn't matter if I win or lose. It's so nice. This is the joy that I didn't have a lot of when I was racing. I had so much pressure when I was racing before," she said.

"I have the best of both worlds now. I've come back to mountain biking and I've been embraced by friends and sponsors. I'm so lucky."

Donovan is realistic about her goals, and while she doesn't feel as fast as some of the younger women, she's been working on her skills. "I don't quite have the legs to beat these top girls, but I've gotten a lot of skills this year. I've been racing Melissa Buhl, and she's been pushing me."

"You know, I'm getting older," she said. "But I'd like my daughter to see me race at an event at the World Championship level. I think it'd be cool." Her daughter will turn five years old the week of the downhill worlds.

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Sue George is an editor at Cyclingnews.  She coordinates all of the site's mountain bike race coverage and assists with the road, 'cross and track coverage.