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The Unconventional Guide to Women's Mountain Biking - Hannah Rae Finchamp

Published on September 2017
Hannah Rae Finchamp
Hannah Rae Finchamp

Member of the CLIF Pro Team, former California state high school mountain bike champion and collegiate national mountain bike champion in two disciplines.

For the Clif Pro Team, mountain biking isn’t just a sport, it is a way of life. Each one of us has spent countless hours turning over the pedals in pursuit of something much bigger than ourselves. While we have picked up Olympic medals, World Championship medals, and a plethora of national titles along the way, some of our greatest accomplishments lie in advocacy. Women in sports have crossed chasms in the last few decades and mountain biking is no outlier. All women on bikes have a special place in our hearts. Having grown up in sports and joining the Clif Pro Team in 2013 when I was just 17 years old, I’ve learned a lot from my Clif Pro Team teammates. Here is my unconventional guide to women’s mountain biking: The Unspoken Truth.

Don’t be afraid to be afraid


I’m standing on the 2017 UCI Mountain Bike World Cup course in Lenzerheide, Switzerland. My eyes are wide and my heart is racing. This was my first European World Cup experience and it was everything I could have dreamed. As we rode around the course practicing the various line choices, we rode up to one of the A/B sections. In these sections, all the racers have a choice of what direction to ride. The “A-line” is more difficult, but faster, and the “B-line” is easier but slower. As we approach the A-line, I turn to 2x Olympian Lea Davison and confide, “Lea, I’m kinda nervous for this section.” She responds, “Of course! It’s scary!” Then, without missing a beat, she sails through the section without a hitch.

Everyone is ‘afraid’ at some point or another while they are mountain biking! It’s part of the sport. Sometimes it’s that nervous energy that gets us over the biggest obstacles. Respect your limits, but don’t back down from fear, everyone feels it… even the Olympians.

Hannah Rae Finchamp:
3X Collegiate National Champion
2X Xterra World & National Champion
1X USAT Off-Road Triathlete of the Year

Congratulations, you crashed

Hannah Rae Finchamp of the Clif Pro Team moments before the start of thw 2017 UCI MTB World Cup in Mont-Sainte-Anne, Canada

You’re flying down the trail and you take a corner too fast and you hit the ground, or maybe you took my advice above and you finally got the courage to try a new jump but you landed a little too front heavy. Now you’re on the ground and you’re frustrated. Crashing seems to be the biggest fear of mountain bikers. It’s time that we redefine mountain bike crashing.

No one actually likes crashing. It hurts. Let’s look at the positives. If you’ve hit the ground, it means that you tested your limits. You’ve probably attempted to do something you haven’t done before. 

You went faster, harder, higher, or longer than you are used to going. You learned something new. Sometimes you have to figure out what not to do before you master what to do. Congratulations, you crashed. You are now a better mountain biker because of it.


Riding is YOUR time

Never forget that when you ride your mountain bike, it is time that you are spending on yourself. That means that you should have the freedom to spend it the way you want.

As a team, we love riding together. It makes us better athletes and it gives us confidence that we might not have had on our own. When we pre-ride courses together, we gain assurance as we watch each other conquer obstacle after obstacle. Finding a partner or a group will undoubtedly add to the overall experience as a cyclist.

On the other hand, sometimes riding can be a safe haven. For me, as a college student and professional mountain biker, riding is the one time that the emails stop, the assignments cease, the phone quits ringing and I am completely in my own world. Often times I think most clearly as mile after mile clocks away. Remember all of those moments you desperately wanted alone time? Your bike can always fill that void.

Clif Pro Team

The CLIF Pro Team was founded in 2001 on the principles of creating opportunities for women in sports, and to advocate for equal pay, prize money, and support of these athletes.  

Be adaptable

I distinctly remember one ride with Catharine Pendrel. We were riding side by side and she was talking about whatever new equipment we had just gotten at the time. I commented that it seems that she always adjusts very well to whatever is passed her direction. She responded by explaining that flexibility is essential and that over the years she has learned to change up the way that she races.

From this brief conversation with Catharine, touted before as “Miss Consistency” on the World Cup circuit, I learned that adaptable change leads to consistent success. For Catharine, this has meant consistently being one of the best riders in the world.

 

Watch Lea Davison, Maghalie Rochette, and Catharine Pendrel discuss the importance of supporting other female athletes.  Even at the professional level, the role of a team and group rides are still instrumental to success.

Capitalize on your bike strengths

Not every section of the trail will be your bread and butter, but there is bound to be at least one trail section where you feel completely in control. If you think about your weaknesses while riding, you will quickly find that that small section of the trail that has made you uncomfortable has now dictated your entire ride. You begin to think about that one small section for minutes leading up to it, therefore impeding the sections where you are, in fact, completely competent.

When you ride, focus on your strengths and as my teammate Maghalie Rochette has reminded me, sprint through the parts that favor you less. Not only will you be through the difficult sections sooner but you won’t have time to second guess yourself.

Maghalie Rochette talks about the Mont Ste Anne World Cup Course with Catharine Pendrel

Patience is still a virtue

Scientifically speaking, you can do it. Your brain has the capacity to learn new actions and every time it does, it makes new connections. In order to solidify one of these new connections, it is estimated to take 1200 repetitions. Studies have shown that children will take enough attempted steps to cover 8 to 12 football fields before actually learning to walk. We must have the same tenacity as a child if we truly wish to master this sport.

 Fun should tip the scale

Let’s get down to brass tacks. It isn’t always going to be fun. If you ask me in the middle of an interval when I have sweat pouring down my face, I probably wouldn’t respond with a smile from ear to ear. On the coldest day of winter when my hands have passed the numbness stage, I probably wouldn’t say that I’m having a blast. Not every moment will be a dream, but every experience should bring you joy. Sometimes we have to remember why we are out on our bikes, but at the end of the day, the fun should always outweigh everything else. For me,the fun is in the challenge. No matter how hard it gets, my mind will always default to ‘fun’ because I am overcoming a challenge.

Clif Pro Team members Catharine Pendrel, Haley Batten, Lea Davison, Hannah Rae Finchamp, and Maghalie Rochette pause for some sillyness in the Clif van.


Ride like a girl

When I was younger, there weren’t that many females my age to train with, so whatever group I was with usually consisted of mostly boys with a token girl or two. Whenever we would race to the top of a hill, I would keep up with the boys and finish right with them, however, whenever the next girl would arrive they would all announce that the “1st girl” finished. I would raise my hand and ask why I didn’t count. They responded, “You’re too fast, you ride like a boy.” I took this as a compliment at the time, but now that I am on one of the world’s fastest mountain bike teams, and it consists entirely of women, I am quite sure that riding like a girl is actually the fastest way to ride.

The Clif Pro Team signing autographs and inspiring future mountain bikers at the Clif Bar tent at the UCI MTB World Cup in Mont-Sainte-Anne, Canada

Wear a helmet

This is such a simple concept, but I beg of you to think about it everytime you ride your bike. Your cycling helmet is not a fashion statement, it is a life saving device. It protects us not only from ourselves, but from others as well. A car hit me from behind in May of 2017 and my helmet saved my life. I can’t even begin to explain the importance of the helmet, and I hope you never have to experience it.

Find your coffee grind

Last, but certainly not least, know a good coffee ride. Any good ride is a day well spent and having a plan before you head out the door is bound to make for a smoother day behind the bars. If you are looking to spin around town with friends, however, then a coffee shop ride is your cup of tea.

 

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