By: Cindy Abbott, professional mountain bike racer.
Life is a funny thing. With so many ups and downs, twists and turns, it can be hard to keep up sometimes. Not to mention the mental struggle that accompanies all those lows. These last few months, my life has felt like a cross country mountain bike race that never ends, some sort of masochistic chaos (you XC mountain bike racers know what I’m talking about) and I can’t cross the finish line. Yet through these challenges I have found success, beauty, and lots of learning.
My mountain bike has brought me to many amazing places with incredible scenery and even better people. Recently, I traveled to Snowshoe, West Virginia, for the Pro Enduro National race. I didn’t think I’d be able to afford any more races this year, but I had my race expenses partially covered by an amazing group of parents from the high school mountain bike team I coach. I owe this racing opportunity to their kindness and generosity.
Flowing through the trees at a local race here in the Texas Hill Country.
I had never been to West Virginia, and had heard amazing things about this Enduro course, so I registered for the race. The days leading up to this National Championship race were anything less than easy. Less than a week before the life threw me several curveballs that made it hard to focus on anything else. I was glad that I had the National Championship race to look forward to, even though I still carried the worry of planning for a big race like this.
On top of everything, I bought and closed on my first home the day before I left for West Virginia, which is amazing and incredibly daunting all at the same time. To say some big life changes happened rapidly would be an understatement. So much going on, and I hadn’t even left for the race yet!
Catching air at a local Enduro race here in Austin.
West Virginia Bound
I used the trip to Nationals as an opportunity to focus my attention and energy on hopefully winning a National Championship. I flew to Pittsburgh and from there would travel 4 hours to the race venue at Snowshoe, which was cutting it close with just enough time to arrive, settle in, and pre-ride the course the day before the race.
Of course, continuing with the theme of “overcoming adversity”, the airline lost my bike which ended up costing me nearly an entire day of pre-riding. At this point I was beyond frustrated, but all I could do was push forward.
I rolled into the race venue feeling incredibly overwhelmed, with just enough time to pre-ride for one hour. I built up my bike in the parking lot, slapped the parts together and wondered why I spent all the money and time to be here in the first place. As a pro racer aren’t I supposed to have a mechanic who does all this stuff? “You’re a joke,” my mind tells me. “You’re not a real professional athlete.”
I struggled to maintain a positive attitude and to quiet those false thoughts surfacing in my mind. Thankfully I was able to build my bike in record time and met some bike patrol guys who were kind enough to take me down some trails.
Hiline trail in Sedona, about to drop in.
All in all, I had just enough time to pre-ride two of the seven Enduro stages, which I was grateful for – although still upset that the other pros had been here for days before me, dialing in the course. In this type of pro mountain bike racing, it’s crucial to not only pre-ride the stages for maximum success on race day, but primarily for rider safety because Enduro racing is incredibly dangerous and technical. And Snowshoe certainly had some of the most gnarly riding I’d ever done.
Knowing there would be some very strong competition at this race, and some very dangerous terrain, I had to step it up and fight these negative feelings.
Amy, Porsha, and me on the lift to the final stage in the race.
The next morning I woke up psyched to experience what race day had in store for me. Knowing I’d be racing blind, I did my usual race day routine of coffee, positive visualization exercises to envision the success I wanted, and prepping my gear to ensure I had everything I needed, all while trying to stave off the nervousness that I know all too well from years of competition.
Thankfully over dinner the night before my friend and fellow competitor, Porsha, had given me plenty of information on the race stages I didn’t get to ride, and assured me I’d be more than fine come race day. We chatted about our mental strength and toughness, as well as the challenges we’ve had to overcome as females racing in the male-dominated pro Enduro circuit. I cherish conversations like these, building relationships that go deeper than competition, and my loneliness of racing solo slipped away. I felt ready to race.
Making my way through Stage 3 of Enduro Nationals.
Enduro is different from other types of cycling races because the start is incredibly anticlimactic, which I actually prefer over the classic cycling race starting line surrounded by others who seem to be breathing down your neck with nervous anticipation. In Enduro everyone takes off like a herd of turtles at a slow pace because we ride a transition to the top of the first stage, which is where the racing really begins.
After stage 1 I settled in to an incredibly fun day of racing, thankful to be riding with fellow pro badasses, Porsha and Amy, and feeling like I was just cruising on a friendly ride like I do back home in Texas. I felt surrounded by the positivity and encouragement of the other female competitors which was beautifully empowering given the circumstances I had arrived at Snowshoe with.
After an incredibly grueling and physical day of racing, I was pretty whooped but very excited for the race results knowing I had a strong shot at the podium. After racing the majority of the race blind, and overcoming the almost debilitating events leading up to this race, I pulled off a Bronze finish in the women’s pro Enduro National race.
Post-race photo with me and the Green Machine and the beautiful West Virginia Blue Ridge Mountains in the background
Reflecting on the Season
It felt so good to stand on that podium next to my friends and fellow competitors, Porsha and Amy, who are some of the best female pro Enduro racers in the world. Not to mention the amazing support Porsha had given me leading up to race day to help me feel comfortable in a not-so-great situation. Porsha deserves that champions jersey and I believe racers like her exemplify the spirit of competition, giving selflessly without pride, for the best competitor to come out on top.
Although I was positively surprised by my race finish, I was not surprised at my ability to overcome the adversity and mental negativity that seemed to have a stronghold on me. It’s in these moments of success and failure that help show us who we really are and what we are made of. My favorite part of this experience was undoubtedly the people and this race restored my faith in our mountain bike community.
From the minute I got on trail behind the bike patrollers to the real conversations I had with Porsha to my strong Bronze medal race finish, Snowshoe seemed to wrap me in positivity - which was exactly what I needed at that point in my life.
At this point I’m unsure of where my race career will take me, and I believe our industry has a long way to go to make this a sustainable reality for professional mountain bike racers like me, but one thing is for sure - I am incredibly grateful for what mountain biking has given me, and the experiences and friendships I’ve gained from it.
Porsha Murdoch with the win, Amy Morrison with the silver, and me with the bronze.
About Cindy Abbott
Cindy Abbott is a native of Austin, TX and has dedicated her life to adventuring in the outdoors! She started shredding the dirt on 2 wheels over a decade ago, and hasn’t looked back. She is a professional mountain bike instructor, director of a women’s non-profit mountain bike skills group, high school mountain bike coach, and advocate for promoting women’s mountain biking. Her favorite type of riding is anything with steep, rocky gnar or Pacific Northwest flow.
Although she has gained success as a professional mountain bike racer, she is also an established rock climber with over 15 years of experience as a professional climbing instructor. Whether on the dirt, in a tree, or climbing on a cliff, Cindy loves the joy that outdoor adventure brings, and hopes to share that joy with many more humans along the way! You can follow Cindy on her adventures over on Instagram.