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What’s Left On Mountain Biker Lea Davison’s Bucket List?

By Peggy Shinn | April 21, 2016, 5:48 p.m. (ET)

Lea Davison in the women's cross-country mountain bike race at the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Hadleigh Farm on Aug. 11, 2012 in Hadleigh, England. 

Lea Davison has already checked off at least three items on her bucket list.

The 32-year-old mountain biker has competed in an Olympic Games (finishing 11th at the 2012 London Games).

She has won a medal at the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships (bronze in 2014).

And she’s been to a Beyoncé concert.

But why stop there?

Back in Vermont this winter, Davison sat down with TeamUSA.org to talk about last season and — with her typical enthusiasm and zest for challenges — the bucket list items she hopes to check off this coming season.

1. Win A UCI World Cup Race

For the past half decade, Davison has regularly finished in the top 10 in world cup races. Then last July, she earned her first world cup medal, finishing second in Lenzerheide, Switzerland. It was the best world cup finish for a Team USA rider in five years. And it was Davison’s best-ever world cup finish.

Now the Team Specialized rider has her sights set on the podium’s top spot. No American has won a world cup cross-country race since two-time Olympian Alison Dunlap won two in 2002.

“On a good day, they can be beat,” said Davison, referring to world cup overall champion Jolanda Neff from Switzerland and reigning world champion Pauline Ferrand-Prévot from France. “I’ve beaten Jolanda and Prévot before. It just takes a good day. And hard work.”

For inspiration, Davison looks to the U.S. women’s cross-country ski team, particularly fellow Vermonter Sophie Caldwell, who won her first world cup race in January.

“Their performances are inspiring because I feel like they have bigger mental barriers to winning because Norway is so dominant and has so many resources,” Davison said. “To overcome that and get medals and win, I think it’s a lot more than I have to overcome mentally. To see them do that, it’s very inspiring. If they can do it, I can do it.”

Then she added, “If Sophie from Vermont can do it, I can do it.”

The UCI world cup tour kicks off this weekend in Cairns, Australia, then moves to Europe in May. A top-three finish in one of the Europe world cups will qualify Davison — or any American mountain biker — for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, though only one U.S. athlete can qualify this way.

2. Win A World Championship Rainbow Jersey

In every cycling discipline — road, mountain bike, track and BMX — the UCI presents the world champion with what’s called the rainbow jersey. It’s a white jersey with the rainbow color spectrum striped across the chest and arm cuffs.

No American mountain biker has won a rainbow jersey since Dunlap claimed an emotional world title in 2001 — five days after 9/11.

Davison would like to add a rainbow jersey to her wardrobe.

At 2014 world championships, she came close, winning a bronze medal — 43 seconds behind winner Catharine Pendrel from Canada.

Last year, at 2015 worlds in Andorra, Davison moved into the lead on the first climb, and she wasn’t even trying.

“I was going up the first climb thinking, ‘I’m going to win world champs today,’” she remembered.

Then in the first technical section, she crashed hard, nailing her knee on a rock and falling down an embankment. By the time she scrambled back onto the racecourse, she was at least 45 seconds behind the leaders.

Knocked off her bike and off her rhythm, Davison continued to crash on the cold, wet course. At one point, she even fell into a group of spectators who lifted her back onto the course.

“I crashed more in that single race than I had all season combined,” she said.

She was happy to salvage 10th place — five places lower than she needed to automatically qualify for the Rio Games.

“That was a disappointment, but I think of it as, well, I can win world championships for five minutes, and we nailed the peak for an event,” she said.

The 2016 UCI Mountain Bike World Championships will be held in the Czech Republic from June 28-July 3.

3. Win An Olympic Medal

At the top of Davison’s bucket list is to win an Olympic medal in Rio in August.

Like London, the Rio Olympic mountain biking course is manmade, with a sidewalk-like surface punctuated by rocky technical sections. The only difference is the amount of climbing. Unlike London’s rolling racecourse, Rio’s course climbs a real mountain.

“It’s a really fast course, it’s a power course,” explained Davison, who rode the Rio test event in October. “It’s like a sidewalk going a million miles an hour into these rock gardens. You’re like, ‘Hang on!’”

But the course suits her.

And Davison is stronger than ever.

“Just her quad size has changed, honestly,” said younger sister Sabra, who could be Lea’s twin. “Her strength plan has gotten more refined and more challenging. Her early season results are better. She’s never been within striking distance this time of the year.”

Lea finished fourth in an early season U.S. Cup race in California in March.

She often trains with Sabra, a competitive cross-country skier and mountain biker who now runs Little Bellas, all girls’ mountain biking programs that the sisters began in 2007.

“We have a classic sibling rivalry. There’s no one that I want more to win or to beat,” said Lea with a laugh. “She pushes me.”

But it’s been Lea who’s now pushing Sabra harder than ever. Sabra used to challenge Lea on the flat sections of training rides. Now Lea has evened out her weaknesses.

When doing intervals, the sisters negotiate a time handicap. For instance, Lea will give Sabra a 30-second lead.

“The times have gone up that I need to be her carrot in training,” said Sabra. “It’s pretty interesting. Last year, we were even. This year, I need to be 30 seconds in front of her to be her carrot. There are definite measures that you can tell. It’s awesome.”

4. Back To Beyoncé

In 2014, after Davison won a bronze medal at world championships, she attended a Beyoncé concert in Paris and checked it off her bucket list.

Asked what’s on her list now, Davison thought for a minute, then laughed.

“The next thing on the bucket list is to be Beyoncé’s backup dancer,” she said, still laughing. “I’m not sure if I’ll be able to check that one off.”

A freelance writer based in Vermont, Peggy Shinn has covered three Olympic Games. She has contributed to TeamUSA.org since its inception in 2008. 

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Lea Davison