Words: Lou Mazzante
Photos: John Gibson
EVEN AS THE WORLD RUSHES AROUND HER, there is tranquility in Emily Batty's sapphire eyes. Just 21 years old, she is halfway through a careerchanging season: a three-month string of races on three continents that includes victories at the Pan Am games in Chile, the Sea Otter short track and five consecutive Canada Cup races. In April, she pulled off the best performance of her career, breaking into the top 10 at the World Cup in Offenburg, Germany. She accomplished all of this while racing for a small regional team, and with a calm confidence belied by her youthful exuberance.
Then again, Batty already has more than a decade of race experience. She was born and raised on a cattle farm in Brooklin, Ontario, and has been a part of the XC race scene since she was a child. Her father raced, and her two older brothers and younger sister all race. When she was nine, she was offered her first job—as her brother's "feeder" at local XC events.
Now, Batty is a woman on the verge—she still races for a regional team, and butterflies still swarm in her stomach before every race, but she's woven herself into the tapestry of the World Cup XC circuit, and looks set to play an important role in the sport's future.
We caught up with Batty between Canada Cup races in June and asked her about growing up in a racing family, her iconic pearl necklace, and what the future holds for this bright, young rider.
LET'S START WITH THE OFFENBURG, GERMANY, WORLD CUP RACE IN APRIL. WERE YOU SURPRISED AT YOUR TENTH-PLACE FINISH THERE?
Incredibly surprised. It wasn't until I was told that I was sitting in the top 20 halfway through that I realized a top-10 was possible. Last year in Offenburg I had a solid race, placing thirty-seventh, but my best [previous] World Cup result was seventeenth at Mont-Sainte-Anne.
YOU'VE SAID MARIE-HÉLÈNE PRÉMONT WAS A BIG INSPIRATION TO YOU. WHAT WAS IT LIKE PASSING HER DURING THE RACE?
With her new kit and longer ponytail, I actually didn't realize it was Marie at first. It wasn't until we were on the downhill and there were thousands of fans chanting her name. Growing up idolizing Marie-Hélène and watching her dominate the World Cup circuit was a huge inspiration to me. She showed that Canadian athletes could compete in Europe. I was absolutely flattered to be up there with those girls.
WHEN DID YOU START RACING?
My family basically attended every race in Canada. I was my brother's feeder, so it was just a matter of time before I strapped on bike shoes and raced my first race. That was in 1999. After that, one thing led to another, and by 2001, I was racing the full Canada Cup series and a few NORBAs.
EVEN BEFORE YOU STARTED ON THE WORLD CUP CIRCUIT, YOU HAD COMPETED IN SEVERAL WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS, RIGHT?
My first World Championships were in 2005, in Livigno, Italy. I finished thirteenth as a junior. What an eye opener! I still remember the start loop and climb. It's something every athlete should be introduced to young so they know what to expect and how fast you have to be in order to be competitive in Europe. I'm pretty sure I was dead last until the top of the climb.
CLIMBING IS ONE OF YOUR STRENGTHS, THEN.
Climbing and technical. I would love if every course could be like Offenburg. It has some pretty technical chutes, lots of climbing, and…it's all under the trees. I'm not much of a fan when it comes to desert racing and being able to see a kilometer ahead.
AT 21, HOW DO YOU THINK YOUR FITNESS COMPARES TO THE COMPETITION?
I'm not sure…I can do 30 push-ups at once, though.
THAT'S BETTER THAN A LOT OF GUYS. BUT YOU DON'T SHY AWAY FROM MAKE-UP OR JEWELRY, EVEN DURING A RACE. IS IT IMPORTANT TO YOU TO MAINTAIN A SENSE OF FEMININITY?
It absolutely is, but at the same time it's not something I go out of the way to do. I think it comes natural. It's just who I am. Race day for me is just another day, and putting mascara on is no different than brushing my teeth.
DO YOU ALWAYS RACE WITH THE PEARL NECKLACE? OR OTHER JEWELRY?
They're basically like tattoos. My necklace I found in my mom's jewelry drawer when I was 11, and have worn it pretty much ever since. It's only ever come off a few times, and two of those times were when I was riding and it broke. I didn't lose any beads, though. My ring is also my mom's high-school graduation ring from 1975, which she gave me because of a promise I made to her to stop biting my nails. I think I was 13.
OKAY, HERE'S THE ANNA KOURNIKOVA QUESTION: DO YOU WORRY THAT YOU MIGHT BECOME MORE KNOWN FOR HOW YOU LOOK THAN FOR YOUR RESULTS?
The way I dress and act is simply who I am. So no, I'm not really worried about that. People can think what they want, but…the necklace and make-up, they're just things I like, things I'm interested in. But I'm more interested in results than how I look.
DO YOU FEEL FEMALE RACERS GET THE ATTENTION THEY DESERVE?
More attention given to any sport creates more awareness, which always gets more people involved. In mountain biking specifically, at a professional level, men and women seem very equal. There just seems to be a lot less of us.
WHAT CHALLENGES DO YOU FACE RIDING FOR A SMALLER REGIONAL TEAM?
Trek Toronto is the biggest little team out there. It's an incredibly lowpressure environment. I get to travel with my family, race the races I want, chase the goals I'm after. The team provides everything I need to be where I'm at now. Besides, have you ever been to Trek Toronto? It's amazing!
BUT YOU MUST BE GETTING OFFERS FROM LARGER TEAMS.
It's actually mellow right now, but for a while it was incredible. I'm totally flattered. There've been all kinds of teams, a lot of European teams, that have approached me. It's all new to me. It's an adventure, for sure.
SO YOU COULD BE CHANGING TEAMS?
Like most athletes, I want a long-term relationship with a team or company. I'm so happy with Trek Store Toronto. They're so supportive, and I'm well taken care of. But if something could evolve from that, or something similar worked out …I'd be so happy, but nothing's decided.
WITH SUCH A TIGHT-KNIT FAMILY AND EVEN RACE TEAM, DO YOU EVER FEEL LIKE YOU NEED TO ESCAPE THE BUBBLE?
To be completely honest, not at all. My comfort zone is this bubble. My siblings, boyfriend and parents are my closest friends. Typical dinner conversations involve something about the sport in one way or another, so naturally we're each other's motivators. Once in a while I will have a craving to shop for hours and hours, which is a type of getaway,
but my shopping partner is my sister.
SPEAKING OF SHOPPING, DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU HAD A TRADITIONAL HIGHSCHOOL EXPERIENCE? WITH PROMS AND DATES AND TRIPS TO THE MALL?
I think so. I was never a huge fan of school to begin with, and I remember sitting in class dying to go home to go on group night rides. I did miss my prom for a Canada Cup at Mont Tremblant. But the only thing I miss was the dress shopping and getting dolled up.
YOU STARTED RACING IN THE LATE '90S, RIGHT WHEN XC WAS STARTING TO DECLINE IN POPULARITY. YOU OBVIOUSLY WEREN'T IN IT FOR THE MONEY OR FAME. WHAT'S THE ALLURE OF RACING FOR YOU?
A kid doesn't know what fame and money are, so it certainly wasn't that. Other than the social end of it, I love the thrill of crazy technical descents and simply being competitive…. I certainly see a lot of the world I probably wouldn't see otherwise, too.
DO YOU SEE RACING REGAINING ITS POPULARITY IN THE U.S. AND CANADA?
Everything works in waves and cycles. What's big in Europe makes its way to North America and vice versa. Like cyclocross in Europe… people love to watch others compete. When a country has athletes doing well in a sport, they are more likely to follow it. In North America's case, we have to make the events more spectator-friendly to get people interested and involved. Could you imagine if the races were televised like hockey or soccer?
YOU SAID THAT YOUR MOM GAVE YOU HER CLASS RING IF YOU STOPPED BITING YOUR NAILS. DO YOU STILL BITE YOUR NAILS BEFORE RACES?
Apparently, getting nervous is something you're supposed to grow out of. But I still get nervous before local Ontario Cups. At World Cups, the butterflies are more like dragonflies. Whether I'm biting my nails is the last thing on my mind before a race. It's just a bad habit.
HOW ARE THOSE NERVES NOW THAT YOU'RE CRACKING THE TOP 10? FEEL ANY MORE PRESSURE TO DO WELL?
I'm definitely not hard on myself if something doesn't work out. The less you worry, the less likely something goes wrong. But, like most athletes, I think the only real pressure is your own. Consistency is so important.
This content was originally published in Bike’s Sept/Oct 2009 issue.