Getting to Know: World Cup XC Racer Lea Davison on Resilience, Happiness & the Olympics

Nov 28, 2018
by Sarah Moore  
Lea Davison in second.

Describe yourself.


I am a happy person that is incredibly hardworking and thrives on getting more girls on bikes and inspiring women through cycling. I think I have found a balance between the demands and rigors of elite level mountain bike racing and living a full life. I truly believe happiness is fast so I do things that make me happy, like eat ice cream, ski in the winter, ride with the Little Bellas, and spend time with friends. Even though sometimes those things may be atypical for cross-country bike racers.


Where are you from and where do you live?


I am from Jericho, Vermont and right now, I live between Jericho, Vermont (northern Vermont) and Sunderland, Vermont (southern Vermont) where my wife, Frazier Blair is based. I'm spending more and more time in Sunderland, Vermont.




Who do you ride for?


I am currently in transition but I will be racing World Cups next year and going for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.


What does a typical day look like for you?


I'm a big sleeper so I typically wake up anywhere between 8 am and 10 am. I usually eat fried eggs and toast for breakfast, and then get on my bike for a workout. This workout can be between 2-4 hours typically. Then, I'll come home and EAT, shower, and then start in on emails, working on Little Bellas, working on travel logistics, and sometimes fit in a nap. Then, if it's a double workout day, I will do strength or a second ride for another 2 hours and then spend the rest of the evening cooking dinner and hanging out with Frazier.


How did you get into mountain biking?


A friend in high school, Dan Dombroski, suggested that I should stop running in circles on the track and try out mountain biking. So, as a junior in high school, I stopped running track and field, and I joined our very small high school mountain bike club. I immediately took to the sport since I found it was the perfect combination between downhill ski racing and cross country running, two sports I was very immersed in at that time. During the second year I was racing, I competed in the NORBA national race at Mt. Snow in the junior category and won. That automatically qualified me for the 2001 junior world championships. At that time, I had no idea that there was a World Championships even. So that really opened my eyes that mountain biking could be a career. From that moment on, that's what I wanted to do. I wanted to be a professional mountain biker.


UCI World Championship Hafjell Norway 2014


What is something you believe that other people think is crazy?


I believe in energy. Energy runs through our bodies and some people take away our energy and other people add to our energy. That's why you have to be careful about who you surround yourself with. Energy can get blocked, and I believe that's when sickness or injury happens. I regularly get bodywork such as acupuncture or cranial sacral work to maintain health or address injuries or sickness. It's very powerful.


What are your strengths?


Resilience. I have come back from two hip surgeries to return to even better form than before my surgeries. Flexibility. I think my 'go with the flow' attitude serves me well in the constant changing conditions and environments of mountain bike racing. Strength. I put in a lot of time strength training in the offseason and in season.


What are your weaknesses?


Time management and resting. I have a lot of energy and there are a lot of cool things to do. On bike, I also need to work on my jumping and drops.


Lea Davison finding the terrain a bit like home in Vermont.


Where is your favourite place to ride?


There are so many great places to ride your bike, but I really love mountain biking in Vermont. It has a combination of everything; very technical riding with wet roots or fast, flowy trails as well. The amount of trails and networks Vermont Mountain Bike Association are building are incredible. I feel very lucky to live where I live. I have to say the Kingdom Trails in Northern Vermont are some of my favorite since I just got married there this fall!




What are some of the accomplishments that you're most proud of?


In 2014, I had hip surgery the end of January, and I came back to racing World Cups in July. I'm really proud of coming back from that surgery in the same season to win the XC U.S National Title, return to the World Cup podium, and win my first ever World Championship medal. I'm also really proud of my silver medal World Championships' ride in 2016 where I came around the start lap in 20th and fought my way to a second place. The 2012 and 2016 Olympics is something I am really proud of.


Lea Davison nailed her line through Mitas Choice. Davison steadily worked her way through the field to take second place today.


Do you have any big projects or trips planned for next year?


I will be racing a full World Cup mountain bike circuit. I will be going to Norway over Christmas and New Year's for a cross-country ski training trip with Frazier.


What's been your worst crash over the years?


The first one that comes to my mind is a crash I took off the first big drop on the Worlds course in Cairns, Australia. The Rodeo Drop may look small on redbull.tv, but that drop is about 6 feet tall. My timing was off, and I landed front wheel first and exploded off the back off the bike. This is my worst nightmare when riding drops. I landed in a superman position, and hit my head so hard on the seat that I cracked my helmet. This was the first day of training. Thanks to an amazing support staff at USA Cycling and a great Giro helmet (believe me I checked to make sure I didn't have a concussion), I was able to race the relay and the cross-country race (6th place!). But, adrenaline does amazing things and after I returned home, my shoulder was really injured and I couldn't even ride a bike. I spent all last fall rehabbing and getting my shoulder back to ground zero where I could train again.


What bikes are you riding right now?


To be announced soon! Smile


Who's your favourite rider?


I really like Gunn Rita because I think it's incredible how many years she's been able to perform at the top of the sport. She won World Cups 22 years apart! She's also a great human.


What's your favourite motto or saying?


Hard work pays off. #happinessisfast

Lea Davison rode a very strong race riding into second place. She proved too strong for Neff.


What annoys you?


Inequality between men and women (sexism, unequal prize money, unequal opportunity, unequal media coverage...). On a lighter note, I really don't like it when the hot water runs out. I love taking hot showers.


What makes you happy?


Singletrack. Powder. Achieving goals. Frazier. Ice cream. Family and friends. Maple syrup. Humor. The list goes on. There's a lot of things that make me happy.


What do you enjoy away from bikes?


Little Bellas! Skiing. I love snow and cross-country skiing, backcountry skiing, and downhill skiing. I also really love cooking and trying out new recipes. Swimming holes.


What's your favourite non-bike website?


New York Times Cooking.




If you weren't a pro mountain biker, what would you be doing?


I would be trying to be a pro freeskier.


Where do you think the future of women's cycling is headed?


Women hold a lot of the buying power, and more and more women are getting into cycling. There's A LOT of potential and a market there that hasn't been fully tapped. On the other side of the spectrum, I also think women's World Cup cross-country mountain biking has never been more exciting. Our field is so incredibly deep and the racing is tight. It's very inspiring. If the industry is listening to both of those factors, I believe the only way to go is up. If we combine both of those things, we really could get a lot more women riding bikes.


How do you want to be remembered?


I would love to be remembered as a bright light on the World Cup circuit who was also a ferocious mountain bike racer. I would also want to be remembered as a woman who made a big impact on a lot of women's lives and got a lot of girls on bikes.

American Lea Davison heading to the crowded warm-up zone just before the start.

Learn more about Lea Davison at www.leadavison.com and follow her on Instagram, @leaeatsalot.

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45 Comments

  • + 48
 Props to Lea and Sabra Davison for starting the Little Bella’s organization. My daughter’s been involved for three years now and it’s absolutely the highlight of her summer. Ive seen these ladies take little girls that can’t even ride a bike and have them trail riding within weeks. Their confidence soars, and their sense of belonging and accomplishment is priceless. As far as the parity argument between men and women goes... it’s still a hold out based on patriarchy and misogyny. Sorry guys. Even though the women’s times in DH are slower overall in comparison that’s simply because of biomechanical differences between us. Not because of lack of risk taking or inability to shred etc. Most all sports were invented by men and they all play to the physical biomechanics of men. Mainly the fact that we have greater upper body strength in general. That’s as genetic as what’s between our legs. However I’d like to point out that the first human to hit that massive step down on the Champrey DH course was a 15yo Tahnee Seagrave. And honestly I’d like to see any male PB reader beat Ms. Atherton down a hill. For what it’s worth my daughter wants to be the first girl to do Rampage. Ride on Little Bellas!!
  • + 7
 Of course we understand that men outperform women because of physiological advantages (and not learned abilities). That said, you can't force people to view or enjoy one form of sport more than the other or both equally. The fact that men can do just THAT much more than comparable women makes men's sports just THAT much more exciting and enjoyable to watch. This is not to say that certain sports, i.e. MMA fighting, see women do as well or better than men. On average viewers simply prefer male sports and performance. This is not an issue of misogyny or patriarchy, stop virtue signalling.
  • + 1
 @fattyheadshok The advantages are not just biomechanical. A male baby is born with about 30% more capacity in the visual cortex. This means a male registers movement, judges speed, tracks moving objects, processes visual stimuli etc. faster/better than a female. Day-to-day, it makes no real difference, but during peak visual processing times, such as a DH race, clay pigeon shooting, motor sport racing, it does. I guess it's akin to playing chess over the internet, your 30% slower internet connection makes no difference, but change to a first-person shoot-'em-up, and you are respawning in 3, 2, 1...
  • + 5
 @Cabac: I dunno about all that. The best XCO races of last year were womens' races - the round where Neff came back after two punctures and just wouldn't give up and then passed Batty over a huge jump: awesome. The World Championships with the Courtney and Langvad battle: epic. Mens races were great two, but the best races were the womens.
  • + 1
 @mcvittees: I agree. Obviously my point is a generalization. As generalizations go, it holds true a majority of the time with some good exceptional examples.
  • + 20
 I've attended multiple world cup XCO races this year in Europe and have had the privilege of meeting Lea while also getting to know her a little bit. She's easily one of the classiest, most professional bike racers I've encountered and a genuinely nice person... everything you want to see in your nation's Olympian. I hope she gets a great pro contract and a nice ride from whoever she signs with; she absolutely deserves it.
  • + 13
 That interview was a pleasure to read. Lea seems like an incredible person that obviously is a bright light in her community, the World Cup, and as a representative to mountain biking and her country. Thanks!
  • + 10
 Women's XC racing has been amazing the last few years. This year was super exciting. Way more stoked to watch women's XC than men's because the racing was just better to watch. The men's was a lot better this year than last year though!
  • + 7
 Great work Lea! A mountain of kudos to you for all you've achieved and done for the community.
  • + 4
 Great article! Also amazing how pretty much every female xc racer (and probably a lot of gents as well) list Gunn Rita as one of their heros/ idols. She really is a legend.
  • + 5
 Making a gift to Little Bellas is easy peasy - littlebellas.com/donate
  • + 3
 It always blows my mind when people take up something a bit late in life and are able to really excel at it, in this case to the point of becoming a pro. Some people just have it!
  • + 4
 Go Lea! Thanks for being so genuine and inspiring, I can't wait to see some of the amazing athletes Little Bellas puts out!
  • + 5
 Great write up. PinkBike, can we please get more XC content?
  • + 0
 In equality in racing? Prizes? fine eliminate womens racing, one division "people racing" although you can be sure a woman wouldent ever win it would be "equal and fair" It sounds like someone that wants to have their cake and eat their cake too- lame.
  • + 4
 what a badass human. cheers from idaho
  • + 1
 I really hope to see the day when coverage and pay are equal, the past few seasons the ladies XCO races were the ones to watch! I wonder if its equal in the EWS?
  • + 2
 Cool interview. Thanks Lea! Good luck with future racing.
  • - 2
 You know what really annoys me? When someone is not able/ not bothered to understand the simple economic principles behind alleged unequal prize money, unequal opportunity or unequal media coverage. Hint: It's not sexism. It's not even unfair. It's actually unfair to mandate 'equal outcome'. Read a book!
  • + 2
 Glad to know everything is humming along just perfectly due to simple economic principles. Phew, now back to the books until the next World Cup XC racing season when I can watch the women absolutely smash it on Red Bull TV!
  • + 4
 I mean, why should women aspire to parity when they could just marry blokes, stay in the kitchen and not work. Hell, let’s stop them voting while we’re at it. Next you’ll be telling us vaccines cause autism (fun fact: they don’t).
  • + 0
 @Folfox: and that cheese pizza isn't a type of Italian food... Funny how all the rabbit holes seem to be connected end to end... Deuce will be arguing that his name is completely innocent at some point in this comment section too.
  • + 24
 I thought about this as well and it applies in many sports. As a whole, women (and men) enjoy watching men play basketball (and other team sports) more than they enjoy watching women play basketball. This leads to more money for professional men due to ticket revenue, advertising revenue etc.

When considering individual sports it’s similar, though there are some differences. In snowboarding, for example, the men are pulling 1260s 15 feet out while the ladies are doing 720s 6 feet out. Men are the innovators while the ladies play catch up years later and sometimes don’t reach the same level even then.

In general, even acknowledging exceptions to every rule, men are going bigger, faster, more dangerous etc. in sport. This generates more viewership and more revenue for themselves and sponsors. The sports women participate in more as a percentage/population of professionals vs. men are less popular as spectator sports (gymnastics, tennis, ice skating vs. football, baseball). Should women be paid equally in sport for doing less (in the sense of less spectacular performances not less effort or intensity), generating less interest and therefore less revenue? In downhill, the men’s times are significantly faster than the ladies times, while there’s often a five or ten second time gap between first and second place for the ladies. For the men the difference is typically tenths or hundredths of a second. I’m not trying to minimize the ladies accomplishments as all of the pro women would crush me in a race. However, if you’re comparing top male pro to female pro, there are large differences in their performance. Where are the women at rampage or hardline?

I do believe in promoting women’s sports and increased participation. This is the only path to generating future increased interest and the related revenue that can provide equal prize money, more opportunity, awareness etc. Refusing to acknowledge legitimate reasons for the differences won’t accomplish anything and may actually be counterproductive.
  • + 6
 @BenPea: I have done. And it is.
@Folfox: Aspiring to parity is a noble goal. But it has to be earned legitimatey, not mandated and legislated to death as the current Modus Operandi seems to be. I'm not ragging on the idea per se- only the implication that every disparity between men and women is due to sexism. It's such a facile and willfully ignorant conclusion. There are other, more prevalent factors which contribute to these things, many of which can't be addressed without disadvantaging one group or another- and that in itself is the most scathing criticism of the idea that "[Sex/ Rac/ whatever] -ism is everywhere". To be fair, Lea deserves credit for all her achievements, and her continued support and work towards getting more women into biking. But would she need to do it if there weren't so few female participants (as a proportion of the whole MTB population) to begin with? If women are a separate category, and the majority not only make a constant issue of it, but actually blame men for the imbalance, then why should the men's side facilitate and contribute to their financial success at their own expense?
  • + 10
 @Levelheadsteve: proper username
  • - 2
 @Deuce-DeuceAndAHalf: given that women have generally been f*cked over (no really, they have) since the dawn of humanity, I wouldn't begrudge them a few seemingly "unfair" perks, like being allowed to feel equal in all aspects of life. I used to think in these purely technical and numbers-based terms and I tend to skip over the women's WC DH coverage, but leaving things to nature and the market is not how women have managed to *almost* extricate themselves from the box they have traditionally inhabited.
And these are not my words, but to the privileged, equality can feel like oppression. It can feel like something's being taken away from you when someone else is "given" something without "earning" it, but that's something we all need to work on dealing with, because inequality comes in all shapes and forms (income, race, social) and just because we all have mums and sisters, that doesn't mean that gender issues have been resolved. In fact it masks the problem. Which is why women have to keep shouting about this stuff, to the annoyance of people who would rather they shut the f*ck up and continue to compete against men in the millenia-old paradigm that we inhabit. The odds are not going to redress thelselves.
  • - 2
 @BenPea: The hypocriticism is strong in this one.
First, I fixed this for you: "I wouldn't begrudge them a few seemingly "unfair" perks, like being allowed to feel [MORE] equal in all aspects of life" How you reconcile that, with "but to the privileged, equality can feel like oppression" involves mental gymnastics the likes of which I'm not capable of (mostly because it involves ignoring the boring things in life like fact, reason, common sense, reality...)
Which brings me on to "I used to think in these purely technical and numbers-based terms". Thus proving my point; You actually have to ignore reality and fact to believe what you're proselytising. Time was we all believed stories about old men with beards in the sky. Now it's tales of inequality and privilege, of group identity and "intersectionality" and anyone can be their own God. Progressivism is just one big, ignorant circle-jerk. It might feel good, and everyone else seems to be enjoying themselves too, but at the end of the day- nothing useful is actually accomplished.
  • - 1
 @Deuce-DeuceAndAHalf: Nothing useful for men, you mean. The reason bearded men in the sky were invented was to try and prevent people from being idiots, because they wouldn't have done it without some kind of coercion. It was a means to en end that has sadly been hijacked by... idiots. I think the problem is that you believe that equality measures based on stats and stone cold rationality are enough to address the raft of issues faced by those who have had to deal with barriers throughout history. I'm pretty sure they're not and that going by this rationale won't get us anywhere fast. As much as it sucks we're still in an age where emotion and feeling can trump everything (pun semi-intended), so the only way of redressing the balance is to apply seemingly irrational measures that go in a positive direction. -1 + 0 still equals -1
This all has to be viewed at a macro level and microchanges (even if they serve only as a message, such as equal pay for someone who attracts fewer spectators) all contribute to something that is surely desirable, i.e. a situation where a section of society no longer feels like the dice are loaded against them. If you think their feelings aren't justified then that's another issue. You can be your own God too, nobody's stopping you.
  • - 1
 @BenPea: Again- your rationality seems to be that because they feel a certain way, irrespective of the facts we must re-dress those feelings. Ignore reality, and accept subjective narratives? How stupid are you? Where in that calculation is the incentive which prevents me from manipulating you to get my way?
You understand how ironic your analogy about the rabbit hole going full circle is now? We've gone from telling stories to help people to identify bad behaviour so they can prevent it, to telling stories which encourage people to behave idiotically. And then society rewards them. There's no sense in that course of action whatsoever. You've (again!) proven what I've said constantly about this insidious ideology- in order to believe it you have to switch off your natural tendency to logic and reason. It is literally counter-rational. Why the hell should you, I or anyone give up what we've earned for ourselves, to someone who hasn't? Because they complained about feeling bad for not having achieved it for themselves?
  • + 5
 @Deuce-DeuceAndAHalf: Sorry, been sucked into the global feminazi conspiracy. You got me.
Listen, I know what you're saying, but I think we need to look beyond "survival of the fittest" if we're going to evolve in any way. Or just f*ck anyone who wasn't born lucky...
  • + 2
 @BenPea: What you're advocating for is empowering and rewarding those who complain most and contribute least, which is as perverse an incentive as you can imagine. The only thing more laughable is thinking such a scheme will lead to a better society. Your 'evolution' is really a regression to something akin to schoolyard infantilism.
  • + 5
 Equality of opportunity is “fair” and a noble goal.

Mandating equality of results, for any reason (i.e. women getting paid as much as men even though the fanbase and athleticism is far below men) is soft bigotry at best.

In other sports, that is called a handicap.

Following that line of thought out to its final conclusion, and 5 year old soocer players should also be paid like Ronaldo.

But why stop there, if we’re really paying reparations for centuries of oppression, why not pay women double and not pay men at all? Now THAT is progressive!
  • + 8
 Sorry, but @Deuce-DeuceAndAHalf and @Levelheadsteve are right. You can look at the average attendance in any given male/female sport and see the disparity. In the German Bundesliga, the men's average attendance is 45,000 people per game. For the women, it's 846. Champion FC Bayern's net worth is $1.23 billion. Given the huge chasm in those numbers, how much of that $1.23 billion does FC Bayern's men pull in compared to its women's team?

Or let's take the NBA vs. the WNBA here in the states. The average attendance for men is 17,884 compared to 7,716 for the women. TV rights for the NBA is $2.6 BILLION compared to $25 million for the WNBA.

As a rule men are earning their teams, leagues, sponsors, TV partners, etc., far more than the women. Not by a little -- not even twice as much -- by but by a huge percentage. One hundred times more, in the case of the NBA vs. the WNBA. That's why they are paid more. That's it. If a women's team or sport or league were able to generate that type of revenue, they would be paid that much. But for whatever reason women's sports don't generate as much interest.

Now you can blame it on whatever you want -- sexism, the patriarchy, whatever... (Personally, I think it's because I'd rather watch the athleticism of LeBron shattering the backboard than Sue Bird doing a layup). But if you heroes really want to change it, put your money where your mouth is and support them financially. Attend women's sporting events, watch them on TV, buy the products that sponsor them. You do have the power to change this -- in your wallet. It starts with you.
  • + 2
 @TheR: I think we've gone a bit off piste. The economic arguments are sound when talking about major sports (which are huge industries that trade players like commodities) Doesn't make the principles I'm talking about wrong. The legacy of the past will take a long time to shake off. The women's world cup is coming to my town next year. I'll be going with my daughter and son. That should help sow seeds.
I don't disagree regarding the entertainment factor, but in sports like road racing, XC or swimming there's relatively little difference (it's all just a slog really) and XC is what the original article is about. Maybe I got triggered by certain connotations...
  • + 0
 @BenPea: The principles behind what you're talking about are not wrong. Maybe if you checked your facts and listened to reason more you'd realise the difference.
  • + 2
 @BenPea: I will agree that the disparity in major sports is going to be much higher than for minor sports like XC or swimming. In comparison to the major sports, men and women in these minor sports make a pittance, with the exception of big names like Michael Phelps and Lance.

One thing to consider though, is how athletes in these minor sports actually make money. For the most part, they're not in any professional sports leagues and the sports' governing bodies really don't make money from ticket sales or TV rights. Athletes are not paid to compete in the events themselves, although some do earn money based on winning a medal or setting a world record. Instead, the governing bodies allow them to sign with sponsors, and that's how they make a living, and for most of them, it's not making them rich.

That's where it gets tricky. If you're a sponsor for some sport product, the fact is, the men's market is much bigger, and men aren't necessarily buying what women are selling -- whether it's macho pride, or the women are using some women's specific product, it's just the reality. I don't know. So putting money on the men's side of things makes a lot more sense to the sponsor in many cases. I think there are exceptions -- TYR Sport signed swimmer Katie Ledecky for $7 million, and I think that's the biggest single swimming contract ever. And in the U.S., there are more female competitive swimmers than male. They stand to gain a lot from signing her.
  • + 1
 @TheR: I don't know why your post was down-voted. It just adds weight to the argument that when there are genuine economic factors behind the decisions (such as an appropriate base to influence and market to) elite sportswomen will do just as well financially as men.
I think another aspect of the argument regarding men buying items promoted by women is the ultimate performance of the item. If an average male rider buys a frame optimised for an elite female athlete, even Rachel Atherton, Cecile Ravanel, T-Mo, ACC or whoever, then it's likely they will be able to exceed the power tolerances or weight/ impact tolerances that frame is designed to handle simply by riding within their limits. This does not necessarily mean it will fail, only that the frame will likely deform under load (cornering, pedalling, etc. - remember your physics kids) which would likely result in decreased performance/ confidence/ enjoyment. Whereas a frame designed to withstand the output/ pace of Greg Minaar, or Jack Moir is going to fare better under many blunderous landings and any amount of square pedalling. Men generally go harder, go bigger and go faster, so from a purely product-development perspective it makes sense to optimise to their needs as that level of design and testing should result in a better product on the whole.
  • + 2
 @Deuce-DeuceAndAHalf: Ha! You and I both know why I was voted down.

But anyway... funny you should mention Rachel Atherton. I do in fact hold Trek in higher esteem because of her association with them. And not because I'm thinking, "Yay! They sponsored a woman!" but because she's a hell of a rider, and if she can ride and win on their bikes, there must be something to them. If they got that going for them -- that's lightning in a bottle there. Pay the woman! That said, is she a bigger face in a largely male market than Semenuk? Does he deserve more? That's a tough one to measure -- I don't know.
  • + 1
 Y'all fkin type a lot jesus
  • + 2
 nice read, thank you
  • - 3
 Man hater
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