Interview: 20-Year Old Mona Mitterwallner Has Her Sights Set on an Elite XC World Cup Win This Year

Apr 6, 2022
by Sarah Moore  
"To be honest, I'm always going to the start line for the win. It's just the basic setup in my mind." Photo by Michele Mondini for Cannondale

Mona Mitterwallner is the young Austrian racer who won every single U23 World Cup and the World Championships in 2021 with lap times to rival the elite racers. She then won the elite Marathon World Championships at the end of the year, making her the youngest ever winner in that discipline.

This year, the 20-year-old signed with Cannondale Factory Racing and will be moving up to the elite category in 2022. She'll be the youngest rider in the category, but she has her sights high. While she says her goals are to get on the live stream and win a World Cup this season, we're not counting out the possibility that she could make history as the youngest ever elite XC World Cup overall winner. We caught up with her to chat about her new team, how she feels going into this season, how she deals with pressure, recovering from coronavirus, and more before she raced her final pre-World Cup race in Italy.

How did you decide what your lead up to the first World Cup would be?

Mona: The plan changed quite a lot because of corona. I wanted to start to see the season a lot earlier in February, but then I got corona, so I talked a lot to my trainers, and we decided to start later, but still I need to get some races in before Brazil. So I think the Internazionali d’Italia Series is the perfect preparation to have one last test and get hopefully some self confidence for my first Elite World Cup. It's pretty near to my home so that's probably one of the biggest reasons I decided to race it so near to the World Cup.

When did you get coronavirus, how did that affect your training, and how did you recover from that?

Mona: I just got it in February. In the second week, I think, before the first race in Spain. I needed a break completely off the bike and everything. That was quite tough. But then, I started to build up again. I waited for the races at the end of March, because my body really needed some low intensity, but we were able to put the engine really on again. I think, if you take good rest, it's like normal illness.

Do you feel fully recovered and ready for all the rest of the race season now?

Mona: Yeah, definitely. I'm happy that I got it already, so I think now my immune system is powered up and, yeah, I'm ready to go.

If we just take a step back, how did you first get into mountain biking?

Mona: It was my dad. He's a former downhill racer. I mean, he didn't race World Cups, but he did a lot of downhill races in Austria, Germany and Italy. So one day he just asked me, "Do you want to join for a mountain bike ride?" And I said, "Okay." After that, I wanted to go for a mountain bike ride every day. Then we called the local club, five minutes away from my home, and they took me to my first race and after the first race, I was on fire.

That was all pretty recent, right? You've only been racing for five or six years right?

Mona: Yeah, exactly. It was in 2017 when I did my first race, and I was 15 there. So everything went quite fast.

At what point was it at that first race that you decided that this was the sport for you and when did you decide you wanted to try to make your best go of a career at this?

Mona: I think it was quite funny because, before the first race, I said, "Well, it's stupid to travel six or seven hours to a race. In this time, you can ride your bike six hours. I won't do that." But then the weather was quite bad at home and someone asked me if I wanted to join a race in Italy. There was good weather there and it was only three hours away and so I said, "Yes."

I had this feeling already during the race, this adrenaline rush and free mind where everything else is put aside. Your head's just focusing on the race, and that's the most beautiful feeling you can have, like you're completely one with yourself.

It sounds like you were hooked on mountain biking right away, but had you done other competitive sports before then? Did you have a base in sport before you started mountain biking?

Mona: Yeah. Quite a lot. I played soccer, I did break dance and ballet, I played volleyball and ice hockey and a lot of other sports. I actually always wanted to be professional one day in any sport. With volleyball, I was quite near to get, in Austria, to a big team, but I don't know why it didn't happen.

Straight after that, my dad asked me to try cycling, and then I did three sports at the same time. Then I decided to just do cycling because it was the best feeling I've had from all the sports I've ever done.

Mountain biking is quite a technical sport. How did you master the technical aspects of mountain biking to be able to win races at the World Cup U23 level last year?

Mona: I think my dad played a big role of course. We trained so much. I mean, it was not like, "Okay, we have to be good at technical things." It was just going for mountain bike rides every day.

My former mechanic and the local club helped as well. I'm very thankful for the local club because they've all been riding bikes since they are like three years old, and they are so fast in the downhills. I think they would beat many of Elite riders just on the downhills. When I'd be going out with them three times a week, and they'd have to wait for me in the downhills for five minutes, I didn't feel so good after training. So I really had to push on the downhills to stay on their tires.

Mona Mitterwallner once again rode away from her completion without any issues.
Mitterwallner tackling a technical section during the Val di Sole World Championships.

Last year, you had the perfect season in U23. You won every U23 World Cup and the World Championships. And then you ended up winning the Elite Marathon World Championships as well. What were your expectations going into the season and how did that just feel when it came together?

Mona: When the season started, I didn't really expect that I would be feeling so thankful about 2021, because it seemed like it wouldn't even work out. There are so many things you're thinking about that could go wrong, and then suddenly things turned around with the first race. I really got into the flow. I had a new bike, a new team, and there was some things that were just completely wrong, but I think my head turned things around, and I gained so much confidence in my decisions. It had been a big issue for me, making the right decisions for the races.

That's what I take out of 2021, that, if you trust your head or your mind and your body, and also your heart, of course, then these races can happen.

Mona Mitterwallner outclasses her completion for a 6th time this season.
World Cup win six in Snowshoe, in the rainbow stripes no less.

When you won race after race, did you think halfway through the season that you could accomplish the perfect season? Was that on the back of your mind? Did you have more pressure from that?

Mona: To be honest, I'm always going to the start line for the win. It's just the basic setup in my mind. I think that will never change. After winning the first Under 23 World Cup, it was like, "Okay, I know the pressure will be quite high for the next five." And I think, in Leogang, I knew, now you have to make six out of six, but, for me, it was never like one big step. It was always step by step, because you win the race, and straight the next week you have the next race, and then the next race, the next... You don't have time to think about, "Oh, what happens if I don't win this one in September or something?" It's just going from one race to another.

What would you consider your best race of the season last year?

Mona: I think it has to be the Marathon World Championship, because I'd never done a marathon before. Doing a first marathon at Worlds with a five-hour race and an extremely hard, hard track, there were such steep climbs. There was no space for like calming down or something. I also had a flat, so it was a very hard race.

And it was at the end of a very, very long season, as well. So, finishing off with another rainbow jersey in my first year Under 23, it was an amazing feeling. I was so done after that. It was a very beautiful ending.

Your race was nearly five hours, did you judge that speed differently your first really big marathon race?

Mona: I mean, I think it's no secret that I'm a person who trains a lot. Some riders get their strength with intervals. And, of course, I also do intervals, but I like to do longer endurance sessions to get my strength. For Marathon Worlds I didn't change anything because I just had one week or one and a half to prepare for it. So I just did what I have always done.

What is a typical week of training like for you? How many hours are you spending on the bike, and do you do stuff outside of biking, as well, to train?

Mona: In winter, I don't spend any time on my bike because I'm on cross-country skis or ski mountaineering. I'm also in the gym a lot and I go running or mountain running. Of course, I was in South Africa, and, there, I was on my bike and for the next years, I want to be in the south more often. But yeah, as I said, normally my winter looks like a lot of training on the snow and it's a rare week that I train below 20 hours, I think, if I'm honest. There's a lot of stuff you can do besides training, like stretching and everything and so my day is quite filled.

Mitterwallner usually spends at least 20 hours a week training.

You signed with Cannondale Factory Racing ahead of this year, have you been able to meet everybody in person already and spend some time getting to know the team?

Mona: Not all people, because I missed the first training camp in Spain since I had corona. For example, I didn't meet Henri yet and also the physios, but I'm going to meet them tomorrow. I'm going to meet the whole team in Brazil next week, and I'm really looking forward to it.

Technically, you would have three more years in the U23 category, but you're already moving up to the Elite category for the World Cup race. How did you make that decision to step up to the Elite category for the World Cup season this year?

Mona: I think there were more than one reason. One reason was, obviously, that I won all six races last year. So I really wanted to have a new challenge. I love to challenge myself. I want to get the best out of my body and my mind. And, if you have higher goals or the challenge is bigger, you also can grow higher. So that was the main reason.

I also think it would be very difficult to reach something extraordinary in Under 23, as I already won all of them. So if I want to do something extraordinary, I have to win all nine this year, but I don't think it's really more impressive. I always want to do something that no one did before so that's the reason why I stepped up.

At just 20 years of age, Mitterwallner is moving up to the elite category.

Do you know if there are any U23 riders who've moved up early as young as you are? Do you know if there's kind of anybody that you can kind of compare yourself to?

Mona: I'm not sure when Jolanda stepped up. I know that she won the overall when she was 21. I'm 20 now.

I want to keep very successful this year already. Loana, last year she was 22 when she won the overall and she also stepped up when she was 21. I think I'm one of the youngest. I mean, this year I'm definitely the youngest. I know that no one else is stepping up.

Do you think that brings a different kind of pressure and do you think you'll be able to keep that same head space that you had when you were racing U23? Do you work with a mental coach at all or do you just go for it?

Mona: I definitely go for it, but I have a mental coach as well. I'm working with him for all those things like making the right decisions and staying calm when life is going crazy, like getting corona before your first training camp with your new team.

Now, I think the pressure is high, not from the team side, but just because I won a lot last year, and the expectations are just high. The expectations I put on myself are the highest, I guess, because I always make pressure on myself. I think the pressure on my shoulders last year at the sixth World Cup in Snowshoe was definitely high and was definitely heavier than it is right now. Stepping up into Elite with a new team, a new bike, and being just 20, I think I have some time to get to know Elite, but I definitely want to be in the front at some point at this year. But I can't really imagine right now how the pressure will be after the first World Cup with all the media, because I just never had it before.

Yet another win added to Mona Mitterwallner s rapidly expanding tally.
Mitterwallner taking the World Championships win in 2021.

You've never been on the live stream either, right?

Mona: Yeah. I'm very excited about this. My whole family and my friends, they will be watching. I'm really happy that I will be on the live stream. Or hope to be at some point in the live stream. You know, you have to be the front if you want to be on TV, but that makes me very happy and also motivates me in training. As I said, I'm always going to the start line for the win, and, at some point this year, I will reach this goal. I'm sure about this.

Moving up from U23, how does that work for getting into the grid? Will you be starting further to the back?

Mona: Right now, I'm ninth in the UCI World Ranking women Elite. So normally the first World Cup will be by the UCI ranking. If I get some good points this week in Nals, Italy, it could be that I'm moving up to eight or seven, depends how the race will go. Then I could be on the first start line. I think the UCI does it like that, just for the first World Cup Short Track. After that, it will be the Short Track that determines the Sunday cross-country order.

Have you raced Short Track before?

Mona: No, but I know it will be super, super painful. I trained a lot for that during winter. I did so much explosive training, so much start training, to turn a weakness of mine into a strength. I already felt at the first race that my start was a lot better, so I told my trainer, and he said, "Yeah, we did it." I hope racing against the big names, in Brazil, I hope that the start will be the same and not much more painful, but we will see.

What was it like racing your first race on a new bike with a new team? How did that go?

Mona: It was absolutely great. I never feel ready for the first race of the season, I would say, because I'm just someone who needs self-confidence at the beginning of the year. I get the self-confidence from winning races. It was great to have the Cannondale team around to support me in any way. We also had some good fun, as well. We are just more relaxed when the atmosphere is good. It was a really great start of the season I would say.

And the bike also felt great, obviously, because I felt safe in the downhills. I raced the hardtail and I liked the stiffness of the hardtail. I love to just go up full gas in the start and it was just perfect.

Photo by Michele Mondini l Cannondale
Mona has already been winning races in Europe in 2022 with her new bike and team. Photo by Michele Mondini for Cannondale

Are you going to bring a hardtail and a full-suspension bike to all of the races and then decide which one to race at each race?

Mona: Yeah, for example, in Nals, I will do it exactly like you said. In Brazil, what I heard, I can leave my hardtail at home.

Have you got the inside scoop on the course will be like from Henrique there? Do you know what it's like?

Mona: Yeah. Kenta the technique trainer is already there and, also, the photos I have seen so far, they made me wonder if the hardtail makes sense. And so I spoke to Mani and everyone, and they said, "No, Mona, you can leave your hardtail at home."

It sounds like it's going to be quite a technical World Cup then.

Mona: Yeah. I think so. I think Henri really was included in building up track, and Henri is someone I think who likes it a little bit techy.

What are you going to do between now and the time that you get to the World Cup in Brazil?

Mona: Tomorrow I leave for Italy. I will prepare myself, have a look at the track, do normal race preparation for Nals, and race in Nals, go straight home, have good recovery, and probably do a last training session at home, pack my bags and be ready on Monday, we are off. Then I will try to get to know the track as fast as possible. And get used to the climate and meet the whole team.

But I would just stick to my pre-race rituals, I would say, because it's my first Elite World Cup. So there are so many things changing already, so I want to have the self confidence that I did everything I could. Then I would be at the start line saying, "I've done everything I could," and no matter what the race will be, it is what it is.

Mitterwallner getting in the zone. Photo by Michele Mondini for Cannondale

What are some of those pre-race rituals that you do all the time before that help you get yourself in that mindset for, "I'm ready for the race"?

Mona: Yeah, I think it's important that you don't have too many rituals, because if you can't do one thing, then you worry the race will go wrong or something. You should keep it not too complicated. I do yoga. I meditate a lot. I listen to music just before the race. That really gets me into the tunnel or focussed. I need this time where nobody speaks to me where I'm just with myself and going through the race. I think that's probably the most important for me.

I'm very careful about nutrition and the pre-race trainings. I always do the same activations. As for nutrition, I'm nervous before a race, I mean, that's normal, and so also my stomach also gets nervous. When I eat something wrong it could turn out quite bad.

In U23, you do one lap less than in Elite. Are you going to do anything differently at the races to accommodate for that extra time on the course?

Mona: I mean, I've done a lot of normal Elite races during the last year. When you do C1 races or the Hors-Classe class races, it's always the same time. And at the Under 23 races, most of the them, I had the feeling I could do one more lap. So I didn't change anything about that.

As I said, though, I think the biggest aspects that will change is the start will be faster. The quality of the riders will be higher, and there will be just much more riders. The start will be more aggressive too so you really have to be careful about not getting to the back because, otherwise, you will lose the race in the first lap when you are already back in fourtieth position. It's difficult to overtake all of those riders.

We can't wait to watch Mona's elite debut on Friday at the Short Track. Check out the Pinkbike Primer for the live broadcast schedule.

Author Info:
sarahmoore avatar

Member since Mar 30, 2011
1,334 articles

  • 29 2
 She would be a great pick the 2022 fantasy league, if there was one...
  • 8 0
 I picked her in my 2022 Fantasy 2022 Fantasy XC Racing League.
  • 2 0
 You say that.... But Pinkbike will price her at $500,000+. You will not be getting her for a bargain
  • 12 0
 Only 5 years from her first race to dominant force?!
I appreciate her transparent replies, no canned PR speak. Guess that comes from being so young and not far removed from her grassroots start.
Her quote "....super, super painful" sums up how badazz XC racers are.
  • 10 0
 Poise - her position on the bike seems ideal in every single shot. I sure would not want pics of my style on PB. Nice interview to read. The Leogang round is not so far away and would be very cool to see the local enthusiasm for their top XCO and DH riders.
  • 3 0
 Poised is a good way to put it. She's a natural on the bike, is in a good headspace, is smart about what she needs to be a high level pro, and speaks like the seasoned vet that she is already. With Laura that's quite the Austrian 1-2 punch.
  • 5 2
 Her position on the bike seems ideal in every single shot? In three of the photos in this article she is not even holding the handle bar while riding! Highly inefficient if you ask me.
  • 2 4
 @mi-bike: don't be a wanker - there's an entire race on YouTube that illustrates her dynamic positions.
  • 2 0
 @Willikers: you are the wanker, @mi-bike is most likely referring to her winning photos with her hands high in the air. Ideal riding position for crushing a race....
  • 1 0
 @pedaler: thanks for the explanation!
  • 1 0
 @pedaler: indeed I am. I accept the wankitude moniker and apologize to my Brazilian brother.
  • 6 1
 On current form, it looks like her v Lecomte. I'd be surprised if she doesn't win at least one World Cup this season. And while she's only just signed for Cannondale, you can bet one of the big women's Road teams will come sniffing.....
  • 5 0
 Judging by the result at Petroplis last week, Jolanda looks in pretty good shape too
  • 7 1
 The real question is: How much does she cost in XC Fantasy?
  • 3 1
 Great interview.
Inherent the quote "I think, if you take good rest, it's like normal illness." and then goes on to say that she is glad she already had it.
Indeed, I wonder how many racers have already had it? At this stage I bet they all wish they already had it.
  • 4 6
 Dopey comment by Mona - there are numerous young fit folk who got seriously ill from Covid.
There's plenty of evidence genetics (and physical condition) plays a big part in how ill you become, rather than how much rest you take
  • 2 1
 @tigerfish50: nah, it's a fair comment.. Plenty of young peeps also got sick from normal illnesses
  • 6 1
 Mona is my favorite in fantasy leagueWink
  • 2 0
 I'm in the picture of Mona crossing the finish line in Snowshoe (3rd pic).... Right side in the shadow, blue long sleeve arm banging on the white Vitoria sign wearing a white floppy hat.
  • 3 0
 Fantasy League or not, I'm really looking forward to the WC XC, especially the women's races. This is going to be fun!
  • 3 1
 In a world of "Fantasy" she could be the Queen. But there is no Fantasy righ?.... RIGHT???!!
  • 1 0
 Awesome Interview, awesome jung Women, normaly i only watch the Downhills on Red Bull TV, but now i will watch the XC stuff too, cause i‘m Austrian Rock it Mona
  • 1 0
 I would imagine they all want to be on the top step of the podium, yeah? Good luck to all SC racers this year!
  • 2 0
 "I had the feeling I could do one more lap". Lots of confidence!
  • 1 0
 Super impressive, especially starting at age 15. Interesting and thoughtful answers. Hope she does well.
  • 1 0
 she will dominate in 2 years
  • 2 0
 2022 WC hyyyyype!
  • 1 0
 Awesome interview!
  • 1 1
 whatta sick rider!
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