After consistently being at the pointy end of the World Cup circuit for the past several years, with podiums in five of the World Cup rounds last year, and a third-place at the World Championships in Lenzerheide, it was expected that Emily Batty would continue her winning ways in 2019. Perhaps even finally getting that elusive World Cup win. When she finished 28th in Albstadt, it was her worst World Cup race result ever. A 38th in Nove Mesto meant it was no fluke, something was off. I caught up with Emily Batty after the World Championships in Mont-Sainte-Anne to find out more about what made this season so difficult for her and how she's turned things around towards the end of the season to finish 9th on home soil.
How was your World Championships race?
It was a good race. It’s not very often that I don’t start either on the front or the second row but this year has been very difficult after such a great season last year. I’ve definitely taken a step way back and have had to overcome a lot of personal challenges to get back to what I’m capable of. I started on the fifth row and I think I was already a minute and a half down after lap one. I definitely paid for being way back in the start, but once it opened up I was able to start riding to my own potential.
I finished top nine and was the top Canadian. These positions and these races are crucial because the Olympic selection is heavily based on them. Top 5 was a ticket to Tokyo. I was able to eventually ride my own race and getting into those top positions came towards the middle of the race. I was just able to focus on the process and be in the moment. The fans were insane. It felt like this was a really good turnout and I’m so grateful for all the people that came out. There were a few times on the climbs where it was so loud. People could be on either side of the course so it was just a tunnel of screaming. My ears were ringing. It was spectacular. I had 45 or 50 family members here. It’s pretty incredible.
What bike did you race on?
Believe it or not, I actually chose the 27.5 hardtail. I don’t think anyone else was racing a hardtail. But the weight of the bike and the length of the bike are really important to me and I like the precision of the light bike, a sub-19 lb. mountain bike is very important to me. I race better on a light bike so I left the suspension bike in the trailer and I went with the hardtail. I felt strong on the climbs and I wasn’t riding the descents quite to my full potential, but I wasn’t losing a ton of time.
Do you think the Mont-Sainte-Anne course is one that suits you?
For the most part, I think that all race tracks have to suit you. A lot of the time it comes down to power to weight on the climbing. I’ve always been superior technically. I’m not the fastest, but I’ve always been good at technical, good at steep climbs. I think it’s a track that suits me, however I think that all the tracks have to suit you. You can’t just choose ones that suit you, you have to train for all the aspects of the different World Cups.
Why do you think your results haven’t been where they were last year this season?
There’s a lot of political background to it. All my Canada government funding was pulled when they implemented a new government testing thing. So Adam [ed: Adam Morka, Emily’s husband and coach] unfortunately didn’t travel with me most of the winter and summer.
Adam and I also tried a few new things and potentially overreached. We kind of lost sight of what works for me and got overwhelmed with the political side of it. Once we came back to our normal and Adam was able to travel with me, I started to come around and I started to show signs of myself again.
The loneliness of just being on your own… Where I live, we pretty much have to be away all season long because the training environment isn’t quite up to par for what it takes to race World Cups. So I have to be gone for nine months of the year. And being on my own, that really affected me. There’s a lot to it but those are the main things that made the season a little bit harder than it needed to be.
So in the past couple years, Adam has been training you and travelling with you to every World Cup?
Yes. An athlete’s happiness is almost more important than anything and in the past we’ve always travelled together and he’s been on all the training camps. But he was home a lot more this year. I’m a social person. I don’t have a big village but there are a few people that I rely on, the few sponsors that I really, really cherish, and my small village. Adam is my coach, my training partner, my manager. He’s been that role since I was 16 years old. So it’s a big part of who I am and in extracting that potential.
Did the Trek team dynamics change at all with the addition of Jolanda Neff?
Not in any negative way. It’s been great. Honestly we haven’t really had much time to spend together because we’ve had such different schedules. At a couple of the World Cups we didn’t room together because once Adam started coming to the races with me again we just did our own thing again. Because I would rather be with him and my normal. So we stayed on our own and not with the Trek team. But she is an incredible person on and off the bike. We just haven’t had a lot of opportunities to get to know each other. She’s an amazing person and a great addition to the team. I look forward to getting to know her even more, she’s such a fun person.
What’s your ideal scenario for being happiest and racing your best?
To extract my athletic potential I have to be happy. I have to be in sunshine and training. I just need quality, repetitive training without political pull. Happiness is crucial. Where I choose to train is usually very selective. I do a lot altitude training in places that I enjoy and have good memories from. Having Adam at the training camps that count and at the races and venues that are important make a big difference for me. I’m a social person so being alone is not healthy long-term. Depression after a few bad races sets in and it’s easy to fall into a really dark place. It’s just important for me to rely on those people that really matter.
So you basically spent all winter alone in Arizona?
I know it sounds horrible. I did yeah. I shouldn’t have gone back to Tucson. It’s a great training ground but I’ve done that now for ten years and I’m burned out on that location. Location means a lot to me and weather means a lot to me. Arizona is really cost-effective, it’s great for being in one spot for a long period of time and the weather’s usually pretty consistent but I should not have returned to that location. I should have gone somewhere that I wasn’t so burned out on. I should have gone somewhere that I was excited to be.
So we’re going to do some fun stuff this season together. We’re going to take our truck and our dog and go south. We’re going to go to Red Bull Rampage, hopefully a few Supercross events in California and meet some of the Red Bull athletes. That’s my dream. I would rather meet Ken Roczen than Beyonce. That’s how cool I think Ken Roczen is. We’re going to get through this next week and then we have some fun things planned in the fall.
I watched one of your YouTube videos on nutrition, did you try different things this year?
People always want to know what athletes are doing for nutrition so that was fun for me. I definitely enjoy doing the vlogs. I got away from that just because I wasn’t in a place where I could be the version of myself that I want to be, so I set that aside for now, but it’s definitely coming back because we have a lot of stuff we want to share.
Nutrition is a fun topic. I did do some different things however I don’t think that worked. I think I have to go back to what I normally do. And I did. People are like ‘You can’t be keto’ but I was never keto. People were like ‘You have to eat bananas.’ But if you add up what I eat in a day I was never keto. It was definitely carbohydrates in abundance. But I definitely dabbled in that realm. Then after a week I knew that I had to go back to normal.
What are your plans in the next year?
This year has been a qualifier for our Olympic selection. And I was two seconds off a bronze medal in Rio so I have every intention of going to Tokyo and it’s just not gone the way I was hoping this season. However we still have one race next year to make it. We have our first World Cup which is Czech Republic. So that is the final qualifier for the Olympics. I have to go into the Czech Republic in complete form to get that spot. And hopefully win the race. That’s my goal.
This fall we’re just going to go to a bunch of events with Red Bull and do some really fun epic trail riding and get back to the roots and push our skills. That’s something that I kind of got away from. I really enjoy pushing that edge as far as technical riding and I haven’t done that for quite a while. So I want to bring fun back. It’s still always really professional but I got away from having fun and I think took it a little bit too seriously in the last 12 months.
So how exactly is the Canadian Olympic team formed?
Yeah that’s its own story lingering in the background as the seasons not unfolded the way I’d love to have said it did. All of these bad races means you’re not qualifying yet. The priority for making the Canadian team is top 5 at World Championships. That’s an automatic. None of us made that, but I was top nine and was still best Canadian. Then best World Cup position all of this year as well as Czech Republic next year. So pretty much it means I have to go out and get podium, ideally first, in Czech Republic to seal the deal. Right now we have two Canadian positions for Tokyo