Interview: Haley Batten on Qualifying for Tokyo & Winning Bronze, Silver & Gold in Her First Elite XC World Cup Races
Haley Batten grew up riding bikes with her family in Park City, Utah and started racing mountain bikes before she hit double digits. By the time she turned 14, she’d already decided that she wanted to pursue it as a career. Now, at age 22, she’s wrapped up a great four years in the U23 category and qualified for the US Olympic Team after an impressive debut in the Elite category, finishing third in Albstadt, first in the Short Track in Nové Město, and second in the Nové Město XCO World Cup. She’ll be joining Kate Courtney as one of the two American women to automatically qualify for the mountain bike team.
We caught up with Batten at her home base in Santa Cruz, California, where she lives when she isn’t at Quest University in Squamish, to learn more about what her expectations were coming into her first season as an elite on a new team, how she got into mountain biking, the skills it takes to race in the mud, and more.
For the people who haven’t heard of you despite your incredible performances in the past couple weeks in Albstadt and Nove Mesto, who is Haley Batten?
Haley Batten: Oh, Whoa. Okay. Well, I guess Haley Batten is someone that is seeking to be her best in all aspects of her life. I think it’s important to apply myself fully to my passions and have a positive impact on the world. My bike has been my vehicle to pursue my goals and has allowed me to find freedom, joy, and adventure while giving me appreciation for my communities and the environment. It has taught me how to overcome so many challenges.
I hope to pursue my life with intention and drive. And create a platform through that journey that can focus on providing opportunity to our youth through education. I’m passionate about the education system and about seeking human potential, both from myself and helping others do the same.
What are you studying or aiming to get out of your studies?
Haley Batten: At Quest University, the major is a build-your-own degree in the form of a question. It’s extremely unique educational structure that allows me to pursue what I truly passionate about. My question is, “How can education be optimized to inspire?” It focuses on implementing science based learning into an educational system. I hope to help students find joy in their educational experience and provide them with the tools they need to apply themselves to their interests and life outside of the classroom.
How did you get into mountain biking?
Haley Batten: Cycling was part of my family’s life throughout my childhood. We’d go camping with a bunch of friends to places like Moab and biking was such a fun way to explore the Red Rock and spend time together. I remember so many great group rides, finishing that happily worn out with my friends and with good food, a campfire, and s’mores. We also did some trips to Europe and we did a little bike tour along the Iron Curtain in the Czech Republic. Biking was part of my life early on and looking back it was such a special way to explore communities and share experiences with my family.
I grew up in Park City, Utah and my dad did a lot of the local race series there. Pretty early on, we were there anyway watching his races, so my little brother and I, we joined in on the little junior races and were doing that from when I was nine on. It’s pretty incredible. The cycling community in Utah is insane and there were so many local races, from the midweek races on Tuesday to the Intermountain Cup on Saturdays. Early on, we started doing a lot of little local races and I built a group of friends, mostly guys, that I could race and ride with. It was fun how many races we were able to do and then once I turned 14 or 15, I was pretty hooked on the sport. I think it was then that I decided that I wanted to pursue it full on and have been doing it in a sense ever since, although I would have never predicted where the journey would take me.
11th in her first Elite Short Track in Albstadt, first in Nove Mesto.
That’s awesome. So you grew up in Utah, but you said earlier that you’re currently based in Santa Cruz?
Haley Batten: Yeah! I’ve been based in Santa Cruz. My family’s been in Santa Cruz for a year and we’ve been in California for three years now. So although I’m in Canada in the winter and fall and then traveling quite a bit throughout the spring and summer, Santa Cruz is my base in between. This year I really got the chance to enjoy it and explore the area. I’m pretty stoked about. It’s been fun.
Tell me a little bit about the team that you’re currently on. You’re riding Specialized Bicycles, but you’re on the Trinity Team. Who else is on that team? Where is it based and what’s the team environment like?
Haley Batten: This year I’m on Trinity Racing. It’s a multi-disciplinary team and they have been on the road scene and the cyclocross scene for a while. And this year, they’re dipping their toes into mountain biking. They brought on me, Christopher Blevins, Chiara Teocchi from Italy, and then Alex Malacarne from Brazil. It’s such a great group of athletes and it’s been a blast to just get to know Chiara and Alex. I’ve been teammates with Christopher as juniors and we’ve been close friends for a long time. So it’s been amazing to be his teammate again on Trinity. The team has built a great environment and dynamic that I feel very comfortable on and. It’s exciting. For me, this team is more focused on helping athletes that are U23’s transitioning to the Elite category and make that transition as smooth as possible.
In a sense, they’re bringing in a lot of input and advice. And from them, it’s coming from the road scene or cyclocross and this different perspective is so valuable, but they also just have so much experience in racing and in cycling in general. I’m learning a lot and it’s nice to be in a place where the support doesn’t just come at the races, but there’s input and they care a lot about my training and support everything leading in, throughout the winter and behind the scenes. I think that’s what’s made a big impact for me.
But it was pretty crazy, in this last block of racing in Europe, that was their first time being at World Cup races for the staff. And just being in the mountain bike scene is fun and different and I think it’s been cool for them to bring their knowledge from road and cyclocross into mountain biking and then to learn a lot from the experience that me, Christopher, Chiara, and Alex also have. We are all learning and growing a lot are going through this process together. I’m looking forward to the rest of the season.
Did you decide to join the team because you are going to do some cyclocross or road racing or it was just they were looking for a mountain bike team?
Haley Batten: It is really cool because all the athletes can be supported at other events besides their focus discipline, which I think is beneficial because it really just allows you to have a lot more range. For me, I’ve always wanted to do cyclocross and I’m really hoping that I can, especially since the World Championships is in the US this year for cyclocross. I definitely have a lot to learn, but I think Trinity is definitely the best team I could be on to teach me the ropes before I jump into such a different world or racing. So I’m hoping to, and of course, it’s always been a challenge just balancing school with the cyclocross season, but I guess we’ll see what the year brings.
What does your biggest training week in the off season look like? How many hours are you putting in on the bike? In the gym?
Haley Batten: I’d say it’s anywhere from 20 to 30 hours. I do about three days in the gym. And then a lot of that is just endurance rides, anywhere from three to five hours on the bike. It’s been really nice being in Santa Cruz because I can do a lot of mountain biking and road riding as well. Just bringing out different bikes has been a blast. It’s been different this year, actually, for me because I’ve taken a few less courses at school just to focus on qualifying for the Olympics. And since I’m in a sunny area, it’s been easier for me to get in more miles and time. When I’m at school, my training hours are a lot lower than that and a lot of it’s on the indoor trainer, so usually at max like two and a half hours on that a day. So it’s been a blast to be in a new place, have new rides to explore and get in definitely a bigger block of training this winter, for sure.
What’s your all-time favorite workout to do?
Haley Batten:My favorite’s probably what my coach calls endurance plus. It’s a pretty fast endurance ride for about four to five hours. And you’re on the pedals and the whole time, no real stopping, but the fun part for me is… I love just big exploration ride. I love rides that you can stop and get baked goods and go to a totally different route and road, but this one’s super fun because it’s hard and it makes you feel like you’re really going for it. And on a road bike, you can cover so much ground and go so fast and sometimes you can add in a little QOM hunt in there. It’s such a hard workout, but it is just a blast because you can add in new terrain, new roads, and cover a lot of ground.
That sounds awesome. You won the World Cup U23 in 2019 in Nové Město and then you had a couple podiums last year as well on the U23 circuits. What were you hoping for in your first year in the Elite category?
Haley Batten: In all honesty, I had performed pretty well in Under 23, but I had no idea what to expect in the Elite category. I was definitely racing with some of the top girls in U23 and I definitely had hope that I could perform well because I’d seen a lot of the riders that I’d raced against in the Under 23 category either move up to Elite early or in transitioning to Elite, they had top 10 rides or even wins. For example, Loana [Lecomte], Laura [Stigger], Kate [Courtney], Evie [Richards]. They made the transition seem possible and something where Under 23 riders could be competitive with the Elites. So I was hopeful, but I planned on maybe going for a top 10. My main goal was to meet the Olympic criteria for the US and try and go top eight.
I had had some tough races in Europe the weekends prior that just didn’t go super well. I wasn’t really sure what I could expect, but my body did feel strong and I knew I had trained well during the winter. So I was very hopeful. My goal was just to show what I was capable of and just try and have my best race, but there was really no pressure because I just had no idea what to expect. And I was just kind of gunning for it like, “Okay, maybe I’ll just work my way up to the top 10 and see what happens.” I definitely surprised myself and exceeded my expectations.
How much did that motivate you this winter that you were on the Olympic Long Team for the USA?
Haley Batten: Oh gosh, so much. The Olympics is special because it only happens every four years. And I think you really never know how often you’ll have the opportunity to even go for it or if it’ll ever happen again. But I think for me, having the time at home to train a bit more than usual, taking that time off school, and just really being in an environment that I was excited to train and surrounded by good people. And then also just being on a new team. That also really motivated me to perform well and help the team prepare for the World Cup races and just have community behind me. I was really motivated. The Olympics has been a big goal of mine from a young age, so just having the opportunity to go for it and having made the Long Team, no doubt that fueled some of my training rides, for sure.
You said you had some bad couple of races in Europe and then you were able to switch it on for the first World Cup races. How did you change your mindset for that?
Haley Batten: It was definitely pretty tough. Every time you have a result that’s far from what you expected or hoped for, it can hit you hard. And going into the World Cups, I was a bit worried, but I have a great coach behind me and really good support and team, and I never felt pressured from anybody in a negative way. So for me, there were a few things I had to just adjust. My mindset and make sure we did our training right in the week prior to the World Cups, but I think, in a sense, I just needed to reset and think, “Okay, we’ll just see what I can do.”
I was also just so excited to race my first World Cup in the Elite category and to race the Short Track too. Actually, I could hardly wait to race the Short Track. I feel like it’s so unpredictable and it’s such a short event and it’s so tactical that I just felt like there was a huge opportunity to just go for it and see what can happen. I think once the Short Track in Albstadt came around, my body felt really healthy and strong and I had reset from those earlier races. Something in me believed that I could still have some good World Cup races.
How far in advance did you go over to Europe from the US?
Haley Batten:I was in Europe for three weeks prior to the World Cups, so in total I was there… After Nové Město, it was five weeks in total before I came home.
And had you done some Short Track races before in the US?
Haley Batten: Yeah. So in the US, we have Short Track races at a lot of the domestic US Cups and National Championships as well, so I’ve been racing them for a bit, ever since I was in the Under 23 category. I’ve always been very bad tactically, but each year I get a little bit better and a little bit smarter and a little bit stronger too. We had one at the US Cup prior to the World Cups and I think at that race, it finally clicked for me.
I learned how to be patient and a bit smarter at racing it. I was excited to go to Europe and see. I think it’s just a whole other ball game there as well, because you’ve got just the top riders in the world and the depth of the field is really something special. So again, I just didn’t know what to expect. I had raced Short Tracks, but I just didn’t know what it was going to be like in Europe. It was nice to have some experience before standing on that start line though.
What was that first World Cup Short Track race like?
I ended up getting 11th, but it was still great for me because I was starting like 27th, so that ended up giving a second round call in the cross country race. For me, that was a big step forward. I could just tell that I felt strong, even in that short of an event. Then just to have a second row call was really motivating. I think it just lined me up to have a good race on the weekend.
Whether you have a good or a bad Short Track race, how do you think that affects your cross country race? Because people can win the Short Track and not do well in the XCO or can win the XCO and not do well in the Short Track, but how do you think it affects you to do well or not well in the Short Track ahead of a cross country race?
Haley Batten: I don’t think that you can base too much off of it because it is such a different event and anything can happen in the Short Track race. The one big advantage of it is that because it does determine the call up of the first three rounds, that’s a pretty big advantage, especially when a course cuts from a wide pavement section and funnels into a singletrack section early on. It’s really nice to be in front of the pack. So that’s the main benefit that having a good Short Track race can add. But I think that also, if you have a bad day in Short Track, the coolest part about it is that it’s just another race and you always have another chance.
I think just going into a week and having two races is so cool and gives more opportunities to see what you can do. But I also think that if you have a good race in the Short Track, it might be a good sign of your fitness and how you race, racing smarter tactically as well. But also the cross country is an hour and a half, it’s a different race. It’s just a whole other go, so you definitely can’t base too much off of it. We do see that the strongest riders are able to performance in both events and I think over the winter and leading up to it, you have to prepare to be able to perform in back-to-back days.
What does the day off between the Short Track and the cross country race look like? Do you feel totally recovered two days after the Short Track race?
Haley Batten: Not exactly. For me, the main thing is actually just sleeping well. I think we raced at 6:00 PM at the World Cup in Albstadt and Nové Město. So for me, it was like my body was just so hyped up from those races. I think also because I was just totally shocked about how I performed as well, so I had so much energy and I just couldn’t sleep. I just felt kind of tired the next day and even Sunday morning in Nové Město, I was just a little bit fatigued. But I think that the name of the game after the Short Track is just recovering well, sleeping well, and then making sure that you train really smart on Saturday where you keep it easy, but definitely don’t let your body go into full rest mode so that it’s ready to go again on Sunday. It’s definitely a fine line. There’s a lot that goes into making sure that you can perform on the second day as well.
So Albstadt and Nové Město are pretty different tracks from the outside and pretty different conditions. You did well in both of them. Was there one that you preferred?
Haley Batten: Nové Město, for sure I prefer that course. It’s so fun, just the way the course is designed. It’s just fun to ride. It reminds me of Squamish too, just the roots, it was raining, the mud, it just feels epic. And for me, I love a technical, dynamic, and a course that demands your focus from start to finish. So I love Nové Město. I think honestly performing in Albstadt, it’s a long climb and a long descent, it’s pretty straight forward and you have to be a good climber and your fitness has to be really good. So I think to perform there, I was definitely even more shocked about that. And then, I’m just really excited going Nové Město because, like you mentioned, I had my first World Cup win there in the Under 23 category, so I have good memories there. I love the course. So, it was nice to have the second World Cup there and to keep the good energy going.
Did you change anything with your bike set up between Albstadt and Nové Město?
Haley Batten: Yeah, I did. At Albstadt, I raced a hardtail bike with a dropper post and then I switched to the Epic full suspension bike at Nové Město. I didn’t make too crazy of adjustments, but I changed tires and chain-ring. I put on a 34-tooth chain ring in the Short Track and then 32T in the cross country. And then I removed the dropper post for the Short Track in Nové Město. So small adjustments between the Short Track and the cross country, but then between Albstadt and Nové Město, I switched bikes completely.
Riding in the mud is definitely a skill. Do you think you’ve learned that when you have been in Squamish for school or have you been really focusing on learning more technical skills? Because mountain bike courses have been getting more and more technical, have you just evolved with the sport or do you put a focus on technical training?
Haley Batten: I think just from a young age, I’ve always loved that aspect of mountain biking, that technical side and doing more crazy features and just getting a little bit of adrenaline for sure. But I think that moving to Squamish as well and being there during the winter for school, it kind of forces you to level up in a way. It’s just so technical, the terrain there is like nothing that I’d ever ridden before. So I love riding there and I definitely put a focus on skills work.
I think for cross country mountain biking, there’s a lot to balance between fitness training on the bike, strength training off the bike, and then also having really good mental training and skills training as well. There’s a lot that’s going on, but I think that the time spent on the bike, just to have those skills and good instincts when riding in really technical and unpredictable terrain like that, is super important. I try to spend a lot of time on my mountain bike as well and riding with people that can help push my limits a bit and get faster both up and down technically. And then just being in a place like Squamish has also helped a lot, in that type of terrain that’s similar to Europe in a lot of ways.
To wrap it up, what are some of the best things about being a professional cross-country mountain bike racer?
Haley Batten: One of the best things is you get to ride your bike every day and you get to go to really cool places around the world that you would never even think of going to, but the races always take you to really unique places. And then I think just the other aspect is the community that it gives you. I think you learn a lot about just how important it is to have support and community and connecting with people and building those relationships that just make life and cycling more meaningful.
I think also just the bike in general, there are so many ways that I learned and developed as a person and I think just bringing that to the youth and to communities is so important. From mental and physical healthy, to creating new opportunities, everyone can benefit. And it’s cool that as a professional cyclist, that’s something that we can promote and hope to inspire and bring bikes to communities. So overall, there are a lot of different ways that it’s helped me grow as a person and I think just being a professional cyclist and being able to do work on and off the bike that can inspire people and go beyond is really special as well.