Lauren Lackman knows she’s a good mountain biker. The 20-year-old junior from Colorado University Mesa in Grand Junction has been cycling since before she could walk. Which meant she was well prepared for whatever last month’s Collegiate Mountain Bike National Championships in Durango threw at her.
But the snow?
“It was kind of a shock,” Lackman says. “I was like, wait, so early in winter?” But I was so excited when I got there and saw the snow.
The reason Lackman was excited was that she had grown up in Wausau, Wisconsin, and learned the skill of mountain biking in the snow early on.
“It’s different. It’s really slippery for one and the more you pedal on it the muddier it gets. The most important thing is choosing the tires, knowing how fast and how much power you can put into a turn and to know: okay, if I go a little too hard here, I will probably skid to rule here and then go harder when there is grass that I can hold onto.
In mud and snow, Lackman won the championship, winning the women’s individual varsity omnium and the champion’s jersey.
The following conversation has been edited for clarity and length.
Nathan Heffel: First of all, congratulations on this national title. You’re from northern Wisconsin which helped prepare for the insane conditions on race day. What was it like growing up in Wisconsin?
Lauren Lackman: Growing up with the outdoors as it is: very cold in winter, I was doing cross-training for skiing, which seemed like a good reinforcement. My father has always supported me on all my skiing, cycling, school and adventure adventures. And that really helped me get there.
Heffel: How do you train to ride a bike in the snow on a mountain bike trail?
Lackman: It’s different. It’s really slippery, for one, and the more you bite on it, the mudder it gets. It sort of goes from an ice rink to a festival, but it’s a lot of fun. The most important thing is to choose the tires knowing how fast and how much power you can put into a turn. And knowing that if I go a little too hard, I’m probably going to slip. So I’m going to have to rule here and then go harder when there’s grass I can hold onto.
Heffel: So that creates a really muddy mess.
Lackman: Yeah, yeah. It’s a lot more technical than you might think.
Heffel: Tell us about the courses themselves; are they all downhill or is it a mix of different types of mountain bikes?
Lackman: It’s a mix. Omnium, what I won was four events. The first one was the double slalom, which is a gravity event where you go side-to-side through hooks while racing for, I think, about 30 seconds. Then there was cross country, which is what I consider to be the most famous mountain bike, and that’s one of my strengths. We did two laps – it was supposed to be three, but because of the snow they cut it. Then [we did] short track, which is a mini version of cross country – also endurance. Then downhill, going down just as fast as you can for five minutes
Heffel: And make sure you don’t slip in the mud, and all that crazy stuff. These were certainly not normal conditions, right?
Lackman: No, definitely not. This is the first time that I have participated in a national championship with so much snow or mud. It was very fun. I did cyclocross, which is one of my other disciplines, which normally takes place around December, and it’s snowy and muddy. You got those tiny little skinny tires and you basically slide in the mud and you know you’re going to fall, but you go back up, you run with your bike up [and] over obstacles. So I think it prepared me a lot for this.
Heffel: Does that make it any more rewarding that you won given these conditions and how dangerous they were?
Lackman: It really is. My mom told me until my last race, “No matter what happens, you know you’re here competing and giving it your all. And that’s something a lot of people will never experience. It is something that I will remember forever.
Heffel: When you chose to come to Colorado Mesa University, you wanted to mountain bike, right? How did he prepare for races like these while being a full-time mechanical engineering student?
Lackman: It’s hard. That’s a lot of long days and a lack of sleep. But it’s so rewarding to know that I’m not just pursuing my athletic career, I’m also graduating at the same time. My coaches, my classmates and my teachers – they understand so much how difficult it is to be a student-athlete. They help me get through it all so well. There are so many opportunities, especially here at CMU, to be able to get an amazing degree, to have a great time here at school and to see how far I can go in my sport.
Heffel: For all the mountain bikers out there, can you give us the top three or four trails that you love in Western Colorado that just have to try?
Lackman: Yeah. It’s hard ; They are all really fun. But, I would say my best couple: I love Time Machine here at Lunch Loops in Grand Junction, Horsethief on the Kokopelli Trail. And then, Slick Rock in Moab. Honestly, let’s throw that one in there. It is so unique.
Heffel: I’ve also heard of the Palisade Plunge. It’s a new one, have you tried it yet?
Lackman: I haven’t had a chance to try this yet. But I can’t wait. I’ve seen a few YouTube videos and it looks pretty gnarly, honestly.
Heffel: Now that you’ve won a championship jersey, what’s the next step?
Lackman: I would like to try a few more. One of my biggest dreams is to be able to represent the United States at a world championship, so hopefully in my next years of cycling I will have the chance to represent the United States.