Utah athlete Haley Batten earned a hard-fought top-10 finish in the Olympic women’s cross-country mountain bike race. The Park City native battled through difficult conditions to finish in ninth after Typhoon Nepartak turned the already technical Izu course into an extremely slick maze of steep, muddy singletrack and rocky obstacles. Batten, who honed her skills on the trails around Park City, was up to the task, riding a clean race that saw her move up the ranks as pre-race favorites like Pauline Ferrand-Prevot were felled by the challenging track.
Batten entered the Tokyo Games with medal aspirations after a blistering start to the UCI World Cup season, which included a second place at the Nové Mesto XCO race in May and a third place at the season opener in Albstadt, Germany. Still, the top-10 result is a wonderful accomplishment for the 22-year-old who is racing her first year in the elite ranks. Batten found herself in 13th position during the middle portion of the race before some deft riding shot her up the board.
The Izu course features notably few wide sections where riders can easily pass other competitors. This course character was exacerbated when extreme weather necessitated last-minute track changes including some rerouted technical sections within the multi-line rock gardens and shortening the race by one lap from six to five. That Batten was able to consistently overtake competitors as the race progressed is a testament to her technical abilities on the bike.
“Some of the climbs had some really steep corners that, after this rain, were really slick. I think it was hard to know if I should get off and run, or if I should try and ride it,” Batten told Velo News after the race. “That was definitely the trickiest trying to stay in the zone in your flow, but also trying to give as much as you can, but sometimes the course just throws a curveball.”
Jolanda Neff took gold and led a Swiss sweep of the medals. The 2017 Cross Country World Champion is known for having the strongest technical skills in the sport, and it showed as she rode to victory.
Now that the race is over, Batten can spend a few precious moments to savor the Olympic experience before turning her attention to the remainder of the UCI World Cup Calendar with upcoming races in Lenzerheide, Switzerland and Showshoe, West Virginia back home in the USA. There’s also the small matter of the World Championships in Val di Sole, Italy on Aug. 25 where Batten will continue to make Park City proud while representing the United States on the world stage.