The Off-Road Pioneer

Jericho’s Lea Davison started out 2016 with four flat tires in her first World Cup event of the season and finished the year in early December at a grueling race in the jungles of Costa Rica. In between, she earned a silver medal at the World Championships in the Czech Republic and finished seventh at the Rio Olympics, besting her 11th place at the 2012 London games.

Davison’s World Championship finish was her second silver World Cup medal and the best finish for any American since 2001. With that in her pocket, Davison had high expectations for the summer Olympics.

“I did the best I could in Rio and that’s all you can ask for on any given day,” she said. “Seventh was better than I did in London in 2012. At one point I was 11th, but there was no way I was going to finish in the same spot so I fought my way to a better finish.” 

Just in case Davison hadn’t challenged herself enough, this past December her sponsor, Specialized, sent her to Costa Rica to take part in La Ruta de los Conquistadores, which is billed as the only mountain bike race to go from the Pacific to the Atlantic Ocean.

The three-day route covers 161 miles with 29,000 feet of vertical gain over five mountain ranges. The New York Times has called it “the world’s toughest bike race.” Davison finished the grueling competition second of all women and 43rd out of 328 entrants.

The cycling course in Rio may have been no walk in the park—the 5K route included rock slab jumps and a 40-degree log staircase—but those obstacles paled in comparison to what Davison experienced in Costa Rica. The first day of la Ruta de los Conquistadores took place on narrow paths through a jungle, often riding through knee-deep clay-like mud.

Organizers warned that cars could not enter the jungle, and those suffering from medical emergencies were pretty much on their own since the vegetation was too dense for a helicopter rescue. In addition to heat, humidity and water crossings, racers had to worry about predatory animals, including jaguar.

The third day required riders to carry or roll their bikes single file across several railroad bridges constructed with uneven wooden ties, many slick with oil, above a murky river.

“I felt like a zombie,” Davison recalls. “The stages are six hours and I’d race the first hour and then go into survival mode. Once is enough for me, but if Specialized asked me to go back I would, because of the support I received from them.”

Although her season was a strong one, Davison is just as pleased with the progress made by aspiring mountain bikers throughout the country who are part of Little Bellas, the girls’ mountain bike mentoring group she founded with her sister, Sabra.

“It’s so exciting,” she said. “I was in Philly the other week for my annual strength training camp, and we have a chapter in the city so I was able to go to dinner with the mentors there. This is just an amazing network of females across the country.”

Davison is looking forward to her upcoming season, but for those who want to look back on 2016, GoPro is about to release a series of videos (see vtsports.com for a link) which follows her last year.

Though Davison’s career requires her to travel around the world (we reached her by phone in December as she was doing a photo shoot for LL Bean in the Virgin Islands), she never forgets her roots in Vermont. “The support of the Vermont community was amazing over the past Olympic season. It continues to surprise me and give me motivation and encouragement,
she said.     —Phyl Newbeck

Phyl Newbeck

Phyl Newbeck lives in Jericho with her partner Bryan and two cats. She is a skier, skater, cyclist, kayaker, and lover of virtually any sport which does not involve motors. She is the author of “Virginia Hasn’t Always Been for Lovers: Interracial Marriage Bans and the Case of Richard and Mildred Loving.”

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