An Interview With Kelli Emmett

By Brian Maslach

Kelli has been a fixture on the US mountain bike scene for some time and I’m honored to now have her as part of our Enduro Bites sales and marketing team. Well before any discussion of having her officially involved with the company, she was one of the elite athletes who provided crucial feedback that influenced Enduro Bites’ development. Since she's now an important part of the company, I though it would be good for everyone to be able to get to know her a bit better. I managed to get her in one place long enough to ask a few questions I haven’t seen in other interviews she’s done.

How and when did you get into cycling? Racing?

I started riding at a local trail in Michigan and fell in love with being outdoors and physical activity. I had never been much of an athlete and definitely never thought I would race mountain bikes. My brother and father were into racing at a local level and I would go to a few of their races and it looked so difficult. I never really thought it was something I would be interested in doing. I visited a shop in Galesburg, Michigan -- Billy’s Bike Shop, and Billy, the owner, convinced me to race after riding with me a few times. My brother and his friend Daniel took me to my first race while I was in my 2nd year of college. It was so difficult, but I fell in love and was addicted immediately. I started training and wanting to race every weekend. I started doing well at the local level and then progressed to the pro level a few years later. Daniel and I traveled to races throughout the country in a van until I upgraded to pro.

What's your most memorable experience on a bike?

There have been so many amazing experiences over the last 20 years that I don’t think I could come up with just one. However, I am grateful cycling brought me closer to my father before he passed away. We would do century rides together and he traveled to races with me when I first made it as a pro. I’ve also been able to travel the world and see a lot of places away from the norm. Cycling has brought so much to my life and challenged me in many ways that might not have been otherwise possible.

What's the most scared you've ever been on a bike?

Oh…I would have to say at the Trans Provence 2 years ago. This is a 7-day enduro stage race in southern France where you race on courses that you’ve never seen before. It’s scary to push it on trails with big exposure and tricky descents, but the race was still beautiful and an amazing overall experience. It was a very special week with friends and competitors.

What are your cycling objectives this year?

I would love to have a top 3 stage finish at the Enduro World Series and a top 5 finish at Whistler. I finished 7th last year and 4th in one stage and I hope to improve this year but the endure scene is getting more competitive. Most importantly, though, I want to have fun and enjoy the experiences of seeing some amazing places around the world.  

What are you plans beyond 2015?

That’s a great question! I’m excited about being involved on the business side with Enduro Bites and looking forward to taking on more responsibility as I cut back on racing. For now, however, I’m still focused on racing and doing what I can to help out the company. I wish there was more time in a day to do it all! We have a lot of room to grow and I’m excited about the new products on the way.

What does a typical week look like for you during the competitive season?

Well, it depends if it is a racing week or just training. I mainly compete in enduro races, which usually consist of 7 different downhill stages over 50-60km. The 3 days leading up to the race we are inspecting courses and trying to find the fastest lines. Pre-riding courses can be pretty time consuming and can take anywhere from 6 to 8 hours a day. We joke that race day is usually easier then training days.

If it’s a week I am not racing, then I will train anywhere from 3 to 4 hours a day. Repeat downhill laps and short sprint intervals on my local trails. Colorado Springs has a lot of great trails and there are always new ones being built. In mid-summer, I like to hit up downhill parks or pump tracks. Enduro racing requires a lot of skill and my downhill speed is something I need to continue to working on.

Favorite pre-race meal? Post-race meal? Favorite food?

I love pizza, but I am trying to be gluten and potato free. This is a new diet for me so I’m still trying to find a new pre race meal. I eat a ton of avocados and eggs for breakfast. Pre-race dinners I love burgers, salads, roasted vegetables, quinoa or rice, and salmon. And, of course, chocolate is my favorite food of all time.Enduro Bites are my favorite during race food, which isn’t surprising due to my weakness for dark chocolate. The fact they are easy to digest, taste amazing, and gluten and potato free is a bonus for me.

 (Kelli didn’t mention her love for coffee, but I can attest that it’s not wise to come between her and her first cup of the day.)

How does your preparation for enduro racing differ from more traditional cross-country mountain-bike racing?

You have to be a great downhiller to be successful in enduro, so I spend 90 percent of my ride time on the mountain bike. These days I take it easy on the climbs and try to ride as fast as I can on the downhill. In this way it’s the exact opposite of XC racing. I focus more on sprinting and short intervals, as well. When I raced XC, I spent a lot of time on my road bike and mainly focused on threshold work. Rarely did I work on sprinting or bike handling skills. I love that I'm now learning how to handle my bike better and getting faster on the downhill.

What are your strengths and weaknesses when it comes to enduro racing?

I have some residual fitness from XC racing for so long, so I can do all right if there is a lot of pedaling in a stage. The steep downhill runs are my weakness and I’m continuing to focus on this in training.

How does the new Juliana -- SRAM Pro Team differ from other teams you've been on?

This new team is only women. I was with Giant Factory Off Road team for 8 years and the only female on a men’s team. The guys were great and supportive, but it’s nice to have women to pre-ride courses with and be there to support each other during the races.

You've traveled much of the world racing your bike. What's your favorite place you've visited?

I love the French/Italian Alps. We competed in La Thuile last year and I loved it! It was breathtaking. Finale Ligure is my other favorite.

How do you think your life would look differently if you never became a professional athlete?

I have no idea what I would have done with myself. I was never an athlete and spent my childhood working on my family’s apple orchard. Maybe continue to work on the farm? I graduated with a degree in management and marketing but wasn’t very motivated to work a “real job” after college. Hopefully, I would have followed my cycling passion and found another marketing position in the cycling industry.

At this point I thought it was a good idea to let Kelli get back to packing as she had to leave the following day for the upcoming second and third rounds of the Enduro World Series in Ireland and Scotland. I, along with the rest of our crew, am eager to see how she performs as she’s been putting in a lot of hard work to reach the goals she discussed.

Image by Gary Perkin.

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