Racing to the top: Mountain biker pursues passion

Shauna Perigo

When Kelsey Urban lined up at the starting line for the 2014 Cross Country Mountain Bike National Championships, she had never been more nervous for anything in her life.

Poised to take second place, as she had at the other Pro Mountain Bike Cross Country Tour (Pro XCT) races across the country last summer, Urban knew she had to keep her mind steady in order to secure her spot on the podium.

Nationally-ranked mountain biker Kelsey Urban trains for two World Cups in Europe.
Nationally-ranked mountain biker Kelsey Urban trains for two World Cups in Europe.

“We all lined up and I was so nervous. I wanted to cry. I was terrified,” Urban said. “Then my teammate Haley Batten, who’s one of my best friends, and I started out, and there was another girl there, and we kind of dropped the pack pretty fast. I just remember, I didn’t look back, but I just remember being like, ‘Oh my god, oh my god, we’re at the front. This is crazy.’ And then the other girl fell away and Haley and I were just riding together. There was so much adrenaline and I was so stoked.”

Urban ended up placing second in the Cross Country race at Nationals for the 15-16 age group. Batten, her teammate at Whole Athlete, a nationally-ranked Cross Country Mountain Biking team based out of Larkspur, placed first. Urban also placed second in the Super D race at Nationals for the 15-18 age group, a race she described as a mix of downhill and cross country.

“I knew if I could keep my mind about me and have a good, clean race, I was capable of achieving the result that I did. It was just super exhilarating to see all the work I put in pay off in that one moment,” Urban said.

Urban was then chosen to travel to Canada as part of the United States team, where she placed second and third in her two races.

“At those other races at the Pro XCT Series, the leader of the United States team, Marc Gullickson, watches all the juniors and the pros, and then if you perform well, he chooses two girls and four boys and then you go abroad,” Urban said.

This semester, Urban will travel to Europe to compete in two World Cups, causing her to miss both school and the Redwood races.

“I’ll be doing the Pro XCT Series around the United States, and then I’m going to be racing two World Cups in Europe in the Czech Republic and Austria, and then I’m shooting for World Championships in September,” Urban said.

Urban, a junior , attended Redwood and competed for the Redwood Mountain Biking club up until this semester. She recently transferred to Tilden Preparatory School across the Richmond Bridge in Albany so she would have more time to focus on training for her upcoming international races.

“It was really hard because after school I would go train for two, three hours and then I would get home and I wouldn’t have that much time, and it’s better to train in the morning,” Urban said. “I could make it work, but it was just really tight. [Tilden Preparatory School] is really adjustable so I can go away for a long time, for a few weeks, and Skype into my class or just put it on hold and resume it when I come back.”

Urban has grown up in a household dedicated to mountain biking. Not only does her mom coach and compete with her team, but she also won Nationals Super D and Cross County in her age group, the same races Kelsey competed in, and placed fourth at Worlds in her age group.

Urban added that she has been riding basically since “when she could walk,” and competed in her first race at age six.

“It was definitely mountain biking because that’s what my parents were doing,” Urban said. “They started racing really competitively. They both went to World Championships when I was in third grade and everything, so that definitely had a huge impact on me. We’d go on family vacations and just go biking all day for six hours when I was five.”

Although she has no definitive plans yet, Urban said that she will continue mountain biking in college and go pro as long as she continues to love the sport.

“I love the sport, but racing, the whole training, is very all-consuming,” Urban said. “I’ll do it as long as I still love it entirely. If I’m still loving it, then I’d love to go pro during college and race for as long as I can.”