As we mark International Women’s Day on 8th March, we talk to Czech athlete Katerina Nash –mountain bike Olympian and two-time bronze medallist at the UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships – about cycling, change, motivation and her role as President of the UCI Athletes’ Commission and co-opted member of the UCI Management Committee.
You have been racing bikes for more than 20 years. What was your pathway into cycling?
Katerina Nash: My start into professional sport was cross-country skiing. That’s how I ended up in the United States. I accepted a scholarship to university then about half-way through college I got serious about cycling because it was something I always wanted to try and I landed in this area that happens to be perfect for mountain biking.
What evolution have you seen in women’s cycling?
KN: When I joined Clif Bar, we were the first international all-women’s mountain bike team. We were the ones that started it. I think the other teams were like “you’ll never survive. There’s no way! You don’t have men on your team, how are you going to get any sponsorship?” So, it’s been great to watch the trend grow. There are multiple mountain bike teams that have only female riders. Women got together and said “it’s our thing. We just want to have an all-women’s team and maybe target some women-specific sponsorship that fits with what we’re doing”.
I think there’s been a tremendous change and I think the UCI played a really good role in making it equal as far as prize money goes across some of the disciplines - we’re still working on the rest to get everybody on the same level.
How can you inspire the next generation?
KN: Part of our team’s job was to inspire other females to ride a bike, to run, to exercise, not necessarily for racing purposes but just to introduce them to that healthy lifestyle. We had about 250 women all around the United States, based in the major cities to help, for example, if somebody moved to the area and was like “I don’t know where to go mountain biking” or “it would be fun to have a group of women to train for triathlon” or anything like that. So that’s what these ambassadors did and we were part of that. Now, reflecting on how many women we helped to learn about healthy lifestyles, to learn to change a flat tyre on the trail, or even just find friends, it feels so good. It feels much more rewarding than a lot of the results.
You have just been re-elected to the UCI Athletes’ Commission for a second four-year mandate. What has it been like as part of this commission and the UCI Management Committee?
KN: While I’m not ready to retire from racing, I definitely feel ready to do a little bit more work so being part of the Commission, for cyclo-cross, and also the Management Committee has been a nice way to learn, to give back and be part of something else than just my fitness, my results, my sponsors.
It has been rewarding and I’ve learned a lot in the last four years for sure, and there’s more to learn. There’s always more to do so I am thankful to get elected again and get another chance. Thank you to all the cylco-cross athletes who voted for me. I think the objective is always the same, it’s to talk to the athletes as much as possible and work with them and find out what they need.
How do you explain the growth of cycling in 2020?
KN: Maybe COVID and the fact that we all had a little bit more time at home, there was a lack of travel, the typical places like gyms weren’t open meant people really discovered cycling.
I personally think a big part of this cycling boom is the bicycles. If you pick a modern mountain bike these days, it’s hard not to love it. The bikes are so amazing! I think about the bikes we rode in the ‘90s and how much better they’ve gotten over the years… I’m pretty excited to see more people riding bikes and I hope they continue to like it.
What is your advice to aspiring female cyclists?
KN: For me it’s important to have a good community. You find friends, whether it’s the peloton or a smaller group of your friends. You will get into trouble out on the trail or out on the road and it’s good to be surrounded by people you can trust and who you can help out. Every time we ride by a cyclist I don’t even know and I see them by the side of the road, I’ll always ask if they are OK, if they need anything. I may not even have the skills to fix their bike but I’m still going to ask! That’s the thing.
Don’t be afraid to look up your local club or the local women’s group of riders and find people you will enjoy riding with.