UW’s Behlen Wins National Mountain Bike Title, Prepares for World Championships
Jill Behlen's cell phone rang three times before she answered.
"I'm riding right now," she says, a bit short of breath. "Can I call you back?"
Of course she was riding. You don't make a name for yourself in the highly-competitive and physically-demanding world of mountain bike racing by spending gorgeous summer afternoons lounging on your sofa.
After pedaling to her "greatest victory ever" last month at the 2011 USA Cycling Mountain Bike Cross-Country National Championships, Behlen, a University of Wyoming junior molecular biology major from Boulder, Colo., is hard at work training for her third trip to the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) Mountain Bike and Trials World Championships, set for Aug. 31-Sept. 4 in Switzerland.
"For her to win nationals was just huge," says Behlen's coach, Ann Trombley, a member of the 2000 U.S. Olympic mountain biking team and owner of Trailmaster Coaching and Physical Therapy in Boulder. "I was actually in tears when I saw her come over the hill (in the lead). It wasn't that I was surprised that she could win the race, because she has that talent inside her, but I don't know that any of us expected her to win."
Behlen didn't simply win; she dominated the U23 women's race, beating her nearest rival by 44 seconds on the 23.2-kilometer course at Sun Valley Resort in Ketchum, Idaho. A post-race interview with Behlen can be seen at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-r8rN6uOxog.
The victory was especially satisfying for Behlen, who had twice finished second at nationals while competing in the junior 15-18 class. She placed fourth in the women's U23 race in 2010.
"I really didn't know what to expect, because I hadn't race a lot of those girls this season, but it was still a shock (to win)," says Behlen. "Once I got in the lead, I just had to calm myself down and tell myself to relax and ride smart and that I deserved it.
"When I got to the last descent, I was telling myself, ‘Get to the bottom and don't get a flat,'" she recalls. "I was pretty confident, but, you never know, anything can happen."
In one of her second-place finishes at nationals, Trombley says Behlen was leading late in the race when a flat tire spoiled her chances. There was no flat this time, only jubilation at the finish line.
"We're very proud of her," says Behlen's mother, Linda. "She's been working toward this for a long time and it's so nice to see her be successful."
UCI is the world governing body for men's and women's sports cycling, overseeing international competitive cycling events in six disciplines, including mountain biking.
In addition to her UCI success, Behlen, 20, has starred for the past two years on the UW Cycling Club, which competes against the likes of Colorado University and Colorado State University in the Rocky Mountain Collegiate Cycling Conference.
While she's excited for the collegiate season, which opens Sept. 10-11 with a UW-hosted race at Steamboat Springs, Colo., Behlen's immediate focus is on the world championships, where she will be one of only two American women in the U23 event.
Behlen is sponsored by Tokyo Joe's, a Colorado-based chain of Japanese restaurants with locations throughout the greater Denver area.
"I just want to hold my own and have a good race and a good experience," she says.
She will have her own rooting section, too. Her parents, who have traveled from California to Vermont and overseas to Italy for her first appearance at the world championships, will be in Switzerland to support their daughter. The family didn't go in 2009 to Australia, where Behlen competed for the second time at the world championships.
With a laugh, Linda says, "We go to bike races for vacation."
They get to watch; Jill doesn't. No wonder she spends so much time on her bike's saddle.
"My focus right now is all on training," Behlen says.
She finishes the interview and hangs up a few minutes later, undoubtedly to hit the trails for yet another ride.
Jill Behlen, who will soon begin her junior year at the University of Wyoming, won the U23 women's title last month at the 2011 USA Cycling Mountain Bike Cross-Country National Championships in Ketchum, Idaho. (Behlen Family)