Lea Davison retires from international racing

Two-time Olympian and a founding partner of Little Bellas lived her life ‘turned up to 10 at full volume’ while racing abroad.

Photo: Michal Cerveny

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Lea Davison Tuesday announced her retirement from competitive international mountain bike racing.

The 38-year-old called time on a career that started in 2000, and which took her to two Olympic Games, two world championship podiums, and five national titles in cross-country and short track mountain bike. She raced at the world junior championships later the same year finishing in seventh, which earned her a contract with Team Devo.

Her second NORBA national championship came the following year, in Snowshoe, and also where she raced the final World Cup of her career, some 20 years later.

“In 2001, when I was seventeen years old, I won a NORBA national junior race at Mount Snow, Vermont. USA Cycling came up to me and told me that my win had qualified me for the world championships. At that point, I had no idea there was a mountain bike world championships, an Olympic mountain bike race, and that it was a profession,” she wrote on Instagram.

“I had found my calling. From that moment on, I poured my heart and soul into my dream of going to the Olympics and becoming a professional athlete. I dedicated my life to professional bike racing, and I wanted to take bike racing as far as I could.”

According to USA Cycling, Davison will continue to race domestically, including starts at the Lifetime Grand Prix series, where she will raise awareness for, fundraise and ride for women’s empowerment, LGBTQ+ rights, and environmental organizations. Davison plans to continue working with Garneau, and plans custom kit designs for each race and beneficiary.

Lea Davison, Erin Huck, Chloe Woodruff, and Hannah Otto (Finchamp) in Tucson, AZ in 2021. (Photo: Lea Davison)

Davison attended Middlebury College, in Vermont, from 2001 to 2005, where she had planned a career of competitive running after winning the Vermont Division I cross-country running high school state championship. A running injury changed her sporting focus to mountain bike, but continued racing on the college’s downhill ski team. Davison won the collegiate cross-country mountain bike and short track national championships.

From 2011-2016, Davison was on the Specialized Factory Racing Team, and then the Clif Pro Team for 2017-18 seasons, all the while finishing in the top 10 at the world championships for nearly a decade.

Davison represented the United States at the London 2012 Olympics and landed on the podium at the worlds two years later. She again represented the United States at the Olympics at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games where she rode to seventh place weeks after a silver medal world championship performance.

Andy Bishop, Davison’s long-time coach who guided her through her professional career spoke admirably of her as an athlete and noted her exemplary character.

“Lea epitomizes the dream athlete to coach: a consummate professional, a fierce competitor, and an incredibly hard worker who is always willing to challenge and push herself beyond her limits. Yet, what truly sets her apart is her personality and her passion for life and helping others. She readily shares her experience and advice with younger and established athletes alike, mentoring them to create opportunities to grow in and develop their love of sport; she works closely together with her sponsors to create new and dynamic opportunities for their products and marketing; she fights tirelessly for equality, dignity, and complete inclusion for women athletes and the LGBTQ community.

“Of all the people whom I have known, I have never met someone who is so completely honest and giving of themselves in the pursuit of making the world a better place. Gladly, the fact that Lea is retiring from World Cup competition only means she will be able to channel her energies into even more of her passions and pursuits,” said Bishop.

Jim Miller, USA Cycling’s chief of sport performance echoed Bishop’s sentiments and noted Davison’s lasting impact in the sport.

“Lea has been the icon of her generation. During a period of significant mountain bike growth, Lea was the role model and inspiration to a generation of aspiring racers. It was always a privilege to work with Lea and have her on our national, world championship, and Olympic teams,” said Miller.

Kate Courtney, Davison’s Team USA teammate, and former world champion, also remarked on Davison’s character.

“It is one thing to be a great athlete and another altogether to be a great human being. Lea Davison is both. As her teammate for five years, I witnessed first-hand Lea’s incredible capacity to combine hard work and joy in the pursuit of her dreams. She has accomplished incredible things on the bike, a national champion, Olympian, and World Championship medalist, but has always carved out time to lift as she rises,” said Courtney.

“As a young athlete, she was an incredible mentor and friend who was willing to share both the highs and lows of competing at the top level. Not to mention sharing the very small French hotel rooms that come with the job. She is fiercely loyal — to her dreams, her sport, and to anyone that is lucky enough to be in her circle. I know that while she may be stepping back from World Cup racing, she will always have a place in the heart of the cycling community.

When Davison was not racing, she was a staunch advocate for women’s cycling, and with her sister and collegiate teammate and friend Angela Irvine, formed Little Bellas. The program continues to make cycling accessible and fun for generations of girls new to bikes.

“Her legacy goes beyond her race results and can be seen in the athletes and young girls she has mentored, particularly through Little Bellas. For years to come, the results of U.S. racers will be a continuation of the path that she has helped to blaze,” added Courtney.

“Lea has been a mentor, teammate, and friend that I am forever grateful for and her support has had a meaningful impact on my cycling career. She has brought Team USA to World Cup and world championship podiums and her success has been fundamental to helping the next generation make their mark on the largest stage,” said Olympian Haley Batten. “Alongside her results, she has invested greatly in the development of women’s cycling and I know that she has been an inspiration for many young girls, including myself. I’m excited to see all that she will accomplish in her next chapter.”

Davison plans to stick with mountain biking, but instead of putting her toe on the line, she’ll continue guiding others.

“For me, it’s been way more than the results. Bike racing gave me friendships, victories, and experiences that have far surpassed my wildest dreams. I traveled the world. It gives me joy to give back to the sport that has given me so much and mentor up-and-coming racers,” Davison said. “Creating a team ethos [Team USlay] in an individual sport will remain one of my most proud achievements. I walk away from my World Cup career with an immense amount of gratitude for everything that it’s given me. I’ve lived my life turned up to 10 at full volume.”

“It has been an honor to have been able to race with Lea throughout the years, and I am even more grateful to call her a friend. In general, Lea has been instrumental in creating an environment where competitors encourage and support one another; where we can celebrate in others’ success, but also challenge each other to be the best we can be. Lea will be the first one to congratulate you at the finish line or to offer support or help if you need it,” said Olympic teammate Erin Huck of Davison as a teammate and friend.

“Lea is also a fierce competitor and shows up to race with everything she’s got – you will never hear an excuse, and quitting is not an option. She races with integrity and grit and finishes with a smile and ready to hug those who finish around her. Lea may be transitioning out of international racing, but I am looking forward to seeing her continue to race and inspire within the U.S. and I know she will continue to impact our sport in a meaningful and positive way,” Huck added.

Davison expressed gratitude for the memories and support of those around her, noting that she’s not done, nor calling quits, but making a change in her path to help change others’.

“It’s the village of people supporting me that truly unlocked my full potential as a bike racer and human. My wife Frazier, my family, Lucia, Jeff and Sabe, my coaches Andy Bishop and Bill Knowles, and my agent Erica Vessey have made my dream a reality. Over a twenty-year career, there are a lot of people that have made my career what it is. There are my teammates, team managers, sponsors, mechanics, massage therapists and soigneurs, nutritionists, sports psychologists, sports physiologists, and my fans and supporters. There’s USA Cycling and the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee,” she said. “To everyone that has played a part, you know who you are, THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart. What a fun ride!”

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