20-Year-Old Mona Mitterwallner Won Every U23 World Cup XC Race Last Year, Makes Strong Debut in Elite [Interview]

Photo: Cannondale

The word “phenom” isn’t one to toss around lightly, but thus far it seems fitting for 20-year-old Mona Mitterwallner. The Austrian cross-country rider started mountain biking six years ago, started racing five years ago, and last year won every UCI U23 World Cup round and was the U23 World Champion, not to mention her significant wins in elite race categories. This past weekend she debuted in her first Elite races in Brazil, securing 6th in short track and leading much of the field in XCO, snagging 5th.

We caught up with Mitterwallner ahead of the first round of the World Cup in Petrópolis, Brazil and found out how she got her start riding, how she ended up on Cannondale Factory Racing, and what she’s up to before kicking off the race season.

How did you get started mountain biking?

I actually started (racing) at 15 years old, but a year earlier started riding when my dad asked me if I wanted to join him for a ride. He’s a former downhill rider — he didn’t race World Cups or anything, but raced in Austria. And after that, I wanted to go mountain biking every day. And so we called the local club and they took me to the first race and when the adrenaline got me at this first race I was completely into the sport.

What made you want to do the first race?

So actually, I didn’t want to race. Because I said traveling seven hours for a race, then I can go ride my bike for seven hours — I don’t see any sense in that. But then the weather that weekend was so bad in Austria, the local club said, “Hey Mona, we’re going to race in Italy. The weather is quite nice,” so I said okay. Really the race was just three hours away and during the race I already felt that this is something I wanted to do more than once. This feeling got me at this first race and afterwards I raced every weekend I could.

In your first race, mentioned in this interview where another rider beat you by a second, you said it sparked a fire. What was it about that moment that made you more competitive or hungry to win?

I don’t think it was just one corner. I mean, from this one corner, I know I shouldn’t go wide in the last corner of the race. As far as I was wanting to win, I finished second and in this moment, second place was unimportant I think because it was more of a feeling that got me. But still, I always wanted to win, even when I was a child.

So after that, I knew I wanted to be a professional and I wanted to be at the top step. And so, when I finished second or I make a mistake or something, it really makes me stronger in the end, because the next week you can be sure I will train much harder and work much harder at myself to eliminate all my weaknesses.

I remember playing outside and with other children and that was always my aim, to win. I think as a child, I was a bad loser, so now I’m not getting angry anymore too much. But, maybe it’s because I’m a Capricorn? I’m just joking, I’m very ambitious. Everyone knows I’m very ambitious. When I want something I do everything for it.

When did you finish high school?

2020.

And when did you start racing World Cups?

2021, actually, so it was quite perfect.

And last year you won every World Cup round you raced in. Did you expect that or what was that like?

I mean, there’s always this mindset that I’ve set up in my head…but it’s not just your body (either) — you can’t have a flat, you can’t have a dropped chain, you know that a lot of things could go wrong. And yeah, making it happen last year, I mean it was perfect. I never go with this high goal, I go step by step. You win the first race, and you go straight to the next win. So with this mindset if you want to win every race it’s easy.

Are you planning on college or anything or will you be racing full-time?

Mona Mitterwallner on track in Petropolis, Brazil on April 7, 2022 / Fabio Piva / Red Bull Content Pool

No, after my first race when I was 15, I said I want to be a professional mountain biker. I said that straight after the first race and I knew when I finished high school I would go to the Austrian Sports Army — (where) athletes get supported when they are successful in Austria.

And it worked out perfectly. For me, high school was just like “get it done” because I knew what I really wanted to do, so it worked out pretty well at the moment.

Were you on a team or program before Cannondale?

I started at the local club here around the corner. Also I was with Trek/Vaude last year.

What has the transition from school to full-time racing/athlete been like?

The focus was always training for a race after school and off to my bike. So finishing school was more like, “okay now all the stuff I don’t need to do is out of the way now.” So, I always focused on training. I never did homework at home, I did it on the bus or at the trainer. But at home all I did was training and recovering. So I think my focus, I feel like I have been a professional athlete when I started mountain bike racing at 15.

How did the deal with Cannondale Factory Racing come about?

I had a one year contract with my last team and Cannondale was looking for a woman I heard. So I spoke to a lot of teams and at some point also Cannondale. I think we both agreed we could fit perfectly together. Our focus is really on performance.

What kind of opportunities does racing for a Factory team present?

Everything is organized and you can focus on the team and racing. That’s the best thing you can have as an athlete. This starts with traveling, with food, nutrition, everything is done and all you have to do is be strong on the bike. I think they are very kind and supportive so they really try to support me in novel ways. And there’s a lot of expertise — they have been in the sport for such a long time. I can ask them whatever and they will get the information to me or they have it already because of their experience. So that’s great for me as a 20-year-old athlete.

Last year at the Swiss Bike Cup you took first and beat Kate Courtney, Pauline Ferrand Prevot, Jolanda Neff and others. What was that like?

That was one of the best days in 2021. I felt so strong and the track was good for me with long climbs in the beginning. For me, maybe because I started so late in cycling I never really had those people I looked up to. Of course I have a lot of respect for them. They are big names, but still when I go to the start line everyone is just another rider who I want to beat. So with this race I went with all I had and prepared as well as possible and in the end it worked out.

Do you feel like that track played to your strengths?

Yeah, definitely. I’m a good climber, I think. And so there is a really long climb and also it’s pretty steep. I’m also good at the technical things — I’m faster uphill than I am downhill, but I like taking the technical downhills more than the fast downhills, so that was a big advantage for me.

You started racing in 2017. What do you think has helped you progress to a high level so quickly?

I think the biggest piece is in my head. I’m super ambitious. From the first moment I decided I wanted to be successful in this sport, I dedicated my whole life to the sport. That lets you make big steps in a short time. I’m also lucky with my surroundings. There’s my family and also my trainer and it’s important to have such people around you.

What kind of training or preparation helps you remain consistent?

For me training consistence, and nutrition. I try to eat very healthy and I’m very careful about what I give to my body and what I do to my body. So normally when I wouldn’t race, I would never go out and party or something because I know it’s a long season. So, I’m someone who is all season long very focused.

There’s no time where I said, Okay, now I will take it easy. When there is work, I won’t rest. I guess that’s important, also not to push too hard in the beginning because then you will be done halfway through the season. We don’t want to peak too early.

Are you racing the full UCI XCO circuit this year?

I definitely want to. If everything goes according to plan I will be at the start line of every single round.

How are you feeling about Brazil next weekend?

More than excited. I have a thousand thoughts going through my mind when I think about it. It will be my first time on Red Bull TV probably, first time in Elite World Cup, first time with Cannondale. I mean it’s crazy for me but I’m looking forward to it. I will be very nervous.

What are your goals for this year?

I want to be in the front of the elite World Cup and I want to defend my marathon world championship in Denmark this year.

Catch up with Mona Mitterwallner on her Instagram and watch her on Red Bull TV.

Mona’s Race Accolades

  • 5th in Women’s Elite XCO in Petrópolis, Brazil
  • 2021 winner of every UCI U23 Mountain bike World Cup
  • 2021 U23 XCO World Champion
  • 2021 Elite Marathon World Champion
  • 2021 Austrian XCO National Champion
  • 2021 European Continental XCO Champion
  • 2020 UCI Junior XCO World Champion

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.