Interview: The Queen of Crankworx, Jill Kintner, Is One of the Most Versatile Riders in Mountain Biking

Jill Kintner shares her outlook on how mountain bike races are won, gives cornering tips, and dishes on her favorite places to ride.
All photos courtesy of RedBull.

When your palmarès span the full spectrum of mountain bike and BMX racing, you earn a crown, and Jill Kintner has done just that. The five-time queen of Crankworx also has a bronze medal in BMX from the Beijing Olympics, has won 20 elite USA National Championships across a variety of disciplines, has been the UCI 4-cross World Champion thrice, appeared on Oprah, and stood on the podium at five UCI World Cup downhill races — to name less than half of her stash of medals.

Most recently, Jill turned up at her first ever Enduro World Series race in Derby, Tasmania, where she took second place behind series leader Isabeau Courdurier, just 22.2 seconds off the lead pace. Following her surprise performance in Australia, Jill returned to the US to earn the top step in the Sea Otter pro downhill and dual slalom events.

Off the podium, Jill is busy training, creating art, and managing a professional mountain bike team alongside her partner Bryn Atkinson, in her trail-riddled hometown of Bellingham, Washington. The Pacific Northwest loam-capital has a massive variety of trails and pump tracks that clearly provide ample training grounds for the world-class athlete.

I recently had the chance to learn a bit of Jill’s story, including what keeps her stoked to push as hard as she does.

I have read several stories about your passion for creating art. What are your chosen tools of the trade?

I keep a sketchbook at all times, but I am more sporadic with art stuff. This year I do have a few projects that will be insane and involve a lot of drawing and animation. I do my custom jersey designs, pick bike colors, designed our sprinter van, and have little projects all the time that start with a sketch or idea and end in Illustrator usually.

What is the most helpful piece of advice you have received about riding or racing in your career? 

That my best IS good enough. [It is] kind of a mantra at this point […].

“Jill Kintner competes at the UCI MTB World Cup Finals, in Leogang, Austria, on 20 September 2013.” -RedBull

If you had more time, what is one thing you would like to do with it? 

I’m happy with how I spend my time, but I would just try to learn more and do a lot of other jobs to acquire useful skills.

Do you have a favorite bike from your fleet?

Not anymore. I think I have been in it so long that it’s kind of fleeting. The ones I was all sentimental about, like world title or Olympic bikes are just under the house doing nothing, so it’s kind of a waste. I want to scan them in 3d and have mini replicas. There’s a place that does that nearby.

When you have an “off day” on the bike, what are some ways you can try to turn it around?  

I sort of don’t really think about that. My goal is to do the best I can with the challenges in front of me. Days of perfection are rare, but when you get them, holy smokes, [there is] nothing better. I think we all hold out hope for those moments. Ying and yang.

Considering all of the variables, where is a race truly won? In the mind? Corners? Dinner table? Other? 

I think it’s in the preparation before a race. It’s about surrounding yourself with a winning formula of ability, training, nutrition, team, mental, and mechanical. All the pieces equal the whole and then it’s belief in the moment. When you are ready to win, you will. ‘Til then, keep searching for small pieces to be better. Honestly, you have to know your weaknesses as a person, reflect, and make yourself better.

You had an amazing performance at your first EWS race in Tasmania. Do you plan to race any more events in the series this season? 

Thank you! It was a rad experience, the trails and people in Tas were so fun, I loved it. Whistler and Northstar are my other EWS rounds on the schedule, plus I will have a couple of smaller events like Vedder, BC; Silver Mountain, ID; Colorado BME; and National Champs. I thought about doing Portugal EWS, but I made a plan at the beginning of the year and wasn’t super interested in doing the whole series. I wanted to have time to learn and make gains between the events. Enduro takes a lot of time and effort, and it’s pretty obvious the pace and what needs to be done. I was super nervous in Tas, and can still improve, so that’s what I want to do for Whistler, which will have a whole different set of challenges to figure out.

“Jill Kintner competes against Kailani Hines at the Pump Track Challenge during Crankworx in Rotorua, New Zealand on March 22, 2018.” -RedBull

What are some of the things you enjoy about the trails and the town of Bellingham?

I enjoy how many trails we have and that everyone is so into biking. It’s a pretty insane reality we have, surrounded by four peaks and with so many trail builders with different styles. There are really good trails for every type of bike and rider. Fanatik bike shop goes off as well. It’s cool to walk in there and people know what’s up, just quality insight on product.

“Jill Kintner competes at the UCI MTB World Cup Finals, in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, on 30 August 2013.” -RedBull

What element of riding still challenges you, or excites you most? 

There are a few things, but speed and corners are always my favorite. I actually go really slow my first time on a trail and try to learn it, then build speed. That’s part of why enduro is so hard, you can’t go your fastest without the repetition. I’ve always been quality over quantity, and it seems like that flips in enduro, but good sound fundamentals will get you through anything. I enjoy building up physiology, putting the pieces together, training hard, seeing the data and power improve. The long hours in the saddle are tricky too, but I am always proud of myself when I can get through a hard test. It builds toughness.

Across all the different race genres that you have found success in, the common skill seems to be cornering speed. Can you share three pieces of advice or encouragement that will help readers corner faster? 

Yeah. Try and open up the angle of the corners if possible to carry speed (set up), have your braking done before you actually change direction (before the apex), and keep your eyes looking up and ahead.

“Jill Kintner performs during Downhill practice at Crankworx in Rotorua, New Zealand on March 23, 2018.” -RedBull

What have you learned in your role as team manager? 

A lot, dunno really where to start. I think having a plan on paper and presenting it helps a ton. Also Bryn and I split jobs. We each have different strengths and weakness, but together can do most everything, and if or when we need help, we hire someone. I think spending money to make money is a big one in biking that so many people cheap out on. I always invest in myself and know what I need to perform. We took the manager out of the equation so we could run the parts we wanted and not have to settle for terrible logistics or accommodations.

Outside of the Pacific Northwest, what is one of your favorite places to ride? 

Ohh, that’s a tough one. Tasmania is now real high on the list, New Zealand, Finale Italy, Switzerland, Wales, Portugal, California has some fun spots, and Canada. I haven’t really been to South America other than Brazil for that World Cup in ’07, but I’d like to check that out.

“Winners Chaney Guemet, Kailani Hines, Tomas Lemione, Jill Kintner, Jonna Johnsen, Michael Bias celebrate on the podium at the Pump Track Challenge during Crankworx in Rotorua, New Zealand on March 22, 2018” -RedBull

Thanks to Jill for making time in her slammed training schedule to share this piece of her story with our readers.