XC World Champ Evie Richards Shares Her Journey Toward Those 2021 Rainbow Stripes

Cross country mountain bike World Champ Evie Richards shares what it took to reach the top of multiple podiums in 2021.
Photo: Red Bull Content Pool

Have you ever spotted a goat perched atop its shelter or the adjacent woodpile? Some animals like to be on top of things, and Trek Factory Racing athlete Evie Richards is one such animal. She stood on numerous cyclocross podiums a few years back and earned her rank as the reigning cross-country MTB World Champion in Val di Sole this past summer. She had the best time trial on the day and kept her white gloves clean throughout the notably technical Italian track that saw some of the sport’s best riders hitting the deck.

Richards grew up in the UK, not far from Manchester, and she now resides in a house that’s walking distance from her parents’ and grandparents’ homes. She says her career wouldn’t be possible if it weren’t for that tight familial support network, and she’s grateful for the help.

From a young age, Richards had her eyes set on the Olympics. She says “I can’t even remember an age when I didn’t want to go.” Her first sport of choice was hockey, though she tried loads of activities in search of the one that would take her toward those coveted rainbow rings. In 10th grade she was prompted to try cycling, and fortunately, that suggestion coincided with a new weekend job at a local farm store. She borrowed her dad’s mountain bike while saving up to buy her own and hasn’t stopped pedaling since.

Photo: Red Bull Content Pool

“It was a thing for fitness, to train for hockey, but then dad put me in a couple of races. I hated losing so badly, but with cycling, it was away from school so if I did rubbish no one knew. If I did bad it was like ‘well, I’m a hockey player. It doesn’t really matter.’ So I did a couple of races and then I did a couple of [Team] GB things, and before I knew it I was selected to race in Norway at World Champs.”

That year, 2014, Richards earned 6th in the UCI World Champs junior category, finishing as the top British racer on the day. She says she pushed her bike down the technical sections and was making up time everywhere else. Teams and industry folks took notice of her potential, and a cycling career was born for the young athlete. Richards hadn’t even seen a mountain bike race at that point, and she had some things to learn. “When I did that race I was like, ‘this is amazing. This is what I want to do forever.'”

After high school Richards moved into Manchester proper for a while, where she raced her first international cyclocross events — and she became the U23 Cyclocross World Champion that same season. At the time she was racing on Team GB, but Red Bull approached her to offer a sponsorship once her time with Team GB was done. Shortly thereafter Richards moved to the Trek Factory Racing squad with a Red Bull sponsorship, and she’s undeniably happy with that decision.

One early-career cyclocross race that stands out for Richards came just three days after she had dislocated her knee. “I call[ed] my mom. I was so upset. I was gonna have to fly home and get scanned. I couldn’t even walk. And then I called the physios and they’re like ‘yeah, you need to be on the next flight home.’ And then I just didn’t listen. I just thought ‘I’m going to race. All my family is coming up and I can’t let them down.’ And I taped it up and then I won.”

In addition to showing her knee who’s boss, Richards says she was invigorated to be passing the riders she had seen on television, riding at the front of a race with women she looks up to. That was the moment she realized that this bike racing thing is a pretty big deal. She’s now on a team with some of those women, and racing alongside them throughout the season.

Photo: Gerow

Richards is currently training with the Trek road racing team in Spain and says she really enjoys being able to switch between cycling genres in the off-season. “It’s not always really specific which bike I can go on. It might just be a general vibe. I feel like I go through phases like sometimes I love the road bike. And sometimes I’m like, I just want to ride a mountain bike all the time. But yeah, for me, definitely in winter, I tend to do the mountain bike more. I just feel like you can put a load of baggy clothes on, loads of waterproofs, and it’s just gray out. I just feel, especially with UK weather, it can be really dangerous on the roads in the winter. But then if I come to sunny Spain, I just want to take my road bike, because I just love the sunny miles on the road bike. So it really depends on the weather and how I’m feeling at the time.”

The gym isn’t a primary training tool for Richards, and she mostly rides her bike for training and exercise. “So for me, strength is a way of making sure my body is healthy and my knees are good. And just keeping everything in line, rather than I think a lot of people use it […] to get strong. I feel like I’m quite lucky. I feel like I get big legs just from riding my bike.” A solid pilates routine and rehab take care of the rest of training, and given those rainbow stripes it’s clearly working. The seven to eight cyclocross races on her calendar keep things spicy through the winter, but cross-country MTB is her laser focus now.

So what changed in 2021 to bring the young athlete to the top step at World Champs? Richards says it’s all about the team of folks who support her. Family is a massive slice of that supportive pie, along with her gym coach, physio, pilates instructor, psychologist, team director, and a few other people who keep the train running as fast as possible.

“I’ve been trying to find these amazing people for like five years now. And I found them like, yeah, that’s it. Like, please never leave me like, I’m just lucky that I just have this like, really good support group around me and I bought my house and I like to stay home now which I’ve always wanted to be [in a] space near my parents and my grandparents. It’s just loads of things that just all fell into place last year.” Richards says her dad is like a secondary team manager, taking care of anything she needs for training or racing and even driving alongside her to honk the horn and cheer her up when the weather is exceptionally dreary. Richards mentioned multiple times throughout our chat that her family is all dedicated rugby fans, but her granny does know the names of all the women she races with.

Photo: Red Bull Content Pool

Social media is seen as a way to share the inside story of racing and training for the young athlete. Richards says that her sponsors don’t pressure her to post with any particular frequency, and she enjoys sharing photos that her dad and other folks shoot to keep fans in the loop. Apparently, her grandparents even read all of the comments because they love to see how much the community supports her.

Gender disparities in mountain biking have shifted drastically over the past decade and Richards noted that things are looking far better thanks to the hard-fought efforts of athletes like Helen Wyman. She says seeing an equal number of race categories in each discipline, and equal prize payouts for women and men are meaningful steps in the right direction. Richards also said that she feels well supported and compensated on the Trek Factory Racing team, where she and teammate Jolanda Neff receive similar support to their three male colleagues.

As for the World Champs Race this season, Richards says she wasn’t feeling the confidence she would have liked leading up to the event. She had been camping and partying a bit between training events, celebrating the Olympics with friends, and wasn’t certain what her form would look like for the Italian event. The important part is that she was excited to race, and she was happy to be there. That feeling combined with her rigorous training all year provided the fire she needed to win a champion title in both the short track and the full XCO events in Va di Sole.

Richards said that at one point she was worried about pushing too hard in the World Champs race. “Everyone kind of dispersed and then when I came through I can’t remember what lap, but it was like ‘second-place Richards’ and I was like, oh my gosh, l thought ‘maybe you’re going a bit too hard.’ Normally I think Bloody hell. You’ve gone too fast, but I felt really in control.”

Fortunately, that concern subsided and she pushed on. “I felt strong and in control so I just kept riding on my own race. And it wasn’t like ‘I need to chase down Pauline.’ It was more like, ‘Right. Just keep riding at your own pace and keep managing your effort.'” She eventually caught sight of the early race leader, Pauline Ferrand-Prevot. “When I got to Pauline, I was like, right, okay, I’ll just sit on her wheel. I felt strong when I was riding with her so I just pedaled away. I didn’t attack or anything, it was just my own effort. So it was just the fact that, on the day, my time trial effort was better. When you’re racing your mountain bike race, it is like a time trial. If you’re fastest on the day, then that’s it. It’s not really a competition with each other, because everyone can only ride at their own speed. So it’s just the fastest and I didn’t do anything completely out of the normal. It was just a consistent race, I felt really strong.”

Photo: Gerow

Richards’ blaze was additionally fueled by the massive crowds in Val di Sole, the likes of which haven’t been seen since the start of the pandemic. She said, “when you’re pedaling in that you can’t even feel anything. It’s just like an amazing feeling.” It’s clear she recognized and appreciated all of the community that helped her achieve these massive goals in 2021.

She was also stoked on how technical and challenging the World Champs course layout was this season. Richards has been told she’s not a climber, and she occasionally internalizes that sentiment, but she certainly proved otherwise at the Italian event.

Finally, what about her bike setup? Let’s just say that Richards isn’t too picky. “When I raced ‘cross worlds, the first year, I had two different bikes. One was Shimano, one was SRAM, and they were different size frames. They were just complete opposite especially in ‘cross where you jump on one and jump on the other. Yeah, some people wouldn’t even bother starting a race like that. I’ve seen riders in the past and they can take an hour doing the angle of their seat like and I just jump on.”

“I just jump on.” That’s a phrase a lot of us tinkerers could likely learn from. If it works for the current XCC and XCO World Champion, it could do okay for a lot of other riders. Stay tuned to Richards’ first UCI World Cup race of 2022 in Petropolis, Brazil, April 8-10th.