At the age of 26, Micayla Gatto already has 10 years of downhill mountain bike racing behind her, and her experience and skill shows. In the ever increasing pace and professionalism of the Women’s Downhill World Cup circuit, Gatto has placed in the top ten in 4 of the 5 rounds in the 2014 season to date.
Being born and raised in the mountain biking mecca of Vancouver, Canada, probably helped. The area is renowned for its variety and number of trails, and it’s been the breeding ground of many of the worlds top mountain bikers.
Gatto, a bright, friendly and infectiously upbeat character, credits the influence of her older brother when it comes to her cycling origins.
“My older brother got into mountain biking when I was about 10 or 11 years old, and I always wanted to be just like my big brother. I would follow him around the parks round my house on a beach cruiser with the springy seat, and I’d try to take it off jumps and stuff like that. It got to the point when my parents said ‘okay, we should probably get her something real’."
And straight on from that, her racing career began, though it wasn’t Downhill that first drew her in.
“When I started racing, I did cross country and road cycling. But after a while I realised I enjoyed going down the hills more than I enjoyed going up them. So I transferred over to downhill when I was 16 and haven’t looked back since."
Gatto started the 2014 season on a new team, Pivot Factory Racing. Managed by British rider and racer Bernard Kerr, this also meant starting the season with new teammates and a new bike.
"There were a lot of positive changes over the winter – a new team, but old friends and more support. But it did mean that, through changing teams, I didn’t have a bike for a while. Through the first two world cups I was trying to get my legs back."
"I’m looking forward to riding Norway, it’s really cool. I didn’t get the chance last year because I flatted in the qualifier so didn’t qualify for the finals – I’m looking for a little revenge there. But I don’t have any negativity towards any of the tracks, they all have their special something."
With such a long racing career, Gatto has seen the sport shift and change a lot over the years, particularly when it comes to attitudes to women racing.
"The sport has progressed immensely. Not just the bikes and technology we use, but just how many women are riding and the level of sport that the women bring to downhill now is insane. Not only talent on the bike, but things like cross training, having proper trainers and nutritionists. It’s really impressive and over the last ten years it’s definitely stepped up its game. The racing is a lot more challenging now, and way more competitive."
"I don’t think the women’s field is ever going to be as big as the men’s, just because it is a fairly aggressive sport. The sport is going to grow, and there’s going to be more women, but there’s also going to be that many more men as well."
So how do we encourage more women into the sport? Riding regularly in Whistler, where there is a much more even gender split in the mountain biking community, has given Gatto some idea of what works.
“In Whistler they have a lot of women’s only nights and they make coaching more accessible. I think letting women know that you don’t have to start by hucking yourself off a huge drop is a good start, by saying you can go out and have fun with your girlfriends. I think a lot of girls think you need to have this brash no fear kind of thing going on, but really you don’t need to be fearless, you just have to be in control, and that can be taught."
Gatto may huck herself off massive drops on a regular basis, but it’s not the sum total of her riding abilities or interests. Most of the cycling disciplines get a look in.
“When I’m at home, I go cross country and all-mountain riding more than I downhill, for fitness and everything. I also do lots of road riding, and I used to race BMX a little too. I love riding anything with two wheels!"
A woman of many talents, Micayla Gatto can claim the title of artist and musician to her already impressive mountain biking credentials. Her artwork is bright, beautiful and unique, and earlier this year she put on her first art show, an ambition she’s held for some time.
“I went to school for Graphic Design and Illustration, and I’m always drawing. I also love music and play the piano and guitar, and I’m constantly singing when I’m walking around the pits. Music and drawing definitely calms me down at races."
You can view (and purchase) her artwork online via Tumblr - we love it!
But downhill is where her heart truly is. “There’s nothing that compares to it" she says. “I love the adrenaline, the feeling of going as fast as you can, and the weightlessness of being in the air. It’s really intense, and you’ve got to be so focused for such a short period of time."
Showing the guys up makes us feel good!
“That, and breaking the mould of ‘Oh you can’t do it, you’re a girl’. I think a lot of the girls in the World Cup feel like this. Manon (Carpenter) at the British National race was like ‘okay, I’m going to beat this many guys, and these are the guys I’m going to beat’ and she did. So yeah, we do take pride in that. Showing the guys up makes us feel good!"
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