Revelstoke’s Emily Unterberger earned her second podium finish of the year at a Canada Cup race in Whistler on Saturday.
Unterberger, racing in the elite women’s category, finished third behind last year’s World Cup champion Catharine Pendrel and Jayne Rossworn of Kamloops. It follows up a second place finish at a Canada Cup race in Mont Tremblant, Quebec, in May.
Not bad considering Unterberger says she only started training seriously for mountain bike racing in March.
“I feel pretty good,” she said on Sunday. “I just started this year really focusing on racing. The first race in Quebec was surprising for me. I really wasn’t expecting much. It’s exciting, I’m looking forward to more.”
Unterberger, who turns 21 in July, was a competitive alpine ski racer before making the transition to mountain bike racing. She raced at the highest levels in B.C. and spent a winter racing in Europe before starting university.
She always biked as cross-training for skiing, but it wasn’t until last summer that she started competing beyond the local toonie series. She got some help from Wade Viznaugh, who’s son Kellen is aspiring to be a professional road racer, and competed in two BC Cup races last summer, finishing seventh at Cranworx in Whistler and winning in Kelowna.
“Last summer was my first not training for ski racing,” she said. “I missed having something to really train for and focus my attention towards.”
This year, Unterberger jumped front wheel first into the elite women’s category at the national level. She entered the Bear Mountain Canada Cup race in Victoria in early March, finishing 17th despite having not done any serious training.
It was there she was approached by Keith Wilson, a Revelstoke native and Pendrel’s husband.
“Keith started me on a program and he has so many connections,” Unterberger said. “He made it possible for me to go out to Quebec.”
In an e-mail, Wilson called Unterberger a “special rider” with “the potential to go as far as she wants in the sport.”
“She has all the tools required to be one of the best in the world: physical capability, technically strong, and, most importantly, willingness to do the work,” he said. “I have only been coaching her for a couple of months, but in that time I quickly became impressed by how focused and how hard she works.”
Wilson’s program paid dividends — two months later in Mont Tremblant she finished second, only 12.8 seconds behind Rossworn. She crashed in her next race a week later in Baie St. Paul, Qc., and then finished third in Whistler on Saturday.
“It’s all still pretty new to me,” she said. “I’m just gaining race experience right now.”
Unterberger’s next race is the national championships in Canmore, Alta., on July 22. It will be her biggest test yet, with the top riders from across the country in attendance, including World Cup pros like Pendrel and Emily Batty.
Wilson said it will take a few years of work for Unterberger to reach the World Cup, as well as support from sponsors. So far she has picked up support from Race Face and Pendrel gave her a bike to use this season. “To keep progressing in the sport Emily will require training time and support,” said Wilson. “Hopefully with some strong results at some upcoming races Emily can acquire further support to enable her to travel to some bigger races next season.”
While Unterberger stood on the podium in Whistler, she was 10 minutes behind Pendrel, who has been one of the world’s top cross-country racers for a decade.
When asked what she needs to do to close the gap, Unterberger replied, “For me, I think keep working on technical riding and just keep training and see how it goes.”