Lea Davison Announces Retirement from International Racing
February 22, 2022
As Davison retires from the World Cup circuit, she will transition to other forms of cycling and advocacy.
JERICHO, Vt. /SPORTSWIRE WOMEN/ – USA Cycling athlete Lea Davison has formally announced her retirement on Tuesday, February 22nd. Davison began racing locally in Vermont in 2000, which eventually led her to two Olympic Teams, two World Championship podiums, and winning five elite U.S. National Titles in Cross-Country and Short Track.
“In 2001, when I was seventeen years old, I won a NORBA national junior race at Mount Snow, Vt. USA Cycling came up to me and told me that my win had qualified me for the World Championships. At that point, I had no idea there was a Mountain Bike World Championships, an Olympic mountain bike race, and that it was a profession. I had found my calling. From that moment on, I poured my heart and soul into my dream of going to the Olympics and becoming a professional athlete. I dedicated my life to professional bike racing, and I wanted to take bike racing as far as I could,” said Davison.
Her second NORBA National in 2001 was at Snowshoe, the same venue where she would eventually race in her last World Cup 20 years later. Davison attended the Junior World Championships that year in Vail, Colo. where she finished 7th and was named to Team Devo.
Davison went to Middlebury College where she was coming in as the Vermont Division I cross-country running high school state champion. A torn ACL forced her to forgo cross-country running after her freshman year, but she continued to race on their downhill ski team. At the same time, she was also dabbling in collegiate mountain biking and road racing, winning the Collegiate Cross-Country Mountain Bike and Short Track National Titles. Over the summer, she raced her first season in the pro ranks without an ACL, which eventually motivated her to make the decision to pursue mountain biking over ski racing.
In 2005, Davison graduated from Middlebury with a degree in Environmental Studies with a focus in Conservation Biology. Her sister, Sabra, also graduated from Middlebury just two years later, and her senior project was creating the mission statement and developing the idea for a mountain biking mentorship program. Unlike other students, the Davison’s and close friend, Angela Irvine, actually turned that senior project into a reality, co-founding the non-profit we know today as Little Bellas.
Davison really started to excel in the mountain bike scene after graduating college. While racing for the Specialized Factory Racing team (2011-2016), and later the Clif Pro Team (2017-2018), Davison was consistently in the Top-10 of every World Championship. That’s almost 10 years of being at the top of the international mountain bike scene even after having gone through two major hip surgeries. Through the major setbacks of those surgeries, she came back and qualified for her first Olympic Games, London 2012, and then won her first World Championship medal in 2014 only 8 months after surgery.
2016 was another milestone year for Davison. Not only did she qualify for her second Olympic Games, she grabbed silver at the World Championships then went on to finish 7th at the Rio Olympics.
Davison’s coach and Vermont local, Andy Bishop, has been by her side throughout her entire career. A successful cyclist in his own right, Bishop has worked with Davison through the highs and lows of professional mountain bike racing, and the pair would not have it any other way. Bishop said, “Lea epitomizes the dream athlete to coach: a consummate professional, a fierce competitor, and an incredibly hard worker who is always willing to challenge and push herself beyond her limits. Yet, what truly sets her apart is her personality and her passion for life and helping others. She readily shares her experience and advice with younger and established athletes alike, mentoring them to create opportunities to grow in and develop their love of sport; she works closely together with her sponsors to create new and dynamic opportunities for their products and marketing; she fights tirelessly for equality, dignity, and complete inclusion for women athletes and the LGBTQ community. Of all the people whom I have known, I have never met someone who is so completely honest and giving of themselves in the pursuit of making the world a better place. Gladly, the fact that Lea is retiring from World Cup competition only means she will be able to channel her energies into even more of her passions and pursuits.”
As Bishop mentioned, it was not just the results that made Davison so successful. Her mentorship and camaraderie in the mountain bike scene made her one of the friendliest and most approachable riders on the circuit.
USA Cycling’s Chief of Sport Performance, Jim Miller, witnessed Lea’s impact on the sport firsthand. “Lea has been the icon of her generation. During a period of significant mountain bike growth, Lea was the role model and inspiration to a generation of aspiring racers. It was always a privilege to work with Lea and have her on our National, World Championship and Olympic Teams,” said Miller.
One of those aspiring racers was 2018 Mountain Bike World Champion and Olympian Kate Courtney. During Davison’s time with Specialized, Courtney scored her first pro contract with the team and there was no denying they were quite the dynamic duo. Courtney commented on those crucial years having Davison as a teammate, “It is one thing to be a great athlete and another altogether to be a great human being. Lea Davison is both. As her teammate for five years, I witnessed first-hand Lea’s incredible capacity to combine hard work and joy in the pursuit of her dreams. She has accomplished incredible things on the bike, a National Champion, Olympian and World Championship medalist, but has always carved out time to lift as she rises. As a young athlete, she was an incredible mentor and friend who was willing to share both the highs and lows of competing at the top level. Not to mention sharing the very small French hotel rooms that come with the job. She is fiercely loyal – to her dreams, her sport and to anyone that is lucky enough to be in her circle. I know that while she may be stepping back from World Cup racing, she will always have a place in the heart of the cycling community. Her legacy goes beyond her race results and can be seen in the athletes and young girls she has mentored, particularly through Little Bellas. For years to come, the results of U.S. racers will be a continuation of the path that she has helped to blaze.”
Another young racer impacted by Davison was Olympian Haley Batten. Batten will miss seeing Davison on the starting line. “It’s hard to believe that Lea is stepping away from World Cup racing. She has become such a familiar face on the circuit that it will be so weird not having her there!” said Batten. “Lea has been a mentor, teammate, and friend that I am forever grateful for and her support has had a meaningful impact on my cycling career. She has brought Team USA to World Cup and World Championship podiums and her success has been fundamental to helping the next generation make their mark on the largest stage. Alongside her results, she has invested greatly in the development of women’s cycling and I know that she has been an inspiration for many young girls, including myself. I’m excited to see all that she will accomplish in her next chapter.”
Davison will forever be thankful for the friendships she’s made from bike racing. “For me, it’s been way more than the results. Bike racing gave me friendships, victories, and experiences that have far surpassed my wildest dreams. I traveled the world. It gives me joy to give back to the sport that has given me so much and mentor up-and-coming racers. Creating a team ethos (Team USlay) in an individual sport will remain one of my most proud achievements. I walk away from my World Cup career with an immense amount of gratitude for everything that it’s given me. I’ve lived my life turned up to 10 at full volume,” said Davison.
USlay team member and Olympian Erin Huck is grateful for Davison’s friendship through their careers. “It has been an honor to have been able to race with Lea throughout the years, and I am even more grateful to call her a friend. In general, Lea has been instrumental in creating an environment where competitors encourage and support one another; where we can celebrate in others’ success, but also challenge each other to be the best we can be. Lea will be the first one to congratulate you at the finish line, or to offer support or help if you need it. Yet, Lea is also a fierce competitor and shows up to race with everything she’s got – you will never hear an excuse, and quitting is not an option. She races with integrity and grit and finishes with a smile and ready to hug those who finish around her. Lea may be transitioning out of international racing, but I am looking forward to seeing her continue to race and inspire within the U.S. and I know she will continue to impact our sport in a meaningful and positive way.”
As far as the future, Davison plans to transition to domestic racing and focus on the Lifetime Grand Prix. The endurance style of racing has given her an interesting and energizing new challenge. Moving from a 1.5-hour format of racing to 100-200 miles of racing requires a different training approach.
Davison feels like she’s “coming home” now that she is focused on domestic events. Davison is still focused on the results this season, but wants to make an even bigger impact. At each of the Grand Prix stops, she has chosen non-profits or organizations to ride, fundraise, and raise awareness for. These organizations align with issues she’s passionate about; women’s empowerment, LGBTQ+ rights, and the environment. She will be working with her long-time partner Garneau to design a custom kit to send a message, provoke thought, and hopefully call to action.
Retiring from the World Cup circuit has opened up her bandwidth and energy. She is investing more time into growing her public speaking career as she just finished up a year long class on public speaking. This past December, she gave her first keynote speech on resilience and is passionate about sharing more of her story and experience. Davison will continue to stay involved with Little Bellas and plans to visit as many chapters and she can now that she is taking a step back from racing.
As Davison closes out this chapter of her journey, she would not have been able to accomplish what she did without the people closest to her. “It’s the village of people supporting me that truly unlocked my full potential as a bike racer and human. My wife Frazier, my family, Lucia, Jeff and Sabe, my coaches Andy Bishop and Bill Knowles, and my agent Erica Vessey have made my dream a reality. Over a twenty-year career, there are a lot of people that have made my career what it is. There are my teammates, team managers, sponsors, mechanics, massage therapists and soigneurs, nutritionist, sports psychologists, sports physiologist, and my fans and supporters. There’s USA Cycling and the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee,” said Davison. “To everyone that has played a part, you know who you are, THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart. What a fun ride!”
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ABOUT USA CYCLING (usacycling.org)
USA Cycling is the national governing body for the sport of cycling and oversees the disciplines of road, track, mountain bike, cyclocross, and BMX. USA Cycling’s mission is to champion accessibility, participation, and excellence in the sport of cycling to make more Americans healthier, happier, and better on two wheels while achieving sustained international racing success. USA Cycling supports cyclists at all levels, from those just beginning in the sport and participating in fun rides to international caliber racers. The organization identifies, develops, and selects cyclists to represent the United States in international competition through the support of kids’ and interscholastic programs, amateur bike racing and grassroots development programs, and the provision of critical infrastructure to run organized racing. USA Cycling has a membership of 100,000, annually sanctions over 2,500 events, and is a proud member of the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) and United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee (USOPC).