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Interview: Mara Abbott Ascending
By Staff
Date: 2/13/2009
Interview: Mara Abbott Ascending

A Conversation With Mara Abbott
"My advice is to love what you are doing!! .. I made the decision that I always wanted to be following PASSION in life. There are so many amazing opportunities out, cycling... "

By Mark Adam Abramowicz

Our main man, Bart Hazen met up with Mara Abbott in November to discuss her transition from collegiate swimmer to pro tour cyclist and her break out year wearing the stars and stripes as our Nation's Champion. With her palmares containing stage wins at the Redlands Bicycle Classic, the Tour of Toscana and overall wins at the Tour of the Gila one could say that Miss Abbott is as legit as they come. Too legit to quit, even. In's follow up interview, we caught up with the Team Columbia superstar at her training camp in Spain, we aim to find out a little more about Mara and her take on everything from the nation's economic climate to Fergie and Malt-O-Meal!

Adam - So let's get down to've been a part of the T-Mobile/High Road/Columbia family basically since Bob Stapleton took over. You've been there through all the changes, so let's be honest, which was your favorite team kit?

Mara Abott - My favorite was my National Champ kit last year!! I am also pretty excited about the fact that we get our last names and our flags on our kits this year, mostly because I am proud both to be an American and an Abbott!

In my opinion, your National Champ kit is on my all-time favorite kit list. Did you have any part in the design? I did not.

I just got lucky!!

Mara's Championshiip jersey

You were National Champion at 21, in 2007, and finished fourth in the time trial not to mention stage wins out the wazoo....that's one heck of a year. Tell us a little bit about how that felt...That was pretty exciting.

It was sort of an opening of possibilities. I floated through that year without ever really feeling like my feet were on the ground and it honestly scared me a little bit to feel so disconnected! I realized that there was a whole reality available to me that I had never quite seen coming so quickly, and it definitely took me a while to process everything that was happening.

What is your involvement with the United States Women's Cycling Developmental Program?

Michael Engleman was my first coach and really one of the first people who tried to help me to understand the possibilities out there in cycling. He helped me get to races and to succeed at races and to understand the world of cycling as a newcomer. I think that the work he does is invaluable. I would always do anything to help out his program because I know that not only is he incredibly skilled at what he does, but his heart is exactly in the right place.

You are an idol and role model to a lot of ladies young and old, that are getting their start in cycling. What is one piece of advice you would give them?

I didn't know that...I really hope that it is true! It is a lucky thing, personally, I think, to be able to be role model for someone -just thinking of this now, it holds you to higher standards in life than you might otherwise. That is really cool thing to think about.

My advice is to love what you are doing!! I went on an Outward Bound trip in high school and during that experience I made the decision that I always wanted to be following PASSION in life. There are so many amazing opportunities out, cycling, so many interesting jobs, so many things to see or experiences to have, so whatever you are doing in that second, LOVE IT!!! If it is cycling....LOVE IT, and ride your bike as much as you can. Go on adventures. Listen to music that makes you sing out loud!! I can't get over how many things there are that I want to do in whatever you pick, OWN IT, and enjoy it!

You're on Scott bikes for 2009, what are your impressions so far?

My Scott is beautiful. My Scott is speedy. My Scott is really really easy to carry around in the airport, and THAT is a feature I am fully behind.

Have you laid out your schedule for 2009 yet? Any big targets for you?

Not yet!!

Mara Abbott is one of the best climbers in the women's peloton
Photo © 2008 ActionImages

You seem to excel when the road tilts upwards. Did climbing just come naturally to you or are you one of those sick people that actually likes to suffer?

I have done some thinking about this, and I am pretty sure I have the answer. I grew up having to bike to school or swim practice or whatever...and my parents happen to live at the top of a hill. So every day after school I would have to power my silly bike up this hill that I think at the time felt like Mt Everest. Plus, I have an older brother, so I had someone to berate me and try and set the bar higher right from the start!

This goes back, I think, to just doing what you love. I love to climb mountains, on or off of my bike. It appeals to me immensely. I love it, so I do it all the time...and I guess that makes it my strength!

Mara ascends
Photo © 2008 Action Images

How are your descending skills?

I get all sorts of practice in Boulder in the winter  - not only do you have to dodge oncoming traffic and guardrails, but there are also plentiful sand and ice patches. It is my recommended training technique!

Speaking of ups-and-downs.....being that you have a degree in economics, how would Mara Abbott, the economist, evaluate and resuscitate our market and economy?

Well, I have to say that if an undergraduate degree in economics qualifies one to fix the economy I hope that we can get things rolling fast, here! Honestly, we are starting to hear about the idea of "green jobs" creating more economic vitality. I love this idea. That through supported environmental innovation and development we can support these sectors and create jobs within them...I want this to work so, SO badly. I don't know if it will...a lot of economics is guesswork. But in my ideal world, that is going to be the key.

Mara, I gave you an open invitation to ride with the 'tough guys' on the weekly Palos Verdes "Donut Ride." You never showed, didn't want to burst any egos? It's a location problem!!!

I spent from the middle of September until Monday when I left for team camp trying not to leave Boulder City limits (except for on bike rides). Only three exceptions were made: To go to church (technically outside of city limits), to go adventuring in the mountains (climbing or skiing), and to go to our team meeting in Mallorca (but that was only a few days). Thus, unfortunately, your ride is in the wrong geographic area to allow me to accomplish my very important goals.

The phone just rang and it was the "Donut Ride" calling, they asked that I thank you for not making any of the 'tough guys' cry. -
You've been doing some solid racing in the States and overseas. Our reader's at home can't appreciate the amount of traveling that is involved with being a professional cyclist. It has to be hard at times...

It has been really challenging. I think it takes a lot of learning, and just figuring out how you operate in different situations. I want to try to not let myself be jaded about it. I resist it a lot, because I am so in love with my home. I try to remind myself that traveling so much is not only an obligation, but also an opportunity. It is definitely a challenge, but resisting it isn't going to make my life any easier!!

Team Columbia is very much so an internationally diverse team...are you picking up on any languages?

I haven't yet... I speak Spanish from school (and I spent a semester abroad in Mexico!) but I have learned that Spanish isn't actually that useful in Europe!! I would love to try and learn some German, since we have such a strong base of Germans on the team, but I think my next challenge might be Catalan, since I am planning on spending some time in Girona this year!!

Mara, you've managed to conquer a lot of things in your life at a young age. Most kids/people your age are still trying to "figure it all out" you have it all figured out?

Definitely. Not. It is actually interesting though. I found my way to this job opportunity, and all of my friends who graduated in May found their way to their own next step. I think we are all doing exactly the same thing...looking at what we all want the next phase of our lives to be, and there is more than a little angst and anxiety involved in that.

I made the analogy last year that I was a newborn grown-up. Through college I had always been on a track and had a certain amount of automatic structure in my life. To realize that I am now exclusively in charge of that is more than a little terrifying...but it is actually really comforting to realize that EVERYONE is going through the same thing. Everyone has the first job out of college, and I imagine that everyone faces the same challenges in adapting to a new lifestyle.

What do you consider your biggest life accomplishments. On and off the bike?

Making decisions based on my gut and not on prestige. Having such a wonderful family. Loving my roots. This environmental econ paper I wrote that I loved. Outward Bound. Swimming all through college. COLLEGE! Getting to be the certified Boulder County expert of the day in our local paper.

I read somewhere that you are a fan of Malcolm X, did you find the book was better than the movie?

I initially read Malcolm X because it was a gift from my older brother when I was in high school. I have a rather brilliant older brother, so it is prudent to take his recommendations on these sorts of things!! But I did end up loving the book. I haven't even seen the movie!!

What's your preferred pre-race/ride meal?

Oatmeal or Malt-O-Meal. Apple. Peanut Butter. Coffee with Ovaltine in it.

If I were to snag Mara Abbott's iPod, what are some songs/albums I'd find in rotation?

You would find some soundtracks such as Night at the Roxbury and Zoolander. You would find some Britney. The Sounds. Gunther. Fergie. Kanye. John Denver.

Is there a sport that you've secretly wanted to learn or try?

Hmmmm. DOG-SLEDDING! Adventure racing. Water-skiing. Serious mountaineering. DANCING.

Do you think you can dance?

I WISH I could dance. I wish I could swing dance!

Are you smarter than a fifth grader?

Ask my dad, he taught them for years!!

Pretend you just called in to your favorite Top-40 radio station and won tickets to see your favorite band...go ahead and make your Shout-Outs! 

To my beloved home and the amazing Colorado mountains. To my fabulous padres and my bro (and the Everlater boys). To my high school swim coach Grant Holicky. To my yoga studio. To my wonderful friends. To winter storms and mountains everywhere and flowers and smiles and fresh fruit and happiness.

Mara has wisdom beyond her years. Her smarts doubled with her youthful optimism and sheer raw talent are promising for a great future in the sport of cycling and the sport of life. This interviewer doesn't want to jinx anyone, but he'd be happy to see Mara wearing the stars and stripes a couple-scratch that-a few more times in her career!

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