Whistler downhiller Ertel overcomes injuries for strong season 

Whistler rider sustained numerous injuries, but still found success

  • Photo by Andy Vathis courtesy of Amy Ertel

The summer of 2019 was Amy Ertel's first season racing downhill full time, but you wouldn't know it.

Despite battling through a gauntlet of injuries, the Whistler rider enjoyed a strong campaign on the BC Cup circuit and qualified to attend the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships in Mont-Ste-Anne, Que.

The 18-year-old Ertel faced challenges from the get-go, however, breaking her elbow in her first race of the season in Port Angeles, Wash. She took five weeks off to heal, and a week after returning, suffered a broken wrist and competed in a cast for the first two rounds of the BC Cup.

"At the Whistler BC Cup, the first round, I was in a cast and just made it down safely. It was three weeks after I broke my wrist," she said. "It was quite a change racing with a cast while changing to downhill racing.

"My first two rounds, I didn't really place where I wanted to place. I couldn't hold on too well."

However, after the cast came off, Ertel earned a second-place finish in the junior women's category at Sun Peaks before snagging a win at Kicking Horse, the first race where she was starting to feel at full strength.

"Things just started to progress from there as my wrist and elbow started to heal up," she said. "At Sun Peaks, I definitely wasn't feeling great because I'd just gotten off the cast on Thursday night and I went to Sun Peaks on the Friday morning. It was straight out of the cast. My wrist was pretty weak and it didn't feel good, but it was good enough to hold on."

However, at the Canadian DH Championships at Panorama the week after Kicking Horse, Ertel crashed and reinjured her wrist, though it was a minor ailment and she still managed to place third to qualify for Worlds.

Making it to the international stage was a welcome milestone for Ertel, especially with so many other friends in attendance on home soil.

"It was such an amazing experience. Some of the pros that I've been following ever since I started racing, all of a sudden, they're passing you on the course in training," she said. "Just to have that feeling of wearing the maple leaf on your back, and as you're riding, you're hearing people yell, 'Go Canada!', it was one of the most amazing feelings I've ever felt."

In addition to facing one of the "gnarliest" tracks she's ridden, the aura around Worlds was different, Ertel explained. Whereas for a provincial race, she might show up a day before racing begins, in this case, it was key to be there for an entire week, ensure she got her track walk in, and get in the right mindset.

Ertel's international debut didn't go as planned, as she was forced into a redo and placed 11th overall.

Still, given all she battled through this year, Ertel is confident she still has more growth to find in coming seasons as she makes the jump to elite.

"Going into races not feeling 100 per cent on how my body is feeling was definitely a challenge," she said. "I do think there's a lot more in me to race on that world stage. I do think that I can do better, and next year is the big jump to elite. I'm hopefully going to be able to find the support to race World Cup and more international races."

Even with the setbacks and challenges this year, Ertel said she still managed to progress as a rider, primarily in hitting drops and jumps. She chalks that up to riding with some World Cup-level friends.

"I spent more time in the bike park and a lot of my friends are the guys that are winning and podiuming on World Cups, the junior boys team. I'm chasing them down the bike park and, all of a sudden, you're following them and you think, 'I'm riding at a pace I definitely don't ride at,' or 'I'm hitting things that I definitely wouldn't hit normally,'" she said.

In prior years, Ertel primarily focused on enduro and cross-country racing, but felt downhill would be a better fit going forward, as she could ride a bigger bike, get a better grasp of courses, and have a singular focus.

"[In enduro, you're] getting to the top of a stage absolutely exhausted and dropping in, you just want the day to be over. You don't know the track that well or you still have some more stages left," she said. "It's just such a long day for me and I never really felt it could have my direct focus for the level of racing I was wanting to be at.

"[In downhill], you literally pour everything out over a three-to-five-minute track. It's your everything at that moment."


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