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Mara Abbott: Always Willing to Go a Step Further

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Being in the presence of Mara Abbott is akin to sitting at the cool kids’ table in high school. Calm, collected and down to earth, she strikes an approachable presence while simultaneously embracing her calling. She is centered, rooted and naturally resilient. She knows who she is and what she wants out of life and has never let a little hard work get in her way. This competitive cyclist has a tale to spin, but her story of life on two wheels began not out on the road, but in the pool.

Born and raised in Boulder, Colorado, Mara, now 29, began swimming before she hit double digits in age, participating mainly in summer league swim meets, not the highly competitive version. “They were the kind of meets where we would gather around and eat nachos afterwards,” laughed Mara, who readily admits that she was not the best of swimmers, even though she specialized in freestyle races while earning her degree in economics at Whitman College, a Division 3 school in Walla Walla, Washington. “Once I got to college, swimming was seasonal. It had been a year-round sport before, which is why I wanted to find something to do in the off season,” noted Mara, who was encouraged by friends to join the bike team, a club sport at the school.

The team enjoyed an appreciable amount of road cycling, which came fairly easy to Mara, as she was accustomed to swimming four hours a day and hiking with her family back in Colorado. “I really liked the people in the club,” she stated. “We would get in the van and drive to Seattle, go for rides and spend the night in someone’s aunt’s basement. I fell in love with the people on the team first and then fell in love with the sport.”

Apparently, Mara was born to cycle. She won the collegiate national title in the women’s road race at the end of her inaugural season. When she turned pro in 2007, she joined the Webcor Builders team and won one stage and the overall title in the Tour of the Gila, along with the 2007 National Cycling Championships women’s road race championship.

Mara then transitioned to the HTCColumbia Women’s Team one year later and earned her stripes excelling on the European, winning a stage but not the overall title in the Giro della Toscana. One year later, she won Stage 3 and the Queen of the Mountains jersey in the Giro Donne, coming in second overall. “We raced in events throughout Europe,” noted Mara, dismissing the idea that one might consider it a glamorous lifestyle. “It wasn’t always easy traveling in Europe alone and staying in hotels so far away from home, but I stuck with it.”

Mara then joined Peanut Butter & Co two years later and gave a repeat performance at the Tour of the Gila and at the US National Championship Women’s Road Race. She went on to win two more stages and secured the championship title at the Giro Donne, the only women’s grand tour event in 2010. Mara was actually the first American to win the Giro Donne and in seemingly effortless fashion won that title again three years later. Mara has continued to advance and to excel and has also ridden for Twenty 12, Diadora, Pata Zara, Exergy Twenty16 and United HealthCare. This year she signed with Wiggle Honda.

This professional cyclist competes in up to 60 races a year and has been known to reach speeds upward of 70 kilometers per hour. Mara cycles daily now and admits that it is not always easy. Yes, she has fallen, but she just gets right back up, emerging, for the most part, relatively unscratched. “You have good days and you have bad days,” she expressed.

She is blessed to have unwavering support from her family, which includes her parents and an older brother, but she indicated that cycling is not always the best spectator sport. “You have to sit and wait for the pack to go by,” she said. “It can be difficult to see the ones you want to see while they are actually racing.”

Mara has raced in all elements as well. She has endured strong winds; she has survived numerous crashes. In her estimation, no race is ever truly easy.

“Sometimes the hardest part is not the cycling,” she explained. “You are competing head to head with others and you have
to maintain that mental focus. Because you get paid to win, you grow accustomed to that much pressure, and when you get used to that, you can become miscalibrated.”

And even though she has logged countless miles in the sports, she still gets nervous at each starting line. “I believe that if you are not nervous, then you don’t care,” she commented.

Does Mara ever return to her roots in the swimming pool? “I swim for fun,” she smiled. “I mainly just float around.”

With a life fully dedicated to cycling, Mara’s free time must be wisely used. She travels appreciably for the sport and noted it can be a challenge to create a sense of community with such a mobile lifestyle. “It’s even difficult to hold a part time job,” she noted. However, she has written for Ella Cycling Tips, an online women’s cycling site,and currently writes part time for and is a columnist for the Daily Camera.

Mara is not all about the bike, however. A yoga enthusiast, she practices regularly and is a certified instructor. She also serves on the boards of the City of Boulder Environmental Advisory Board and the Daily Camera Editorial Advisory Board. And, of course, she is a strong advocate for bike commuting. “I don’t even own a car,” she smiled, noting that she routinely cycles to get around town or relies on the bus system. Some local gathering spots Mara enjoys visiting on occasion include Cured and Zeal Restaurant. She is also an avid fan of the Rockies.

As for her future plans, Mara remains uncertain. “If you had asked me five years ago where I’d be today, I never would have speculated doing
this,” she said. “I stopped trying to guess about things, because it appears to be an ineffective use of my time. I just go where the road takes me. I could say that when I am finished with racing, I will do something else, but I could also be wrong in the future.”

Mara plans to race in the US Pro Challenge August 23 through 25. This event is similar to the Tour de France, but it’s held here in Colorado and is adding a women’s race for the first time. Mara also hopes to qualify for the World Championships in September, which will be held in Richmond, Virginia, but her bigger goal is to defend her Giro Rosa title in Italy July 4 through 13.

And even though Mara admits that cycling may not make her a millionaire, she does have her reasons for pursuing the sport.

“What drives me to do this?” she asked. “I like to push the limits and see how far I can take something. I want to accomplish something and become the best in the world. I am always willing to go a step further.”