Winter Park biker takes silver in women’s Nationals | SkyHiNews.com

Winter Park biker takes silver in women’s Nationals

Hank Shell
hshell@skyhidailynews.com

Downhill mountain biking isn't for the faint of heart.

Riders navigate their bikes down complex and unforgiving trails at speeds that are literally break-neck.

It's in this chaotic, high-stakes environment that Jacqueline Thomas thrives.

Many will recognize Thomas, 25, from Le Feet Lab, the boot-fitting and foot specialist business she and her father Jacques operate in Winter Park.

But there's a lot more to her than a good-fitting pair of boots.

Thomas won second place in the women's pro downhill at USA Cycling's 2015 Mountain Biking Nationals in Mammoth Lakes, Calif., on Sunday, July 19.

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She's the first female member of Trestle Bike Park's mountain bike team and is quickly making a name for herself as an up-and-coming rider.

Thomas was born and raised in Winter Park and first tried downhill mountain biking in 2010.

It provided an escape from a hectic work life, Thomas said.

"When you do get up on the mountain, you're focusing on the bike and the lines and the trail," She said. "You're not worrying about work or drama."

After a severe ski cross accident in 2012 that dislocated her hip, Thomas said she started focusing on mountain biking.

Thomas' nascent but promising career has taken her across the west and into Canada, and she's ridden with some of the best mountain bikers in the world, including Peter Henke.

Some of her biggest moments include being invited to Canada and meeting fabled trail builder Tom "Pro" Prochazka on his home turf in Whistler, British Columbia.

Thomas was one of the first, if not the first woman to hit the biking Mecca's "crabapple hits," or it's three biggest jumps at the time.

"My whole body was shaking for a while afterwards," Thomas said. "I was happy to be alive. They were high and big and intimidating, but they were so much fun."

Though one might assume that top-level bikers are unfazed by their gut-wrenching feats, Thomas said that's not the case.

"I definitely get the sick feeling in my stomach," she said.

The caveat?

"I like that feeling."

Thomas's biggest break yet was her silver medal finish on July 19.

Jill Kintner, a legendary professional BMX-turned-downhill biker, barely managed to edge Thomas off the top of the podium.

But finishing second in a field full of professional riders is pretty good, too.

"I was blown away," Thomas said. "I couldn't believe that I just came down and had a super clean and fast run. It was a good feeling. I don't know what to compare it to."

The finish has given Thomas the confidence to pursue a more consistent career as a professional biker, but it's a hard passion to maintain.

First of all, it's expensive. Downhill bikes can easily cost upward of $5,000, and competitions are often spread across the country.

To cover those costs, it helps to have sponsorships, which are sparse for female riders, Thomas said.

"They're not seeking women," Thomas said of sponsors. "The men's racing is a lot more competitive."

Still, it's unlikely those odds will get in the way of Thomas's tenacity.

"She's doing very well because she loves what she does and she's a talented person, very physical, very strong," her father Jacques said. "There's nothing I can do to get her not to do it."

After finishing ahead of quite a few sponsored riders last week, Thomas may have a pretty good chance of securing a sponsorship.

Of course, money isn't the focus of the sport.

"If you're not enjoying it, if you're doing it for the money, then you're doing it for the wrong reasons," Thomas said. "It's definitely about getting out there and getting down, going fast and having fun."

Just the thought of it has helped Thomas get through many a long, cold winter.

"Biking makes me so happy that I can't understand how I could ever be sad," Thomas said.

Thomas will be racing in the Colorado Freeride Festival's Super Downhill Race on July 25 and the Colorado State Championships on July 26 at Trestle Bike Park.

Potential sponsors can contact Thomas in person at the Le Feet Lab in Winter Park or by phone at 970-531-4545.

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