Haley Batten can seemingly do no wrong in Nove Mesto.
The Czech Republic village in 2019 was the site of the Park City native’s first World Cup mountain biking win, as a U23 racer. Batten returned to that site Friday for just her second race at the elite level and picked up her first World Cup victory. She broke away from the pack on the second-to-last lap to win the muddy short-track cross country event.
“Gosh, I felt really good and it was an exciting race in the mud,” Batten said. “I couldn’t believe it.”
In her inaugural cross country race as an elite last week in Albstadt, Germany, Batten placed third overall. She becomes just the third American to win a short track World Cup race, alongside Kate Courtney and Chloe Woodruff.
Batten made the jump with a breakaway group early in the muddy and slick six-lap race in Nove Mesto and then made her charge to the front with a lap to go. Reigning world champion Pauline Ferrand-Prévot of France, who was also in the breakaway, crashed partway through and withdrew from the race. When Batten passed breakaway companion Loana Lecomte of France, who finished 16 seconds behind for second place, she said she didn’t realize she was in the lead.
“I honestly couldn’t think about it being the last lap,” Batten said. “There’s so many sections where you have to be in control and technically skilled. So I think my eyes were just all on the course and crossing the line was the first time I realized I was in the front, really.”
The 22-year-old’s performances could aid her pursuit of a spot on Team USA’s Olympic mountain biking team. The American women are ranked No. 2 in the world and can send the maximum of three athletes to Tokyo, but one of those has already been secured by Courtney. The other two could come down to UCI ranking. After climbing eight spots with her most recent performances, Batten, who now lives in Santa Cruz, Calif., is currently Team USA’s leader at No. 16, while Erin Huck of Estes Park, Colo., is a close second at No. 21.
But, there’s a chance none of that will matter. Sunday’s World Cup long track race (3 a.m. MDT) could determine her Olympic fate. According to the Team USA qualification guidelines, any national team member aside from Courtney who finishes in the top eight overall and top two among Team USA athletes at Nove Mesto will automatically be named to the Olympic team.
So if Batten can do wrong in Nove Mesto, this isn’t the time to prove it.
Another Park City athlete, Keegan Swenson, faces the same test. He is vying to fill the only USA men’s mountain biking spot at the Tokyo Olympics. If he finishes in the top eight and ahead of Christopher Blevins of Durango, Colo., on Sunday, it will be his. In Friday’s short-track race, he placed 27th as the top American, while Blevins finished 34th.
All World Cup races are streamed on redbull.com.