In a year marked by extraordinary achievements, Year 13 student Sacha Earnest from ACG Parnell has left her mark on the global stage of Downhill Mountain Biking. Her journey took her to the pinnacle of the sport, where she competed at both the prestigious UCI Cycling World Championships and the demanding UCI Downhill World Cup Circuit.
A Kiwi Trio Triumph
Sacha was part of a kiwi trio that created history with a clean sweep of the podium in the Junior Women’s Downhill event at the UCI Cycling World Championships in Fort William, Scotland, this year. While Sacha claimed third place, her teammate Erice van Leuven’s bold prediction of New Zealand securing 1st, 2nd and 3rd positions became a reality, an unprecedented result for New Zealand.
Reflecting on the achievement, Sacha said, “It was truly something I never imagined would happen. Erice suggested a Kiwi podium earlier in the week, but both Poppy (Lane) and I laughed it off. To stand on all three steps of the podium at a World Championship is an achievement in itself, but for it to be a first for New Zealand, we were all so proud.”
A Life-Changing Moment
Despite aiming for the top spot, Sacha emphasised the significance of standing on the podium with her New Zealand teammates, describing it as a “life-changing” moment that made her feel like she had truly made an impact on the world stage.
Sacha did go on to taste winning success on the world stage, with victories in the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup circuit but it took a lot of mental toughness to get there. The gruelling circuit saw her compete in Switzerland, Italy, Andorra, France, USA, and Canada.
Sacha faced a challenging start to the series with a crash and concussion in Switzerland. Recounting the incident, Sacha expressed, “It was one of the biggest crashes I’ve had. I was knocked unconscious for 30 seconds and don’t remember a good half hour after the crash.”
Resilience and Triumph
Undeterred by the set-back, Sacha displayed remarkable resilience, bouncing back to clinch victory in her first World Cup race in Val Di Sole, Italy, with an impressive 12-second margin ahead of second place. Her triumph continued with a first in Loundenvielle, France and a second in Mont Sainte Anne, Canada. These results, along with other top 10 finishes, placed her fourth overall in the Junior Women’s Downhill standings for 2023.
“It was a real challenge to overcome the long-lasting symptoms of my concussion as they affected me heavily in Andorra. I had hit my head a couple of times that weekend, and the symptoms were heightened with the altitude and severe heat stroke I had that race week.
“Along with this, the symptoms challenged me mentally, especially when warming up and piecing the tracks together, as I couldn’t remember much of the track right before my race runs.”
Sacha acknowledges her parents as pillars of support throughout her journey, both in her career and life.
"They graciously provided the financial support and trust I needed to perform on the international stage, and that was my primary goal. Their dedication has extended beyond money; they've invested their time and effort into helping me chase my dream and find success on the world stage.
"In addition to my parents, the unwavering support of friends and family, as well as the backing of New Zealand brands with their products and services, have played a crucial role in keeping me a step ahead.
What's on the horizon for Sacha?
Sacha sees the experience she gained this year as crucial for her future success. Her plan is to build upon the valuable lessons learned and continue refining her racing skills as she competes in the junior category again throughout 2024 before diving headfirst into the elite category in 2025. We can’t wait to see what’s around the bend for Sacha!