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Monday, Jun 24, 2024

Lea Davison ’05 announces retirement from World Cup mountain biking

Lea Davison maneuvers through a tricky section of the course at the 2016 Olympics in Rio. COURTESY OF MATT DELORME
Lea Davison maneuvers through a tricky section of the course at the 2016 Olympics in Rio. COURTESY OF MATT DELORME

To say that Lea Davison ’05 has led an accomplished mountain biking career is an understatement.

The Middlebury alumna and Vermont native announced her formal retirement from the World Cup circuit on Feb. 22, but that doesn’t mean she’ll be walking away from the sport any time soon. Now, she turns her attention to the Life Time Grand Prix, where she will join 29 other elite female cyclists to compete in six of America’s most iconic cycling races. 

Despite boasting an illustrious career in mountain biking spanning more than 20 years, cycling wasn’t always in Davison’s blood. The two-time Olympian ran track and downhill skied in high school, catching the attention of several colleges before committing to run and ski at Middlebury. It was only in her junior year of high school that Davison’s cycling career began.

“I was running track in the spring and a friend of mine said, ‘Hey, you should try [cycling] out,’” Davison told The Campus. “I tried it and loved it immediately. It was a perfect combination of running and skiing because it required you to have an engine but also to have technical handling abilities.” 

Davison initially raced near her hometown of Jericho, Vermont, but quickly qualified for bigger races on the national junior level. During her senior year of high school, Davison won a race at Vermont’s Mt. Snow, earning her a bid to the junior world championships. 

“A representative from USA Cycling came up to me and told me I was going to the world championships,” Davison said. “I didn’t even know there was a world championship for mountain biking. I remember thinking, ‘What? You can make a living out of this? Game on.’”


Despite her rapidly developing cycling career, Davison pursued her running and skiing careers at Middlebury. She ran cross country during her first year, but decided to hang up her running shoes shortly after the season ended. 

On the ski slopes, Davison placed 11th at the NCAA Championship as a rookie, just hundredths of a second away from All-American status. She redshirted her sophomore year due to a cruciate ligament tear, returning to ski race as a junior. 

“I was the captain of the team my senior year, but I never really returned to that same level of skiing I had been at before my injury,” Davison said. “At the same time though, I realized that cycling was starting to really work out.”

From there, Davison’s cycling career blossomed. After years of hard work, taking several statement wins along the way, Davison claimed her first national title in 2011. The following year, she became an Olympian. 

Although Davison never thought she would find her way to the sports’ biggest stage on a bike, she had always dreamed of Olympic status. Growing up ski racing under the mentorship of Barbara Ann Cochran, an Olympic gold medalist in 1972, Davison vyed to be an Olympian from a young age.

“I definitely always dreamt of going to the Olympics,” Davison recalled. “With that being said, it took many years of hard work and was never a guarantee. When I finally walked into that stadium in London, it was a dream coming true.”

Despite her 11th place finish in London and seventh place finish in Rio, Davison highlights her crowning achievement as her recovery from hip surgery in 2014. Leaving the hospital in February, she missed the start of the season in March and made her return in mid-June, just a month before the U.S. national championship. 

“At the start of the season, everyone else was going out for four hour training rides,” Davison recalled with a laugh. “Meanwhile I was in my basement trying to move my leg.”

Despite having only one month on the bike under her belt since coming back, Davison defended her national championship title in July with a stunning victory. In August, she earned a World Cup medal. By September, a world championship silver medal hung around her neck. 

“It was a great testament to the value of determination. You’re going to run into injuries, you’re going to have crashes, you’re going to have years with bad results, but it’s when you persevere and aim for your goals that you can find success.” 

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Now retired from the World Cup, Davison is turning her attention to both the Life Time Grand Prix and to her public speaking career. A staunch advocate for LGBTQ rights and gender equality in sports, Davison will be giving a TedX talk in Boston on May 16 to celebrate 50 years of Title IX. 

In addition to her public speaking, Davison also helps run the Little Bellas program with her sister, Sabre. The program, which is centered around mentoring young girls through mountain biking, was started in 2007. Born from her sister’s senior project at Middlebury, the program started with a singular program in Vermont but is now running in 71 different locations this coming summer. Davison hopes the program can teach young women to be confident in themselves, and above all, to have fun.

“It’s all about having fun. I have a saying: ‘Happiness is fast.’ I really believe in that.”

Fans who wish to follow Davison in her pursuits on and off the bike can find out more on her Instagram, @leaeatsalot.

Charles Crounse

Charles Crounse '24 (he/him) is the senior sports editor for the Campus. He has previously worked as a writer and staff editor for the section. Charles is pursuing a major in environmental policy and a minor in French, and in his free time he enjoys biking, hiking, and exploring Vermont. He is also a member of the club soccer team on campus.