Mountain biker Haley Batten will represent the United States this summer at the Tokyo Olympics after a runner-up finish Sunday at the UCI World Cup in Nove Mesto na Morave, Czech Republic.
The 22-year-old navigated the six-lap, 22.2-kilometer women's elite cross-country Olympic (XCO) race in 1:26:52, averaging 15:32 splits over the course's five full-circuit loops. She automatically qualified for the Games after being the only U.S. rider to finish in the top-eight in the Nove Mesto XCO. Qualification explainer here.
Loana Lecomte of France, last week's No. 2-ranked XCO rider in the world, captured gold in 1:25:13, winning by about a minute and a half.
In addition to her XCO silver, Batten took gold two days prior in Friday's women's elite cross-country short track (XXC) race, a non-Olympic event, clocking 23:35.
Nove Mesto was the second round of this year's World Cup. The 2021 series commenced a week prior with round one in Albstadt, Germany.
In Germany, Batten took bronze in the six-lap, 23.8-kilometer XCO (1:22:53) race and was 11th in XXC (20:57), while Lecomte won XCO (1:21:38) and was fifth in XXC (20:42). Lecomte's French compatriot Pauline Ferrand-Prevot, the world's No. 1-ranked XCO rider as of May 11, was Albstadt's XXC winner (20:37) and XCO runner-up (1:22:31).
Lecomte, 21, achieved the fastest lap among all riders in three of the four races between Albstadt and Nove Mesto. Ferrand-Prevot had the other in her Albstadt XXC win.
The back-to-back events were Batten's first two elite World Cup appearances. She's now set to become a first-time Olympian.
Batten is a native of Park City, Utah, and a graduate of Quest University Canada in Squamish, British Columbia. She's been racing professionally since at least 2016 and currently resides in Santa Cruz, California.
At 9 years old she and her brother began racing with their dad. She attained her first national title at 14; then three as a junior and another in under-23. Batten won her first World Cup at the U23 level in 2019 – and she did it in the same location as Sunday's berth-clinching race: Nove Mesto. She followed that up with a silver medal in the mixed team relay at the 2019 world championships in Mont-Sainte-Anne, Canada.
Her qualification makes her one of the youngest riders to make the U.S. Olympic Mountain Bike Team, according to USA Cycling.
In an Instagram post Monday, Batten said she was "still just trying to take it all in" and thanked three-time Olympic gold medalist Kristin Armstrong, her family and sponsors.
"Yesterday was a special day," she said. "The conditions made for an epic race and I was able to ride my way to silver … That result qualified me for the Tokyo Olympics, something that hasn’t fully settled in yet and it’s an opportunity that has been only a dream until now. What I feel most is gratitude for the people that have supported me every step of the way."
Batten joins 2018 world champion Kate Courtney as one of two American women who have automatically qualified for Tokyo in mountain biking.
Courtney, a native of Kentfield, California, graduated from Stanford in 2017 with a degree in human biology and has been racing professionally since at least 2013. Her world title won in Switzerland was the first such win for an American of either gender since two-time Olympian Alison Dunlap's gold at the 2001 world championships in Vail, Colorado. Also on her resume: the 2019 World Cup overall title with three wins; a 2019 world silver in the team relay with Batten; at the U23 level, a 2017 world silver and the 2017 World Cup overall title with four wins; and in 2012, the first American woman to win a World Cup as a junior.
In Albstadt earlier this month, the 25-year-old took fourth in both XXC and XCO races — the first American finisher in the former, and one spot behind Batten in the latter. But she had disappointing races the next weekend in Nove Mesto, placing ninth in XXC and 41st in XCO due to a crash around the third lap and flat tire near the fourth. She called the Nove Mesto XCO race "probably the hardest and most painful" of her life.
With Courtney and Batten securing spots, it leaves just one more starting position for the American women, to be determined via discretionary selection criteria.
The top U.S. rider on the May 11 world rankings list who hadn't yet qualified was Erin Huck, 39, at 21st in the world. Her best finish thus far in this year's World Cup competitions was 15th in XCO in Albstadt. Chloe Woodruff, 33, a 2016 Olympian ranked 130th on that list, only raced in the non-Olympic XXC races. Her best was 12th in Albstadt.
The U.S. men have earned a single starting position leaving the discretionary selection between Christopher Blevins, 23, the 2018 and 2020 world U23 runner-up, and Keegan Swenson, 27, who along with Blevins, Batten and Courtney was a member of the silver medal-winning team relay at the 2019 world championships.
USA Cycling plans to announce the final Olympic team on June 10.