Getting to Know Mo – VeloNews.com

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Last year, Moriah ‘Mo’ Wilson was my dark horse contestant for Unbound Gravel. She finished ninth in the 200-mile gravel race. Now I can say “I knew her when”.

Wilson burst onto the American off-road scene this year, scoring nearly ten big wins heading into the summer season. She is the reigning Grasshopper Adventure Series champion in NorCal and has a collection of other California Shasta Gravel Hugger and Rock Cobbler wins. In April, Wilson won the first Life Time Grand Prix race at Sea Otter and recently won the Belgian Waffle Ride California by around 25 minutes ahead of the second woman.

The expected showdown between Wilson and Lauren de Crescenzo at Unbound Gravel in three weeks will bring fireworks to Emporia.

In other words, Wilson is no longer a dark horse.

Recently, we made contact by phone before Wilson took off for another high-mileage race, the 157-mile gravel Locos in Texas on May 14. I wanted to know more about what motivates the 26-year-old. the bike, to see what’s changed since last season, and most importantly, to find out which question she finds the most boring at the finish line.

VeloNews: You have been a top athlete for a long time. Can you tell us about your family history and ski racing?

Mo Wilson: My dad was a professional ski racer, he was on the US Ski Team and almost made it to the Olympics. My father’s family is a family of skiers. My aunt was a Nordic skier, she went to a few Olympics. My mother was not competitive but has a motor, she is a very good biker, swimmer, she does all that. I grew up in Vermont and we had some great mountain bike trails around my house. My parents have been mountain biking since the 80s. I grew up skiing and mountain biking in the summer. As I got older, skiing was a natural thing to start racing because it was something my dad loved. It happened quite naturally. As I got older, I continued to cycle recreationally with my family. Eventually it became a training tool for me for skiing. Along with getting out and riding with my family and friends, I started building structure around my riding. The year before I went to college, I took a post-college year to focus on skiing. I tore my ACL for the second time and relied heavily on the bike through those injuries to help me regain my strength.

Wilson and Pete Stetina at the start of BWR San Diego 2022. (Photo: @themollycameron)

VN: So how did cycle racing start? Was that always the plan? Did you just hold your cards close to your chest?

MW: In high school, one of my coaches, Kraig Sourbeer, he was a skier and mountain bike racer at the time. He also coached Lea Davison as a high school skier. He always said to me: ‘when you’re done skiing, you should try mountain biking at a high level, I think you’ll be really good’. He was joking about it, maybe you’ll go to the Olympics to ski and mountain bike. So that was in the back of my head for a while.

Even after my first knee injury, I said to myself “maybe I should stop skiing completely and start cycling”, but I was too stubborn. So yes, the seed was kinda planted in my head. The fact that my aunt is a Nordic skier and she can admire that — she went from alpine skiing to Nordic skiing — and I’ve seen a lot of other alpine skiers transfer their skills to other sports. So from a very young age, it was obvious that I had an endurance engine more than an anaerobic engine.

VN: Talk about training. Are you an athlete who makes a living from training? In other words, how well are you coached?

MW: I’ve been working with a trainer for about two years, maybe two and a half years. When I decided that I really liked running, I decided to start working with a trainer. I’m kind of a structured person and I like to have structure in my life. I noticed while skiing that once I started following a program and working with a coach in the off season, my strength skyrocketed and I got faster on my skis. So I had seen that play out earlier in my life.

I really like my approach to training in the sense that, yes, I have a structure but it’s a good balance. I go out and take a lot of walks with friends. I keep the weekends open, I go on long adventure rides with friends. During the week, especially with my work schedule, I often can’t plan ahead to ride with other people. So I did my own thing during the week and did a few days of intervals, which was really good for me, making the most of my time. This was very important as I managed a full time job and errands. I really like having this structure. It gives me something to work on and see progress.

mo wilson
Hurt the boys at the Rock Cobbler…and, with a smile. (Photo: @PureGravel)

VN: You seem to love riding a bike. You haven’t been involved in any controversy yet. You rarely look broken at the end of races. What’s your secret sauce?

MW: I wondered that too.

NV: Are you surprised at how well it’s going?

MW: Yes and no. I feel like yes, I work really hard and even though I haven’t been in the sport for long, my background as a ski racer and my background in recreational sport have converged. So that was cool because it’s actually, okay, it’s been many, many years and hours of being coached and doing something recreational.

That way, when I think about it as a whole, I’m like “this kind of makes sense”.

I guess I don’t have a lot of expectations or goals around results. My goal is to show up as prepared as possible and do my best every day. And I know I can be proud of myself if I’m able to do that.

Last year I struggled a lot with some pieces of equipment and maybe I didn’t have as much support as other athletes on the course. I feel like I have more than one village behind me this season. Have the Skratch team and better gear. All of these little details were extremely helpful; it has been the most important thing for me this season compared to last. When I think of BWR last year versus this year, it’s night and day in terms of how I felt. The heat was brutal last year in July. I had a lot of dehydration issues last year at BWR, it was for sure the toughest race I did all season. This year was brutal too, but I had a much more thoughtful hydration strategy on the course. Not only was it well thought out, but I executed the plan better than I had in the past. Being really detail oriented with my gear and racing strategy, I think that’s what separated me the most from my previous performances and maybe my competitors.

mo wilson
Dial in the fit at Specialized’s Retül Fit Center in California. (Photo: Randall Higashi)

VN: You said you were happy if you did your best, even if it didn’t lead to a result. Correct me if I’m wrong, but that was not the case at the Mid South.

MW: I was definitely a bit disappointed because I felt like I left out a lot on the course. After Lawrence [De Crescenzo] made him attack, I held back and finally caught Savilia [Blunk]. It’s not that we slowed down, but I felt like I wasn’t trying my hardest. I was with a group of men that I thought… I ended up shooting more and wanted to go faster than we were going. So this strategic move that I made or didn’t make at that time, it made me feel like I didn’t have my best performance. So I think it was more that. If I had gone ahead with Lauren and been let down by her because I couldn’t hold on, I would have been a little happier for the day knowing that I had given myself this kick. I think it was more about the overall effort than the result itself.

VN: You work full time as a demand planner for Specialized. Do you really have time to work right now?

MW: In fact, I gave my leave a few weeks ago. My last day is the day before Unbound.

NV: Congratulations! But really, did you think you would be able to do both?

MW: Honestly, yeah. It was like, I’m going to try to do one more season, re-evaluate, see how Life Time goes. Maybe in the fall I’ll think about going full time. But it’s become apparent over the last two months that it looks like it’s going to be really, really tough. Looking at the next four to five months and all the races I plan to do, I’m absolutely going to explode. So it had to happen. I’m so excited.

mo wilson
Where she “made it move”. Sea otter, 2022. (Picture: @kaffeinekeiser)

VN: OK, what is the most annoying question from journalists at the end of a race?

MW: Sometimes when people ask, ‘oh, when did you know you were going to win?’ I don’t like this question. That’s assuming I feel like that, and I… sure, there may be times when I feel pretty confident that I’m going to win, but it’s usually a fight until the end. You never know what will happen. So I never try to feel that confident. I never like to feel like I have it “in the bag”, so to speak.

Or like, ‘when did you make your move?’ Sometimes it’s like I didn’t realize I was moving! I think Ben [Delaney] asked me after BWR. I was like, ‘I don’t know, I was just climbing Black Canyon and I looked back and Flavia [Oliveira] was not there. I do not know!

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