This is Val Höll's life so far and we can’t wait to see what comes next
In an interview for her new documentary Past–Present–Future, the two-time junior downhill world champion tells us about her beginnings on a bike and where she is with her career in 2021.
Growing up in the Austrian mountains and surrounded by bike trails from a young age, Vali Höll was dubbed the 'Austrian Bike Wonderkid', with many predicting a great career ahead of her. From the age of 13 her talent for downhill mountain bike racing was undeniable and in an unusual (for her age) industry move, she signed a six-year sponsorship contract with a German bike manufacturer YT Industries.
While excelling in the mountain world bike world, find out how the 19-year-old dealt with the pressure of balancing school, life and the World Cup circus under her bike helmet in the Red Bull TV documentary Past–Present–Future. Watch it in full at the top of the page.
How did you get started with downhill biking?
It was clear relatively early on that I would rather ride a bike than walk. My parents always tell me that, as a small child, I preferred to go somewhere in a little car or on a balance bike rather than walking the route. The logical conclusion is still to go biking rather than walking.
How did your family support you?
My parents went biking in Whistler in 2005 and a love for mountain bike was born. My dad built a trail right in front of our house in Saalbach when they returned. Regardless of what we did as a family in terms of leisure, whether it was an afternoon together or a vacation, it always had something to do with biking.
How was it to stand next to all your heroes as a junior World Cup rider?
In my first junior year, I was so incredibly stoked that I could finally stand besides all my heroes, like Rachel Atherton and Tahnée Seagrave. The juniors ride the same race track as the elite riders and that really pushes you, but, to be honest, I was sometimes too shy to just say hello to all the pros.
What was different in your preparation for your first elite season in 2020 than for the juniors?
Actually, it wasn't that different from before. I was still in school, completing my final year studies. In winter I was in the gym a lot, trying everything I could do to get stronger with my trainer Phil.
With everything that happened in 2020 and there being no race until the World Championships, was it frustrating?
I certainly profited from the pandemic. If the World Cup season had continued as normal, I would have had to skip some races because of school. Being my first elite year and with the ambition I have, that wouldn't have been easy. I would have tried to do the races somehow, but that would have had a negative effect on my school performance.
Can you sum up the 2020 World Championships in Austria and your crash?
It was a nice weekend and at least I won the World Champs qualification. I think that sums it up pretty well. In qualifying it was drier and the approach to the big road gap was faster, but in the last practice session before the race that was unfortunately no longer the case. It was pouring with rain the track was muddy and slower.
As a result, doing the big gap jump didn't work out and I crashed. Sitting in the dirt, of course I couldn't imagine that the ankle ligament injury I sustained would keep me out so long and that the mental struggles resulting from it would keep me busy for so long.
It was a nice weekend and at least I won the World Champs qualification
You did some rehab at Red Bull's Athlete Performance Centre after the Leogang crash. How did that go?
A week after the crash, right after my operation on my ankle, I was able to start rehab at the Red Bull Athlete Performance Centre in Austria. That was very cool, because it happened really fast and I felt completely cared for. I was there every day for two months and I was busy!
It's not that easy as an athlete to do nothing when you're used to everything moving quickly and always having something on your to-do list. I had my high school diploma in my pocket, I wasn't cycling with my leg in a cast and I couldn't even go and enjoy myself at parties or festivals.
What was your mindset before the first race after the crash?
There was so much new – a new team, a new bike, new thoughts (I've never been seriously injured before). I didn't really feel 100 percent comfortable before the first race, I really didn't feel ready. Before my first race as an elite I didn't have a comparison of my performance compared with the other competitors. It really is difficult to be positive if you don't know where you are in the field.
So that comeback in Leogang for the first World Cup race of 2021. How did you feel?
Oh man, everything went really well. The weekend before we had the 'NotARace' in Schladming, with lots of World Cup riders and that gave me good feedback and confidence. The track conditions in Leogang were actually like at the Worlds last year, so I already knew the pitfalls.
I qualified first and on the Saturday I was the last to start, with the leader's jersey on. It was going really well right up until the last bend, when I crashed. Despite this, I still finished second. All of this is more difficult to comprehend than you might think for a woman as ambitious as me.
What do you think the near future will bring?
Hopefully less slipping away in the last turn and less self-imposed pressure – that would make my life a lot easier.