By GUY WILLIAMS
Queenstown mountain biker Jess Blewitt has landed a professional contract.
Europe-based team GT Factory Racing has announced the 19-year-old downhill and enduro racer and freerider will join their six-strong squad for the 2022 season.
Blewitt, who’s rehabbing from a huge crash in the United States in September, tells Mountain Scene she’s ‘‘stoked’’ about fulfilling a goal she’s had since taking up the sport in 2018.
‘‘The biggest thing is the support you get; all the stress is taken off your shoulders because they take care of everything.’’
Although she went to Europe as a privateer last season, she clearly made a big impression after being taken under GT Factory Racing’s wings on an informal basis.
In a statement, the team says Blewitt’s a ‘‘race and freeride phenom’’ with a big future.
‘‘Jess linked up with the team last year with the intention of attending a few World Cups, but the vibe was so good she stayed with the team for almost the full year.’’
An outstanding debut season included eighth in the world champs, eighth in the World Cup downhill in Slovenia, and second and third places in Enduroworld series U21 races.
Those results turned heads given she’d never raced overseas before, and had leapt straight into the elite downhill ranks after her hopes of competing as a junior in 2020 were dashed by Covid.
Blewitt says provided she can get an MIQ spot, she’ll join the GT Factory squad — which also includes New Plymouth rider Wyn Masters — for a one-week campsomewhere in Europe in March.
She’ll then head back to Europe for the season’s start in May.
In the meantime, she’s continuing to recover from the injuries she suffered after being thrown over her bars at 60kmh during the final World Cup downhill of the season at Snowshoe ski resort.
After being airlifted from the course with a broken femur, collarbone and wrist and cracked ribs, she had two operations during nearly two weeks at a Virginia hospital.
She then flew home to an MIQ facility in Auckland, where she was looked after for two weeks by mum Broni.
Blewitt says the crash was her first major one on a bike, ‘‘and I did a decent job’’.
But she regards the experience as part and parcel of a sport where riders must push the limits.
‘‘A lot of people tell me you learn a lot about your self and your body.
‘‘To me, I don’t think it’s a bad thing it’s happened.’’
Still under physio’s orders, the gym has become her second home as she works to regain strength and fitness.
She got back on a bike early last month, and is now allowed to ride flow trails.
After what seemed like a slow start, her rehab’s progressing so well she’s starting to set fresh goals for a season that was initially supposed to be a gradual comeback.
‘‘I’d like to be on the podium, but I don’t want to put too much pressure on myself.’’