By PHILIP CHANDLER
Seven months after an horrific crash in the United States, Queenstown downhill mountain biker Jess Blewitt flew off to Britain this week for her second season on the international circuit.
Still just 19, she was airlifted from a course in West Virginia last September, after falling over her bars at 60kmh.
She’d broken her femur and clavicle and injured her vertebrae and wrist in her last World Cup downhill race of the season.
After two operations and then a lot of rehab, she was cleared for the nationals in Christchurch, in late February, and, despite only about four days’ training on her downhill bike, she was ‘‘very stoked’’, and surprised, to defend her title.
‘‘I didn’t think I’d be allowed to do any races until at least six months or something.’’
However, she’d got back onto her bike and into the gym after about three months — ‘‘a lot quicker than I thought’’.
Blewitt says the crash hasn’t left any mental baggage — ‘‘it didn’t change my mind or anything’’.
‘‘It gave my mum a scare but [my parents] know how much I love the sport, so they’re super-supportive still.’’
She also leaves after recently suffering a ‘‘pretty bad’’ bout of Covid.
‘‘It was like good timing to get it, it wasn’t during a race and it wasn’t right when I was leaving, but at the same time it’s just annoying ’cos it’s like [during] your last kind of build-up before you leave.’’
Blewitt will be based at Fort William, Scotland, for the next few weeks, competing in a British downhill series before racing her first World Cup there, late next month.
Then follow World Cups in Europe, the US and Canada, and world champs in Les Gets, France.
After eighth placings at last year’s world champs and in a World Cup in Maribor, Slovenia, she’d love to podium this year, but coming back from injury, is wary of initially expecting too much.
Joining the GT Factory Racing squad, this will be her first season as a pro — she competed as a privateer last year, thanks to sponsors, though with support from that team.
Asked what she loves about downhill, which she switched to from ski racing, just four years ago, she says: ‘‘I just love the freedom you can have on your bike, and then the speed and the adrenalin rush you get from it.’’