"The human body -- male or female -- is a work of art, especially with athletes," says Boulder-based mountain bike pro endurance racer Sonya Looney, the latest local rider to strip down for Cyclepassion, the infamous German Calendar of International Cycling Stars often disparaged/celebrated as bike porn. "We work hard for our bodies, and there's a reason why photographs and paintings and sculptures of nude or nearly-nude athletes have always been popular."
Looney is one of six international athletes featured in the 2013 Cyclepassion calendar (her hard-won body is pictured on both the February and September pages) but she says the decision to pose wasn't an easy one. "For better or worse the calendar images are out there now, and it's starting to bring me a lot of attention I'm not used to." Westword caught up with her for a quick chat about the softcore calendar, the hardcore race schedule she still has ahead of her, and how she's balancing such contrasts in her life.
See also: - Bike Porn: Boulder champ Heather Irmiger strips down for 2011 Cyclepassion Calendar - Heather Irmiger wins mountain bike gold at 2011 Pan American Games - Best of Denver 2012, Best Mountain Bike Park: Trestle Bike Park
Westword: First off, congratulations on your recent comeback: I read on your blog that you just got your cast off from a broken wrist, then went out and won your division in the Dakota 5-0 in Spearfish, South Dakota. Welcome back!
Sonya Looney: Thanks! I actually raced the Leadville 100 earlier this month with my cast on and placed 6th. It's a really hard race to get into and it's a huge commitment as far as training because it's completely different from the other races I do, so I decided that I'd done the work and I was just going to do it. But it's definitely good to have that thing off!
How did the opportunity to pose for the Cyclepassion calendar come about, and what inspired you to go for it?
They had actually asked me to do the calendar the year before and I had said no because I was a little bit uncomfortable putting myself out there in that sort of sexy way... people may look at me that way, but I like to portray myself more as a positive, fun ball of energy than a sex symbol, and I was afraid that posing for the calendar would detract from the image that I've made for myself in cycling. But they asked me and I thought about it for a year and finally said, "As long as I'm in control of what I'm wearing and what I'm doing, it could be fun."
You'll notice that I have some more clothes on than some of the other athletes in this year's calendar! I think there's a line for everybody, where people are comfortable, and my line is probably a little more conservative than some other people's.
What changed your mind about it?
There's a lot of pressure to be masculine when you're a professional athlete, and there is a time for that, especially with the ultra-endurance racing I do. You have to be tough, you have to be hard, and sometimes you have to be emotionally hardened. It seems like there are a lot of women in mountain biking and in sports in general who feel that pressure, the pressure to not be girly. I remember being at races when I first started racing pro and I'd feel embarrassed to put makeup on or wear a skirt! So partly I did it to show that you can be feminine and you can have a sexy, hot side to you and have fun with it and still be a hardcore professional athlete.
Ultimately, though, I did it for me: I thought it would be fun. It was something I'd never done before, and now that the calendar's out I feel like I can look back and think, "I'm glad I did that." It's definitely going to be a little bit controversial, but I'm glad that I did it. And I'm really happy with how the pictures came out. I look at them and think, "Wow, that's me? Really?" So far the response has been positive: people love the calendar.
Speaking of calendars, I understand you've had a busy race season, broken wrist notwithstanding.
This year has been a really great year for me because I've gotten to race internationally more than I ever have before. The crowning moment of my year so far has been a race I did in Nepal back in March called the Yak Attack. It's a 10-day stage race on the Annapurna Circuit, starting in Kathmandu, that's billed as "the world's highest mountain bike race," some of it at over 18,000 feet. I was the first woman to complete it, so it's been kind of hard to trump that this year after having that be the start of my season! After that I raced the Trans-Germany and raced the BC Bike Race in British Columbia, where I broke my wrist. So it's been a rough summer and now I'm really looking forward to the fall: I'm racing through November.
On your Twitter feed you just announced, "Starting to make my race wish list for 2013. Do Epic Shit!!!" What races are you still looking forward to this year?
This weekend I have a really tough race coming up called the Vapor Trail 125 High Altitude Ultra-Marathon Mountain Bike Enduro. It's a 125-mile loop and it starts on Saturday at 10pm in Salida. The female record is something like 15 and half hours, so it's pretty tough, but it's going to be amazing to see the stars at 13,000 feet and to see the sunrise and go through the highs and lows of being out there for that long: that stuff makes me feel so alive, and that's why I do it. Then I'm doing La Ruta de los Conquistadores in November in Costa Rica. This year is the 20th anniversary for the event, a three-day stage race across Costa Rica. I'll also be doing some local cyclocross racing and an underground race in New Mexico that's part of the New Mexico Endurance series.
Do you feel like living and training in Boulder gives you a competitive advantage when you're out doing these endurance races around the world?
Oh, absolutely. I've lived in Boulder for seven years. I moved here to do my master's degree in electrical engineering, which was a great excuse to move to Boulder and race my bike. I did work as a solar engineer for two years, but then Ergon offered me a job as brand manager and I've been with them ever since.
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Living in Boulder is a very humbling experience for a mountain biker because there are so many top elite-level athletes living here. A lot of times there can be fiercer competition at a local race series than you'd find racing out of state or even internationally. Personally, I think it's an advantage to be humbled, to be living in a place where everyone is really good, because there are lots of people to remind you to keep working harder. I feel very lucky to be living in Boulder, living at altitude and near the mountains in this very health-conscious bubble where we have world-class coaches and nutritionists and everything else... we have great access to all the mountain riding up I-70 and great local climbing and singletrack right here near town.