Niki Gudex

Niki Gudex

Mountain biker and conveniently good-looking with it. Interviewed for Alpha magazine in about 2006. The photographer is Dean Tirkot.

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AS GUSHY American movies like to tell us, there are many ways and many places to find commitment. But practising flips on a trampoline at snowboard school, 1.5 seconds before a broken back, is probably not the best.

“There was a moment when [the class] were uncertain who would go next,” says Sydneysider Niki Gudex. “So I went and it happened. I was like, ‘I’ll do a front flip, I’ll do a backflip…’ I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. I didn’t make the decision. But I was young and that’s what you do when you’re young. That’s how I learnt about commitment.”

So ended that chapter of Gudex’s life: training to be a pro snowboarder at 18, now, at 27, a pro mountain biker. “That put me off snowboarding a lot,” she says reasonably.

One day, two years later, Gudex rode a mountain bike home through the bush, went four hours out of her way and discovered she loved it.

Her first mountain bike race, shortly after, was much harder work ­ but she still loved it. “It was a 40-degree day, maybe more, and I didn’t take water because I didn’t follow any sport besides skateboarding and snowboarding, so it didn’t even occur to me [the race] would be so far in the bush. I started hallucinating, actually. I saw this guy who’d crashed and pulled over to see if he was OK. Then I realised it was a rock and some bunting used to tape off the course.”

But Gudex improved. She’s since won a national cross-country and a downhill title, and is in full training for the Beijing Olympics. Downhill mountain-bike races can take as little as three helter-skelter minutes; cross-country is six laps of a circuit over a gruelling 90 minutes. Gudex is quick to put right anyone who might think this is somehow a lesser sport.

“When I went to the downhill world championships in 2001, the Australian team had a look at the course and could barely walk down some sections, it was that steep and demanding. One of the best riders in the world crashed and was in a coma for a week.

“You’ve got to be a quick thinker, to pick your line, find the right gear and choose the right moment to attack. My [sporting] background helped my balance and skill, but it’s also been a question of developing strength and fitness that only comes with time. It can take 10 years to get there. My strengths are that I’m small ­ 51kg and 165cm ­ but strong.

“My first goal is to qualify for the Olympics. You improve a lot in your first year, then you plateau and you’ve got to keep stepping it up. The Australian level and international level are different things. I train on my bike anything between 15 and 25 hours a week.”

The one thing you cannot do in mountain biking is make a living. “There’s hardly any prize money in it. A few hundred dollars is as good as it gets, and that alone can’t keep you on the bike. I do graphic design and modelling as well, so they help me. The modelling started when I was 16, but because I’m quite small it was never going to be a full-time job. And since I started cycling I got muscular and you get scars and injuries and things like that. Which is fi ne: I’d prefer to be a mountain biker than a model anyway. You can look at a hill and think, ‘I rode that.’”

With mountain biking a sport for late-starters and slow-burners, Gudex plans on competing for at least another 10 years, and after that ­ who knows? “In the scheme of women’s cross- country mountain biking I’m still young. I don’t have a specific plan. Each day I just do the best I can and things evolve ­ it’s that way with my career as well.”

She could end up an actor. Some time ago an email dropped into her inbox requesting her presence at a casting for a small role in the movie Fantastic Four. “I had no experience, but it was really cool and they were really nice. They said I was a bit green for that, but would keep me in mind for other things.” But could Gudex really commit to an acting career? “Maybe.”

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