The fastest female off-road racing competitor never got into cycling in the first place

When one thinks of male-dominated sports, off-road racing comes to mind first. The velodrome was the place to be in the early 2000s with the exception of bicycle racing. But in the last couple of years, the off-road circuit has become a welcoming environment for girls. The sport was passed down through the family of the skier Bret Julian, who won the 200-mile Pan American event in 2011, as well as the racing pilot Marcus Godinho, who set a world record in the 2015 marathon stage race in the 4-day, 220-mile Patagonia off-road race.

Jessica Pedersen, now 22, showed the world in March 2015 how women can compete with men at the top of their sport. The teens overcomes twice her weight, has longer legs, and is a half-pound lighter than an average male racer. Her record run was 60-plus minutes, 11 seconds, which was good enough to qualify for the world championships. It was a remarkably quick qualifying time, considering her age and the fact that she was 5-feet 4-inches tall. After qualifying in Norway, Pedersen won a heat and then won the finale. Her country, Sweden, didn’t have a female in the sprint class (three heats, two minutes each) but did have a teammate that decided to compete in the women’s class instead. The results were the same for both.

Pedersen described the season to Reuters on Nov. 20, 2015, after her win in the traditional L’Anse du Ski, considered the Olympics of the off-road racing circuit. Her crew raced a 10-lap sprint and a 25-lap main course. “It is great to race against men,” she said. “I have a short time, but my goal is always to win. This year was my first year racing the European events and I have gained a lot of confidence. I have never had so many bike combinations. My bike has changed a lot in my two years.”

In an interview with Pedersen back in February 2016, when she was 19, a little better-known about her than the women’s sprint class, she explained how she managed to have the advantage over her competitors.

“The advantage you have is in the track time—you have a little more time on the bike. So if you are a little shorter, you can cover those extra seconds,” she said. “Maybe in a faster hill, or maybe with the higher speed on the downhill it will even out.”

Pedersen won a two-day World Cup championship in Argentina in March 2016 and finished in the top four in many different races throughout the year, like a cool 6th in a 4-day race (3600 km/1,840 miles) in Lyon, France.

Once the season comes to an end, Pedersen turns her attention to shorter and more regular sprint bike races and doesn’t have time to keep in shape at all.

When asked by Reuters what is her favorite or most difficult event to compete in, she replied, “I can’t pick one, it all depends on my feeling and my skill and your next best choice. My favorite is any race that I have crossed the finish line,” she said. “I am really strong on the sprints, but sometimes on the high-speed workouts, I’m not.”

“I have a shorter time and I am also working on the technique, doing the jumps. The best thing for me is to get out there and try it out on my own. I can focus on the racing and there is no pressure, and the pressure usually leads to nervousness,” she said.

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