Yana Belomoina is from Ukraine and has been one of the best in the world since juniors all the way through to World Cup victory at the Elite level. She has an amazing climbing ability and passion for the sport. I’ve been racing and chasing Yana since we were juniors and I am always happy to meet her at the races.
Bec McConnell: Yana, you had a lot success as a junior and under 23 with World Cup and World Championship medals. 2017 was an incredible season for you, you were unstoppable and took three World Cup wins and the overall title. Was there anything particularly special in your preparation that year or did things just click?
Yana Belomoina: Yes. I had great memories from junior, amazing seasons in the under 23 category and in elite. In 2015 I had my first podium in my first year in elite and 2017 was special. It seems incredible. Sometimes I have tears of happiness as I remember everything.
2017 was the most successful year of my sports career. I became the leader of the World Cup, the European champion and of all 6 World Cups I was never off the podium. It meant and I felt that I was the strongest, and nothing could stop me.
I was really in very good shape. In the winter I worked a lot in the gym, did a lot of strength training, it helped me to be in shape all season. During the season I also tried to support strength training to have more muscles, to be more powerful, because cross country changes very much every year. Now to be very light, and working just on the bike is not a winning option so we changed the trainings a bit and it worked.
How I said, I thought that nothing would stop me at that moment, but then something happened that we did not expect and that made me stop. A hip fracture and surgery and I had a shock.
That moment you crossed the line to win your first World Cup, the look of shock and disbelief was clear. How did it feel to achieve a dream like that?
Tears of happiness! These emotions can not be expressed in words, unusual feelings. What happened was what you wanted so much, what you dreamed so much, something happened that seemed impossible at the time.
I went to it for a long time. Many years of hard work, sheer determination and self-confidence. As well as the support and help of people close to me and the people who work with me, all this together gives the result I got.
2018 and 2019 were not your ‘best’ seasons, you were recovering from a pretty serious injury. However you were still on the podium in the World Cup a few times, how was the recovery and rehab from your injury? And how has your preparation for 2020 been before the global pandemic and do you feel confident you will be back to your best when the racing starts again?
At the end of the 2017 season something happened that I could not believe for a long time. I returned to Ukraine and on the easy training in my hometown, I fell off my bike and couldn’t stand up. I was immediately taken to the hospital and the doctor immediately said something I could not believe. YOUR HIP IS BROKEN, you need an operation, a titanium plate in bone, of which there are only 2 or 3 for the whole of Ukraine.
After 2 days at hospital, I had an operation also in my city (it’s home of a really good doctor), and after the operation I stayed in hospital for 2 weeks. Got stitches, and back to home.
It was a very hard and painful period. Very long time I was walking with crutches, also going to gym and already do training on the roller, but not possible walking without crutches.
After hospital, I did exercises only on the top of the body. Almost 1.5 months after the operation was the first go on the rollers, and after 2 months I’m going on the road. Before that I went to the gym, trying to do some exercises.
Back on the training, and later for the races was not easy. I lost weight, my leg lost volume, strength, it seemed that I was pushing only with one leg.
I lost a long period without the bike and sure very important power training and training sessions in the gym, off season period. And of course my season started later, not same like every year.
I missed all the winter training, which is very important in the season. I got on the bike very late, had to miss many races at the beginning of the season and the first World Cup.
So, of course, 2018 season was not easy for me, the injury makes itself felt like a long, long time (I will say that right now, I feel that the muscles have almost recovered 100%, but still a bit smaller left one from right, volume). I've had sores all over my body these years after the injury (everything in our body is connected).
But I am very happy that I was able to quickly return to the leaders and in six months to reach the fifth position of the World Cup; and be on the podium 7 months after the injury (and the doctors told me not to plan to return, back to competition, active life all 6 months). But I had a great desire, strong support, and it helped not to give up.
This year is very difficult for all of us. I prepared well in winter and was ready to start the season in good shape. Usually our season ends in September and this year it will only start, and it will be a big challenge for all of us.
I understand that you need to be smart, do the right training, at the right time, because the season will be so late and very busy, without rest; but how the body works, you never know 100%.
Do you do all of your training on the bike or do you include other elements like gym or mental training?
Yes, I don't just work on a bike. At the beginning of winter I go to the mountains a lot, sometimes I run, and I work in the gym quite often. I spend more time on the roller warm-up and recovery after training in the gym.
You must be one of the leanest riders racing World Cups. Have you always been naturally lean or do you follow a very strict diet?
Yes I have been skinny for many years. You have to remember me like that all the time, since we've been at the starting line since we were kids I can only say when I was a junior and participated also in road and track races, I had a lot of strength training, did a lot of sprinting work and then of course I looked a little different, then and now. But of course, after the operation on my leg, I lost weight and muscles. It was a lot of stress and the fact that I couldn't do winter training for strength.
For almost two years, I had pains in my leg and knee, so as soon as I started doing exercises to strengthen my leg and return everything I unfortunately had a lot of pain. So I had to avoid all strength training for 2 years (first operation, and plate in my hip; and next year-again operation- take off plate).
Now I finally feel healthy. I don't feel the different power in my legs and finally I can gain a bit more weight.
I never follow a diet and never, never tried something! I love to eat, very much. I love to cook, so I spend my free time in the kitchen. I actually gain weight very quickly for the winter when I don't spend much time cycling, but I also easily drop it in season.
What are your thoughts on body types, do you feel there is a ‘perfect’ body for cross country racing?
We are all different, each person has a different body. Each person is individual. It is important to feel good in your weight. Healthy, that's the most important thing. If healthy, then you are strong.
You chose to race your hardtail more often than your full suspension and often without a dropper post despite the courses becoming more challenging and technical. Why is this?
Yes, I really love to ride on my hardtail, it is so light, fast, sharp. I feel really good on it! I'm light and that's why it's easy for me to control the bike. And now I always have a dropper on my bike. Now I really do not want to return to the previous with dropper - we are much faster, much more comfortable and control. But of course I love and will ride my full suspension bike also often. We have many races - when without it seems no way, no chance! It helps on the very technical courses, feel full control. Right now and almost all winter, I ride my fully and I have fun a lot on this bike. It is much faster on the downhill.
Ukraine is on the right continent but still a long way from the hub of mountain biking in Western Europe. Do you spend a lot of time travelling and do you still live in Ukraine?
I really don't spend much time in Ukraine. The longest is in winter, after the end of the season. I like to return to my family, I like to meet my friends who are always waiting for me. But for training and always travelling from race to race, it is easier to be in Europe. Last few years I love to be in Slovenia, I fell in love with this country. I feel comfortable here, I have a lot of friends here and there are all the conditions for a good preparation.
Your husband Maksym has been by your side for a long time, he travels with you to all the races, does some of your training with you and is a mechanic with your team. Do you feel you’re living the dream to do this with your partner?
Yes, I have been with Max for a long time. We have the same dreams, the same job, the same views and that's why it's easy for me with him. He is also my coach, but I never feel strong pressure from him. We do it because we love it. If we get tired of it, we will go down from this path together.
I feel strong support at different times in my life. I think it's hard, maybe not really to be together, if we had different jobs. That is why I am always grateful to my team that we are together with Max, inside team, and work on same goals.
You are a climbing machine, there is no other rider why can fly up the hills the way you do, do you feel this is your biggest strength and your ticket to success?
Thank you! Yes, I really feel the extra power in the uphill. I know that I am one of the strongest climbers. In fact, it is given to me by nature, I think. Because, I remember, in my junior years, I even won uphill races on the road without doing any special work. My first coaches from my city always said you are a strong climber and you will not have competitors.
And I always, from a child, tried to be faster in the mountains. But now of course it won't work without a lot of work. I love mountains, I love to climb on the top of the mountains, it is not challenge, it’s my passion. And maybe this is my ticket to success.
With the inclusion of the Short Track at the World Cup and it’s impact on starting position in the XC races as well as carrying points in the overall how have you found the transition to racing on Friday and Sunday?
In fact it is not very easy for me. I don't feel super strong on the short track. I understand that this is a very important race, as the starting position decides a bit of success of the course in cross country. But now I'm working harder on my strength and power side and I think it will help me in the short track, fight for a good starting position in cross country.
Finally, how are you feeling about the new schedule released from the UCI with a very compact World Cup season starting in September? Are you optimistic this will happen and what new challenges do you think will come with such an intense block of racing?
I'm very glad to hear that we will have races this year anyway. Yes, the season will not be as usual. It will be a test for everyone. A planned, very intensive calendar of races where one of the main task will be recovery after competitions and travelling.
But we will all be in the same conditions. I think everyone is super happy that we have the season this year.