How did the world's best female cross-country mountain biker
ever become trapped in such a vicious cycle? At the end of many
a sleepless night Juli Furtado begins her day by drinking an
entire pot of coffee. Peet's Coffee, French Roast and nothing
but, four pounds of which are mailed every few weeks from
Berkeley, Calif., to her newly built Durango, Colo., home. The
28-year-old Furtado then whisks off on a three- to four-hour
ride, after which she can be found in a cycling klatch at the
downtown Steaming Bean, dispensing coffee talk.
"Why does it seem that whenever a coffee house has the word
coffee in its name, the coffee is awful?" she muses. Talk
"I admit, I'm addicted," she adds. "And, no, I didn't sleep at
all last night."
"Juli has a major sleeping disorder," says fellow pro Daryl
Price, 26, whose three-year on-again, off-again relationship
with her recently ended again.
If Furtado spurned coffee in favor of slumber, and hence dreams,
what might she conjure up? A mountain biking career in which she
would take the sport's inaugural world cross-country title, in
1990, her first full year on the circuit? Five years of
dominance that would include a streak, beginning in 1993, during
which she would win 33 of the 40 major cross-country races--as
indeed she has--and the last two World Cup titles? Juan Valdez in
a Lycra one-piece?
Some athletes have more heart, but Furtado has a higher heart
rate. "She maintains 172 beats per minute throughout a race,"
says David Farmer, who coaches many mountain bikers. "Others can
surpass 172, but not for two hours like she can."
Might it be then that Furtado is, in the truest sense of the
term, a coffee-achiever? "No," says Farmer. "Her resting heart
rate is only in the 30's. Besides, she's the best climber and
descender, not to mention the most intense woman, in the world."
Elladee Brown, Furtado's peer--if there is such a person--on the
World Cup downhill circuit, recalls the moment she met Furtado,
in 1990. "I was racing the Iron Horse at Purgatory [Colo.], and
I passed this girl in hiking boots on a bike that had a rack and
toe clips. I did a double take, and she yells, 'Don't worry, I'm
not in your class, I'm a beginner.'" She finished poorly, but
within four months she would get her first win.
Maybe that's because the mountains are in her blood. Juli's
parents divorced when she was seven, and her mother, Nina, moved
Juli and siblings Tom and Gia from New Jersey to Vermont, where
Juli learned to ski. When she was chosen at age 16 to be on the
U.S. Ski Team, she was the youngest girl on the squad.
She was also an Olympic hopeful, until her knees failed. "I
first blew out my knee in 1983," says Furtado, who underwent
five reconstructive operations in as many years. "My left knee
[four operations] will someday need to be replaced." Though
former U.S. Ski Team coach Paul Major says Furtado was "as good
as or better than anyone I've ever seen," her injuries forced
her to leave the sport when she was 21.
She enrolled at the University of Colorado, Boulder, where she
discovered cycling and coffee. "I started riding touring bikes,
not mountain bikes, in 1989," says Furtado, neglecting to
mention that later that year she won the road race at the
National Cycling Championships in Park City, Utah. In 1992 she
won the world championship downhill in Bromont, Que., despite
having gone there to compete in her true event, cross-country.
"In the cross-country Juli crashed and messed up her knee,"
Price recalls. "She couldn't bend her left leg." The following
morning, undaunted, she entered the downhill. Pedaling with only
her right leg, she beat Kim Sonier, one of the world's best
riders, by 5.7 seconds. No other mountain biker, male or female,
has won world titles in both cross-country and downhill. Don't
worry. I'm not in your class.
Having graduated from MTV to the IOC, mountain biking will be an
Olympic sport next summer, and Furtado is a favorite for a gold
medal. "It's unfair," says Price. "She's 10 percent better than
"I never thought I'd get to compete in an Olympics after my
skiing career ended," Furtado says. "Now my heart races at the
prospect." No doubt.