Role Model on a Roll

"Peta Stavelli talks to international athlete and model Niki Gudex about life at the top of her game." _nikigudex_mtb_worlds_03

Cross country bike racing champion Niki Gudex is living proof every cloud has a silver lining. After eight years inching her way to the top as a pro-snowboarder she broke her back while practising back flips. Two years later she took up downhill mountainbike racing "on a whim" and won her first race. "I bought the bike on a Wednesday, raced on the Friday and haven't stopped since." Niki has since changed to XC - cross country racing - and her non-stop life is played out "in permanent summer" across the planet. "I'm either travelling, training, racing or sleeping," she says.

She was born in England and spent her first few childhood years in New Zealand. Many holidays were spent with family on Waiheke. Her flying visit "home" is for a family wedding. She holds Australian, British and New Zealand citizenship, travelling on a New Zealand passport. Multi-lingual, she speaks Swedish and has studied French and Japanese. Niki moved to Sweden on a student exchange to attend snowboard school. She started training as a professional snow boarder, until she broke her back in 1997. She returned to Australia and began a Bachelor in Creative Design at University in Australia.

While studying she moonlighted as a model and has since graced the covers of Chick, Black and White, First and FHM. She has also appeared in numerous other publications including Rolling Stone, Vogue and InStyle, but drew the line at Playboy. In 2002 she was voted by readers of Inside Sport Australia's Sexiest Sportswomen and since then has been listed on FHM's 100 sexiest sports women in the world.

As a a model for sponsor eye-wear company Oakley she appears "disconcertingly" life-size on billboards across Europe and in magazines. She receives loads of fan and yet remains incredibly grounded. "Modelling is fun. I like to be versatile. It's important to have an holistic relationship with my sponsors. "I try to understand what their objectives are and I attempt to meet them as closely as I can. I have to balance it all."

As an athlete she is sponsored by Scott bikes and SRM for whom she rides with cutting edge scientific equipment designed to measure power output. "Basically it is a more reliable way to measure your training. Your heart rate can fluctuate depending on many factors so with the SRM power cranks you can see your wattage in relation to your heart rate. So it is much more specific than training on heart rate alone." she explains.

Training for Niki, who is ranked at number two in Australia and missed out on selection for the Commonwealth Games because of a bout a bronchitis, takes between 15 and 25 hours a week. "It's very distressing to have missed out because I have trained so hard," she says, adding that her focus is now on making the Australian female XC team for the Beijing Olympics. "I live in the city, so it's a bit tough for training. I train really hard. There's nothing like going up a really tough hill. You know you've worked for it. You're really in the moment, not worried about anything else. It's kind of like a meditation. It can be really calming."

At 165 centimetres and weighing in at around 51kgs Niki may look petite but says competitors have to have strength, perseverance and skill. "And in a race you have to be responsible for any mechanicals so you have to anticipate that and carry all the tools. "You need a chain breaker, spare tubes, CO2 canisters...you don't want to be weighed down, but you do have to be prepared." She carries everything in a specially designed shirt with three pouches that also contains liquid sugar "gels" for energy.

Her persistence has paid off. Niki has placed as high as 21 in the world, although she's quick to point out that rankings can change daily. "There's a race somewhere in the world almost every day." So, after some fantastic time catching up with her New Zealand family, it's back to Australia for a month then off to the USA to race and on again in May to the European and International circuit.

"I'll be away from home living out of a suitcase for the next six months. It can be really tough being away from family. Coming to New Zealand and seeing my relatives has reminded me of how important family is," For a moment she looks wistful, then suddenly brightens and says. "But I really do love my life." That's the girl, Niki. Back on your bike.

Profile: Peta Stavelli. "Role Model on a Roll" Gulf News, Waiheke Island, New Zealand. March 2006 Issue.

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