Starlust - Cycling's Siren
A glamorous presence in the rough-and-ready world of mountain biking, Niki Gudex backs up personal appeal with athletic prowess. By rights, Niki Gudex should have had her licence to enact thrills and spills revoked some time ago.
For a start, she was knocked off her bike by a car as a teenager while on an innocent ride to the shops. For another, she injured her back snowboarding in Sweden four years ago. And anyway, what’s a woman as glamorous as her doing hooning down mountains? When she shed her protective layers for The Sportbook, we almost expected to find a sticker marked “fragile” slapped somewhere on her 50kg, 165cm frame.
You can think this way about the feisty 24 year old as much as you like. Just don’t say it to her face, even though she’s grown accustomed to the stereotyping that’s an inevitable consequence of being a) a sportswoman and b) an object of desire. And as long as you put her bio in that order, you should be fine.
“You can still be feminine and race bikes,” insists the multilingual student, who was born in England and had spells living in New Zealand, the USA and Scandinavia before settling in Australia where she’s completing a graphic design course. “It’s good to be able to be yourself and still ride because a lot of girls may get scared that they may have to conform to a particular identity, but you can do whatever you want to do and a lot of people in mountain biking allow for that, even encourage it.
“I started modelling before I started riding and it’s nice to do the two of them together because you feel more… legitimate.” I suspect that means she’s happy to enjoy the attention that any attractive sportswoman generates, on one irrefutable proviso: that she continues to excel in her chosen field. Even though she wouldn’t have any trouble milking her looks for all they’re worth – and that’s plenty according to the readership of Inside Sport magazine, who recently plumped for her as Australia’s sexiest sportswoman – Gudex seems aghast at the prospect of Anna Kournikova-like recognition for beauty rather than results.
“First and foremost, I’m an athlete,” is the Gudex creed. And a damn fine one at that – she is the nation’s second-ranked downhill rider and up there with the best in cross country. But if the spin-offs from her growing status as a – dare we say it – sex symbol rebound positively on the sport, then more power to her prospects as an ambassador, or as one writer put it, “the siren of cycling”. “I hope that the exposure I’ve been getting lately will get mountain biking more accepted and well known so that more people will try it or get interested, because it’s a great sport. Everyone has access to a bike, whether they borrow a neighbour’s or whatever. It doesn’t matter what level you’re at, I think it’s something that everyone can enjoy.”
The way Gudex paints it, mountain biking shouldn’t need much of a hard sell anyway. It’s a pursuit she doesn’t hesitate to classify as “awesome”. To her, “it just feels comfortable”. “When I get on a bike it’s like how a singer might feel on a stage when they’re performing. I feel relaxed. It’s fun and it’s something I feel passionate about,” she says.
Gudex’s love affair with her sport didn’t ignite until she was on the cusp of her third decade. Fate intervened and offered a broken back as a valid excuse not to go snowboarding anymore, and the addictive nature of tearing through the countryside on two wheels took hold rapidly. All that Gudex needed to do was decide upon the discipline: downhill or cross country?
Nearly four years on, the jury’s still out as she continues to excel in the twin regimes. “It’s very draining to do both and that’s why not many people do it,” she says, “but at this stage of my career there’s so much I can learn from both. To combine them makes you stronger and develops you in both, but in the long term, I’ve been told that I’m better built for cross country, so that’s probably where I’ll end up, especially as I’m suited to endurance and I believe you get stronger with age. For now though, I’m just taking it a day at a time.”
Recent testing conducted by the Australian Institute Of Sport adds weight to her theory. From over 300 athletes who were rigorously examined and scouted as potential track cyclists, Gudex boasted the top power-to-weight ratio. An average of three hours training a day certainly helps, but she describes most of it as “raw ability”. “I feel like I have a lot of room for improvement and I’m learning something every day, which is very satisfying. I’m extremely happy with how far I’ve come in a relatively short time, so I’m aiming to keep improving along those lines, while getting a lot of enjoyment out of it.”
Niki is on the cover of this special issue of Black+White which is a photographic celebration of the year in sport. This issue features Niki and many other elite athletes including Ian Thorpe, Alisa Camplin, Kostya Tszyu, Petria Thomas, Shane Watson, Hayley Bateup, Lleyton Hewitt, Wendell Sailor, Ky Hurst, Ashley Callus, Layne Beachley and Karrie Webb.
Profile: David Rowlands. Photographed by: Hugh Hamilton. "Starlust - Cycling's Siren" Black+White Magazine, Sportbook 2003 Issue.