2021 Elite Mens DH Podium
National Championships

Catching up with Downhill National Champion Dakotah Norton

By: Jim Rusnak  July 13, 2022

After a strong start to the World Cup season, Dakotah is ready to defend the stars-and-stripes sleeve.

As a pro downhill mountain bike racer, Dakotah Norton competes in all the big races around the world. But he says there’s something different about the USA Cycling Mountain Bike National Championships.

In most races, such as the UCI World Cups, if you do well, you have a number plate for the next race as a reminder of your performance, or maybe you crash and go home. Nationals, though, is a one-off race. There is no series title. It’s one chance to go as fast as you possibly can for all the marbles. And if you can pull off the win, the honor stays with you all year. Norton, 30, of Oak Ridge, Tenn., is looking to defend that honor at the upcoming National Championships, July 18-24 in Winter Park, Colo.

“If you win the national title, you get to wear the sleeve all season,” Norton said, referring to the red, white, and blue National Champion sleeve on his jersey. “I feel it’s an honor to wear that sleeve all season. I’m really proud of it. It would be a real bummer not to be able to wear it anymore and to not necessarily be considered the best rider in the country. I want to try to keep that.”

New Season, New Team

Norton experienced a big transition coming into this season. After his former team shut down last year, he moved to Intense Factory Racing. The move has come with the usual challenges associated with switching teams and getting used to a new bike. Intense designed a new frame for its riders at the beginning of the season and has since made a few tweaks to the suspension kinematics and frame geometry to get it just right.

“I’ve ridden two bikes this season, both being fairly similar, but making changes to the suspension platform,” Norton said. “The first geometry change fixed most of the issues we had. Then the second suspension kinematic change was pretty beneficial. Downhill is pretty technologically driven. The closer you get to the top, the better the riders have prepared, and the harder it is to beat them without having a total package. I feel like we’re getting into a better place now, and I’m really excited to be able to ride to my potential coming into the second half of the season.”

A Solid Season So Far

Even with all the changes he’s had to adjust to, Norton has had a solid season so far, with its share of ups and downs. He kicked everything off with a win in the first round of the USA Cycling National Downhill Series (NDHS) in March at his home track in Windrock, Tenn., and then followed that up with an 11th place finish at the first UCI World Cup race in Lourdes, France.

He then finished 50th at a wet, sloppy and windy World Cup in Fort William, Scotland in May, before returning to the states to win the second race of the NDHS in Mountain Creek Bike Park in New Jersey.

Norton went back to Europe in June and finished ninth at the World Cup in Leogang, Austria and eighth at Crankworx Innsbruck. At his most recent World Cup in Lenzerheide, Switzerland, he qualified second for finals. He was back on top where he had been working toward all season. Unfortunately, he did not carry it into finals and crashed. He has one more World Cup in Andorra before heading to Nationals.

He is currently sitting Top 20 in the UCI World Cup rankings and is the second rider from the USA with Luca Shaw in 13th.

“I’ve just been kind of trying to grow mentally as a racer,” Norton said. “Personally, I know that my bike handling skills are on par with the best guys in the world, but a lot of the time I feel like I struggle with the mindset of fully believing that I’m one of the best riders. I’m just trying to have a positive outlook to racing as a whole and be appreciative of what I’m able to do.”

Looking Forward to Nationals

Norton says he thinks the successes and challenges he’s faced so far this season have prepared him well for the upcoming National Championships. The men’s pro downhill finals will take place on July 24. Norton will be ready to defend his title.

“Any time you go to a race and do well, you believe that you are prepared,” Norton said. “I’m getting similar results to what I’ve gotten in the past when I won the national title in previous years, and I have similar feelings on the bike, so it leads me to believe that I can do it again.”

Come race day, it’s that belief in himself that Norton says will be the key to his success at Nationals.

“A successful race is just to ride relaxed, be efficient and not make any mistakes on the track,” Norton said. “All you can really do is give your best effort and be okay with whatever the result is. Just ride to my full potential. If it’s not good enough, and there’s somebody better than me on that day, that’s okay. I just want to put my best performance together.”

The Rest of the Season

As for the rest of the season after Nationals, Norton will continue to compete in the World Cup Series and in the UCI Downhill World Championships in August. His goals are to podium at each race and finish in the top 10 of the World Cup rankings at the end of the season.

“I just have to ride without fear,” Norton said. “Not fear as in the sense of crashing, or fear of injury. Just ride confidently and not be afraid of the what-ifs. Go and be consistent. Believe in my speed, ride well, have good form. Just go execute the plan every week. Not let the highs get too high or the lows get too low.”