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I was very happy that my city will organise the European Games. It will actually be the first such a big event in Małopolska since I raced with a licence,” says mountain biker Paula Gorycka.

After Maja Włoszczowska or Anna Szafraniec ended their careers, Paula Gorycka is currently the most successful Polish rider in MTB cycling. Her greatest successes include two bronze medals at the World Championships under 23 and a silver medal at the European Championships. She has also occupied podium places in the World Cup. She represented Poland at the Olympic Games in London (22nd place). She has stood on the podium of the national championships many times.

Last year at the world championships, she was 13th in short track. In cross country (Olympic competition), she was 33rd, and in the European Championships 23rd. She is currently 62nd in the International Cycling Union (UCI) ranking, and was 15th at the first European Games in Baku.

What memories do you have of Azerbaijan? It was the debut of the European Games.

Paula Gorycka: The event was similarly organised to the Olympic Games. We lived in a village, we were bused to training, there were many similarities. However, the route was average. It was not the level we know from the World Cup. You could see that in Azerbaijan they didn’t know much about mountain biking. You could hardly see the bikes there. But they tried to make sure we had good memories. The PKOl even organised tickets to a Polish concert for us. These Games were a cool experience.

Did anything there surprise you?

– The organisers warned us not to go outside the places designated for training, and before we could enter the course they closed off a section of the motorway a few kilometres long and told us to practise there. There were virtually no spectators during the race. Our sport was completely unpopular there.

In cycling whether MTB or road cycling, the fans are usually very close to the riders.

– Oh, definitely yes. It once happened to me that I was accidentally hit by a fan with rucksack. Sometimes it also depends on the organisation of the competition. At the Olympics there were two zones – the first one marked our track, which we can’t cross, and the second one separated the fans. I don’t know what it will be like at the European Games.

The third edition of this event will be held in the Małopolska region and Krakow, where you were born.

– I was very happy that my city will organise the European Games. It will actually be the first such big event in Małopolska since I raced with a licence. This year’s Polish championships will also take place in the region – 2-4 June in Białka Tatrzańska. For now, we don’t know what the route in Krynica Zdrój will be like, it will probably be closed until the first official training sessions. I hope it will at least be possible to walk along it. Just knowing that we are competing at home helps a lot. I was born in Krakow, then lived in Sucha Beskidzka, and studied in Piekary near Tyniec. Krakow is present in my life all the time.

The preparations for this season are different from last season because of the European Games?

– Yes. The Games are at the end of June, so I’ve postponed my first competition start. In previous years I have already raced in late January/early February. Now I have scheduled my first race in the second half of March. I want to enter the season calmly. The races before the Games, and I will start in the World Cup, will have less priority because I will be in training. The European Games are a very important start for me.

The European Games will have the rank of European championships, which means points for the ranking before the Olympic Games in Paris. Will the best come to Krynica-Zdrój?

– I think that will be the case. Last year in the European championships the competitors were also strong. Points in the context of the Olympic Games are very important. Qualification for Paris is a two-year period and started in May 2022. During this time, the athletes collect points for the national ranking. On this basis, nominations are awarded. Countries from places 1-7 can field two athletes in the IO, from 8-19 one. We are currently ranked 16th. And it is likely that one Polish rider will compete in Paris.

Who among you can we count on at the European Games?

– It seems to me that the Polish Cycling Federation will want to use the full pot and will field eight riders each. I set myself goals, but I leave them to myself. I prefer to train and achieve something rather than just talk about it. In addition to me, we have several athletes in the elite who are competing in the World Cup, such as Ola Podgórska, Gabriela Wojtyła and Klaudia Czabok. Among the men, there are Bartek Wawak, Krzysiek Łukasik and Filip Helta. I hope that the “walls will help us” and add a few more watts to the ones we develop in training. The stakes in the world have evened out a lot and the lead is much wider than it was some ten years ago. The favourites will be the French and Swiss, but I am counting on other athletes to join the fight for the top places.