I now have somebody to root for in the inaugural Women's USA Pro Challenge that kicks off Friday.

Her name is Mara Abbott. She's a professional cyclist and she believes in the power of yoga.

"It helps me to pause," said Abbott, 29, a Boulder native. "It's a huge aid in not being so linear and driven and focused all the time and gets me to think about my body and my mental approach to things."

She's not only a yoga student, she's also a teacher. Though she hasn't had a regular class since 2013 due to her racing schedule, she does sporadically teach at a Boulder business when she's in town and available.

But right now it's all about training for the Pro Challenge. Her days look like this: One to five hours of training rides and 60-90 minutes of yoga, either at a studio or online through YogaGlo.

"It's good to stretch the muscles you're using all the time," she said, "but I think it also helps you prevent injury because it gives you better awareness of what's tight and what things should feel like."

The upcoming race begins in Breckenridge and lasts three days versus the men's seven-day USA Pro Challenge that started Monday. Abbot said she's encouraged event organizers for years to allow women to compete.

"It's something a lot of people have been asking for," she said. "I decided to put in the effort and hope it gets women's cycling more exposure."

Competitions like the Pro Challenge are, of course, not just about being the strongest physical rider. They're also about mental and emotional fortitude.

Yoga is a boon in that respect.

"Competition is not very linear," Abbott said. "You're dealing with the unexpected and adversity and having to roll with the punches, and it's (yoga) made me stronger in that respect as well, in learning not to be so attached and having a better understanding of my own resilience."

Abbott is well-versed in pushing herself physically. She started out as a competitive swimmer at Whitman College in Washington and took up biking as a side activity. But after winning a handful of races, her talent was clear - she went professional in 2007.

One of her biggest triumphs to date came in 2010 when she became the first American to win the Giro Donne (now called Giro Rosa), one of the biggies in the world of women's bicycle racing.

She earned her first 200 hours of registered yoga teacher training certification from CorePower Yoga in 2009 and a second 200 hours from Shannon Paige at the now-defunct Om Time Yoga in Boulder in 2011.

Her first 2010 classes at Om Time were aimed at her fellow bike riders.

"Cyclists are not good at stopping and pausing and taking time outside their traditional training plan," she said.

"I would encourage people to be open-minded in the way they're taking care of their body, to be willing to try something new and to understand that for the longevity of your career and mental state that having this other relationship with yourself, that isn't always demanding on yourself, is incredibly important."

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