A Champ called Mops
Mellisa Newell took on the world and won
words by Neil Kerr | Images Jason Beachem & Sven Martin
Last September in the Italian seaside town of Finale Ligure the Enduro World Series (EWS) crowned their World champions. Amidst flashing lights, sparkling fireworks and ticker tape the stage was filled with the superstars of the sport, the best in the world – Sam Hill, Damien Oton, Cecile Ravanel and Melissa Newell. Melissa who?
Kiwi girl Melissa Newell, a builder’s labourer from Wanaka, was right there on stage amongst the fireworks, in her jandals, as the newly crowned women’s EWS Masters champion. Mops, as she’s affectionately known, had battled through the year in a host of different countries as a privateer and come out on top of the world. We caught up with the relentlessly energetic Mops in Wanaka recently for a chat about how she got into biking, that night in Finale and what the future holds.
First up we need to know, where did Mops come from?
Silly story, but as a kid I had a doll called “Mrs Mopsy” and it sucked its thumb which I also did. One of my cousins started calling me Mopsy and 30 odd years later I still have it.
You got into mountain biking pretty late in life via a few other sports. What’s the story behind that?
I was 28, almost 29, when I found out I needed hip surgery (surgical dislocation and debridement of my left hip) which meant no more running—which meant no more rugby or basketball. Rugby was my first true love, I started playing when I was five and then had to stop when I got older as back then girls weren’t allowed.
I was always a very active kid, growing up on a farm in the deep south with three older brothers meant there was never a dull moment. Ripping around on moto’s and getting the mahi done, mum and dad made sure we were always busy and never bored.
Rugby and basketball were where I found success through my teen years and into my 20’s, I played at a national level in both and internationally with basketball. So when I found out my hip was done it was a real kick in the guts. I knew I had to replace the void with something so I decided to give mountain biking a go. I set some goals and realised pretty quickly that this was an epic sport full of amazing humans. Fast forward ten years and I’m a Masters World champ, lol!
You’ve raced almost every discipline in mountain biking but seem to have settled on Enduro for now. What is it about Enduro that sucked you in?
Enduro is the full package for me: you have to be fit, really strong technically and able to back it up time and time again. The people though are the main draw card, from the pros to us privateers everyone gets along, the yarns are endless and no one gets left behind. The culture that Chris Ball has created in the EWS is simply amazing. I have so many stories I could go on all day—but, here’s one quick one. Last year in Whistler I got
a puncture on stage three, but as soon as I finished one of the girls rushed straight over and started helping me sort it out so we could get going again and not miss the transition. There’s not many sports where that sort of comradery happens.
Last year you won the EWS overall masters title, how did it feel being on the stage in Finale with the who’s who of the sport?
Unreal! For the Masters category it is your best five results out of the eight races worldwide, and I only competed in five so you could say I put all my eggs in one basket to get the job done. Finale was my worst race of the season and I thought I had thrown away my chances but managed to just scrape home in the end.
Being on the podium was an unbelievable feeling, as Kiwis we’re taught to be humble and not celebrate our success which I think sucks balls! Being on that stage and having random people come up and congratulate me was so amazing. I wish we could recreate that feeling back home, as I didn’t even get a congrats from my local bike club!
This year you’re back racing EWS but you’ve decided to enter the Women’s Pro division instead—what was your reasoning behind that?
I’ve always been a competitive person and I want to push myself so I wanted to see what I can do against the best. I still have so much to learn and being mid-pack chasing really motivates me. I have no set goal of what ranking I want but each race I want to ride clean, push hard where I know I can and let the results come to me. Mentally I have always been strong so being up against it takes me to the next level which I didn’t get in Masters.
Your success has seen you get picked up by Trek bikes. What bike are you running this year?
This is a true love story! I’m riding an XL Trek Slash, this bike is a dream bike for me and a real EWS race horse.
It doesn’t look like the stock standard Slash, there’s a bunch of tricked out components on it too?
Yeah I’m lucky enough to be looked after by Hope and WTB which make it even more of a dream bike. Having sponsors’ support is the backbone of racing for me and without financial and product help it would be impossible to race at this level. Having high quality running gear like Hope and WTB gives me the confidence to push harder. In a sport where every second counts I need to know that my gear won’t fail. Hope are hands down the best brakes I have ever used. As for my WTB tyres, the Vigilante is my go to front and rear – 2.5” up front and 2.3” out back – it’s like riding rails.
Looks like you’re in Europe at the minute, what’s next on your agenda?
Yes I’m currently living in Les Gets training for the next two rounds of the EWS, in Italy and France. Then I’ll head to Canada and the US. But big picture I want to race EWS again next year and go to the DH world masters and then for 2021 it’s dog sled racing – that’s my next big adventure!
Any final words of wisdom from the Masters Enduro World Champ?
To all the ladies out there riding bikes, especially the young ones – the future is full of opportunities, stay focused and have fun, you never know what is possible unless you put yourself out there and try. I’ve had many tall poppies haters question and ridicule me on what I’m up to but I say fark em—ride hard and chase the dream! If I can become a world champion so can you.
Mops, your perserverance has got the job done. Your ‘can do’ never give up attitude wins the race everytime. An inspiration to all chasing their dream.