How did the world's best female cross-country mountain biker ever become trapped in such a vicious cycle? At the end of many a sleepless night Juli Furtado begins her day by drinking an entire pot of coffee. Peet's Coffee, French Roast and nothing but, four pounds of which are mailed every few weeks from Berkeley, Calif., to her newly built Durango, Colo., home. The 28-year-old Furtado then whisks off on a three-to four-hour ride, after which she can be found in a cycling klatch at the downtown Steaming Bean, dispensing coffee talk.
"Why does it seem that whenever a coffee house has the word coffee in its name, the coffee is awful?" she muses. Talk amongst yourselves.
"I admit, I'm addicted," she adds. "And, no, I didn't sleep at all last night."
"Juli has a major sleeping disorder," says fellow pro Daryl Price, 26, whose three-year on-again, off-again relationship with her recently ended again.
If Furtado spurned coffee in favor of slumber, and hence dreams, what might she conjure up? A mountain biking career in which she would take the sport's inaugural world cross-country title, in 1990, her first full year on the circuit? Five years of dominance that would include a streak, beginning in 1993, during which she would win 33 of the 40 major cross-country races—as indeed she has—and the last two World Cup titles? Juan Valdez in a Lycra one-piece?
Some athletes have more heart, but Furtado has a higher heart rate. "She maintains 172 beats per minute throughout a race," says David Farmer, who coaches many mountain bikers. "Others can surpass 172, but not for two hours like she can."
Might it be then that Furtado is, in the truest sense of the term, a coffee-achiever? "No," says Farmer. "Her resting heart rate is only in the 30's. Besides, she's the best climber and descender, not to mention the most intense woman, in the world."
Elladee Brown, Furtado's peer—if there is such a person—on the World Cup downhill circuit, recalls the moment she met Furtado, in 1990. "I was racing the Iron Horse at Purgatory [ Colo.], and I passed this girl in hiking boots on a bike that had a rack and toe clips. I did a double take, and she yells, 'Don't worry, I'm not in your class, I'm a beginner.' " She finished poorly, but within four months she would get her first win.
Maybe that's because the mountains are in her blood. Juli's parents divorced when she was seven, and her mother, Nina, moved Juli and siblings Tom and Gia from New Jersey to Vermont, where Juli learned to ski. When she was chosen at age 16 to be on the U.S. Ski Team, she was the youngest girl on the squad.
She was also an Olympic hopeful, until her knees failed. "I first blew out my knee in 1983," says Furtado, who underwent five reconstructive operations in as many years. "My left knee [four operations] will someday need to be replaced." Though former U.S. Ski Team coach Paul Major says Furtado was "as good as or better than anyone I've ever seen," her injuries forced her to leave the sport when she was 21.