Words by Mike Rose

Some of you may remember Petra ‘Petz’ Bernhard as a World Cup racer from back in the mid 2000’s when she was on the MS Racing INTENSE team. She has had an amazing career, including winning the Austrian National DH Championships 10 times and the Enduro Champs twice.

After suffering a really nasty ankle injury in 2018 this year she decided to get back between the tapes and return to racing and winning ways – she won a local DH race in Austria and the 4Fun Enduro Series #2 in Ljubljana, Slovenia. Then at the start of October, as soon as the season was over, she had surgery on her damaged ankle. One gold plated titanium prosthesis later and she’ll soon be good to go. Petra Bernhard is as tough as nails.

Hi Petra, it’s great to have you back on INTENSE, how did the year go for you?
The year was a mega exciting one for me, and INTENSE fitted in perfectly. I was very happy when Bernat (Guardia, INTENSE EU marketing main man) approached me with his Ambassador project. I’ve always appreciated Bernat as an athlete and manager, so it's no surprise that this collaboration is very professionally run and satisfying for me. INTENSE has an extremely successful downhill bike in its range, which also made my decision easier. Looking back, I can say that this year there were a lot of ups, a lot of positive and motivating things, so from that perspective it was another successful year for me.

Petra, at a World Cup somewhere... maybe Fort William perhaps, circa 2002.

You rode on INTENSE for a while when you were competing in World Cups?
In 2005 I rode for the MS Racing team with Markus Stöckl and Lukas Haider as team bosses. Chris Kovarik and Sabrina Jonnier formed the international team, and Haas Mathias, Engel Georg and I covered the Austrian part. I rode the M3 at the World Cups at that time. I still have the frame hanging in my workshop as a special piece of jewelry. My Red Bull helmet, which followed me around the world in the World Cups, sits next to it. It was also the first year that I competed in all the rounds of the World Cup and I enjoyed becoming part of the scene.

Classic 2005 MS Racing INTENSE (bin included!).

Then in 2018 you had a really bad accident?
That’s right, I only had 4% mobility in my right ankle after my 2018 accident at the World Cup in Canada, where I dislocated and destroyed my ankle. My situation at that time was devastating, hopeless, I felt like I had lost the ground under my feet. It caused me an immense fear for the first time. But thank God this feeling only lasted for a very short time. Little by little my old fighting spirit came back. I realized very quickly that without sport, without the challenge, without adrenaline and without my bikes, that I'm only half the Petz that I should be.

So this year you started to race again?
Yes, a highlight this year was definitely that I dared to step out of my comfort zone and sign up for races again after a three year absence. “Discipline is the bridge between goals and their realization” so the proverb goes. I trained a lot before I took the step to compete in various races again. On the one hand it’s because I am addicted to sports and I want to exercise every day, and on the other hand, to stay healthy and reduce my weight. Another reason was also my boyfriend, who asked me what I would like to experience this summer before I became stuck in a cast in the autumn after my operation. My answer will surprise no one, "the adrenaline of racing, I want to feel that!" So it was training every day, HIT training and conditioning made me all-round fit again. I also felt mentally strong enough to take risks again… and that wasn't always the case.

Back on the top step of the podium again at the 4Fun Enduro Series #2 in Slovenia.

What was it like being back?
Being out of the racing scene for all that time gave me a different perspective on racing. I was calmer and I really absorbed all the ups and downs that you experience during a race weekend. It gave me tremendous strength for my upcoming operation to be so mentally strong and fit before the start. This positive feeling is simply anchored in every cell of my body. And I could feel this rhythm again. It was wonderful to meet like-minded people again and to get to know new faces. The starting field is mostly 20 years younger than me, so it's not an easy challenge, but Greg Minnaar with his World Championship win proved this year that age doesn't really matter if you are fit and committed. His victory has given me additional motivation not to think about my age, but about the challenges ahead.

You did some enduro and downhill races? Which bikes did you use?
I ride the Carbine and the M29 both size medium, and this was the first time that I was fully 29”. The worries I had at the beginning that I wouldn't be able to shred through the corners as fast on the bigger wheels, which is my speciality, turned out to be wrong. The opposite was the case. I love the geometry of the bikes, they go straight and super fast.

You’ve just had some major surgery on your ankle?
This was a planned surgery due to my 2018 ankle luxation, it was scheduled for early October. Now I have had a gold-plated mini titanium protheses inserted. I am now bionic… a Transformer! The reason for the surgery was that I had very limited movement in my right ankle, where there was no cartilage left at all. Subsequently this made it more likely that parts of my tibia bone could be affected.

That doesn’t sound good.
That’s right. The movement and stresses had really worn it down. Joint surface on joint surface caused pain, daily swelling, immobility and the death of the bone in the early stages.

But you still managed to ride your bike this year?
When cycling the pedal rotates, so biking has worked relatively well. Shocks from below that I couldn't cushion naturally hurt a lot. When I was riding motocross I always pulled my right knee up very high so that I wouldn't get caught in the deep ruts in the corners. The operation itself went very well and the surgeon was very pleased. Now I have a 15cm cut in the front, where the tibia bone was sawed off flat, the protheses surface was milled flat at the bottom and the protheses was inserted. At the heel I have a 20cm scar where my Achilles tendon was cut due to a huge shortening, twisted and sewn back together.

The photos looked crazy, the way they cut a hole in your cast and 'went in'. What did they do?
When they put my cast on, the top of my foot was pushed up to 90 degrees, and was really very painful! I respect my surgeon so much, and he gave me an interesting cast, he even cut windows in it so you can have access to the stitches. They're exposed so you can take care of them every day and they can't get infected. I'll be wearing the cast until sometime at the start of December, after that I'll have physio and rehab.

When do you think you will be able to ride again?
I think it will take about two months before I can sit on the exercise bike again. Then it's wintertime for us and that fits quite well into my plan. In spring I hope to be able to start the bike season again slowly but surely. I'm in a positive mood and feel like I can start running again. To keep fit for biking, I was very, very happy to go jogging, as a balance or just to be able to review everyday life, get rid of anger or just to enjoy nature. Unfortunately I haven't been able to do that at all for the last three years. The daily pain and immobility was too much. Now everything feels great, the pain is within limits, and I think I have a good healing process so far.

What are your plans for the rest of the off-season and for 2022?
My health is the top priority. The surgeon thinks I'll get 60-80% of my mobility back if I do a lot of rehab and physio. Believe me, I will do everything in my power to become the old Petz again as good as possible. I have my goal clearly in my mind to ride my bikes soon. The body is a phenomenal. Let’s go.

Petra rides our Carbine Enduro bike, M29 Downhill bike and Tazer eBike. Click on the images below for more information.