Women in Mountainbiking: A 2016 Retrospective
2016 will always be an important year for me, it was the first full year where mountain biking became a passion for me, and it was an important year for women in mountain biking in general. I stirred myself from my stupor amongst the mince pie casings and spent quality street wrappers to set down some thoughts on 2016.
British cycling announced earlier this year that female membership of the organisation passed 20,000. That puts female participation at a ‘whopping’ 16%. How many of these are mountain bikers, we can only guess but it is certainly a move in the right direction.
It was only recently that the greatest amongst our order (the sisterhood) was thrust into the mainstream limelight. Perhaps surprisingly given that it was an olympic year, Rachel Atherton was crowned BT Sport Action Woman Award for the second time, the first time being back in 2013.
This award was certainly deserved, Rachel has had a perfect season and now has a run of 15 consecutive wins under her pads. Ever the humble winner Rachel said in her acceptance speech;
“It’s incredible, i never expected to win so I’ve no idea what to say. I always seem to do really well in an Olympic year which is no great because you guys are so awesome…Thank you everyone that voted as well. The public vote proves that mountain biking, although it’s not an Olympic sport, it’s so fantastic, it’s so exciting, it needs to be on the TV and everyone needs to try it”.
Where Rachel goes others will follow and we should expect to see more little girl’s (and old ladies) taking up the sport in the coming year, hopefully there will be a few getting mountainbikes from Santa in the next few days.
We have come a long way since mountain biking magazines were more akin to lads mags with added rubber nipples however we still aren’t out of the woods yet.
There is a different, subtler type of sexism in mountainbiking that still exists within the advertising. Last years 661 faux pas (read more here) was a big scandal within female community. Posting an image of a naked woman in order to increase sales of products is no longer acceptable. I was glad to see the kind of outrage it caused and that it did not stay unnoticed.
YT on the other hand dabbled with the dark arts for their Jeffsy campaign this year (watch video here) The premise of the advert appeared to be that the little lady in your life will hate the amount of time you’re spending with your shiny new 29er.
From the outset it is noticeable that YT’s website does not include a single positive image of female mountain bikers, and the ‘Show us your hate face’ campaign to coincide with the release of the Jeffsy certainly is the gender-norm reinforcing cherry on top of the somewhat sexist cake. It is interesting that in a sport that has the ability to appeal to women and men equally, a major bike brand consider the best marketing strategy to effectively write off half of the planet at the outset. This is unfortunate given that by all accounts the new Jeffsy sounded like a very capable bike.
That said it wouldn’t be fair to just complain and not point out the more positive moments from the last year. Hope Technology’s new campaign #hopetechwomen goes from strength to strength. Hope have scheduled regular women’s rides throughout the years across the country. Having been on some I can attest to the fact that these rides have done much to strengthen a growing community of female riders in the UK and have reinforced the positive image many have of Hope as a cycling brand.
I was very happy to read that the UCI has finally introduced a separate Women’s Junior category. Now all those girls following Rachel Atherton and others will have something to aim for earlier.
On the other hand, slashing the number of finalists in Women’s Elite from 20 to 15 appears to effectively cancel out the effects of the new junior women’s category. Taking away spaces in the finals for Female Elite, will make it more difficult for young riders to get the recognition they deserve, let alone the sponsorship deals they need to ensure they can train and race.
Taking away 5 riders from women finals makes it much more difficult for women to take part. I hope that there is no need to trim the fat from UCI races, but if there is then wouldn’t it be better coming from the men’s field? To add salt to the wounds it would appear that the new junior women will not be a part of the official timed training in advance of UCI DH races and will be waiting on the sidelines.
There is confusion as to whether or not the proposed changes for 2017 would be legal as per the UCI’s own constitution. Article 3 of which states;
“The UCI will carry out its activities in compliance with the principles of: a) equality between all the members and all the athletes, licence-holders and officials, without racial, political, religious, or other discrimination…”
Whilst we all know that equality doesn’t mean that outcomes should be the same across the sexes it should surely be read as meaning equal access to opportunity? The introduction of a separate category for junior women is clearly a step towards equality of opportunity, but the reduction of the elite women and junior finalists is clearly a step in the wrong direction.
It’s been a rollercoaster of a year for women’s sports with positive actions taking place at the top of the sport, as well as at a grass roots level. There remain a plethora of positive female role models within the sport whatever your chosen discipline.
There are so many inspirational women out there but here are a few women in mountain biking we will be eagerly following throughout the next year;
Rachel Walker – As brand manager at Hope Technology she has spearheaded the launch of the succesful #Hopetechwomen series throughout 2016, and we look forward to seeing what what she and Hope have in store for us in the new year.
Tahnee Seagrave – Perhaps the only elite woman to threaten Rachel Atherton’s perfect season, we expect to see her on numerous podiums throughout the 2017 season.
Jess Varnish – Ok, so not strictly a mountain biker but it hasn’t exactly been Jess’ year, she took on the authorities at British Cycling on the basis that their treatment of her had been unfair and sexist. By all accounts it looked as though BC would find in her favour after launching an investigation into alleged sexist behaviour by Director Shane Sutton, in the end only one of the nine complaints made by Varnish was upheld. We understand that this won’t be the end of the saga and Varnish’s legal team have sought disclosure of more material from Shane Sutton and BC.
Anna Glowinski – A multi-disciplinarian, Anna, has been involved in cycling for several years. In 2016 Anna developed and brought to market her new clothing range, Anna’s Legs. In addition she has more recently been seen presenting Mountain Bike Adventure on The Bike Channel in the UK.
Whatever is going on in the wider world there has been much to celebrate in the world of mountain biking in 2016, but it is also clear that the two- wheeled equality that we all dream of is still a little way off.
If there were other important mountain biking moments for you in 2016 then please do get in touch and share them.
I look forward to meeting you all out on the trail in the new year.
December 24, 2016