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Dan Jarvis – it doesn’t take much to sell women’s racing, they’re the ones serving up the drama – Singletrack Magazine

Singletrack Magazine

We’re now half way through our Inspiring Women interview series where we’re featuring women who are doing inspiring things on the bike and inspiring other women to ride bikes too.  But Inspiring Women isn’t just about females, there are plenty of men out there too who work to champion women’s mountain biking and inspire female riders.  This month Rachel chatted to one of them, the Man with the Mic, Mr Dan Jarvis.

Dan has been involved in promoting women’s mountain biking for many years, first through his university club in Brighton, then as the head of the BN3 DH team, and finally in his commentary and advocacy for all things MTB. When I spoke to him he’d just returned from the final World Cup of the year at La Bresse which featured one of the most talked about and exciting races of all time in the women’s XC.

dan Jarvisdan JarvisDan in his natural habit, talking.Dan JarvisDan JarvisThe face behind the voice.

The interview

Singletrack – Has it always been a conscious decision for you to promote and support women’s riding or has it been more of a case of seeing inequalities and opportunities as you went along?

Dan –  It all started when I went to university in Brighton, within two weeks of being there I started the mountain bike club up. What was obvious straight away was that it was all guys bar a couple of very talented women riders who came along a bit. My view has always been that we’re not a big enough sport to get into cliquiness, I just think you want to welcome as many people into riding as possible, so part of that was to encourage more women to join our rides. Going on from there I got involved with PORC (Penshurst Off Road Club) and the running of Women on Wheels. I got involved in that professionally and saw the positives of that.

Talking to riders and running the races at Penshurst I could see that there weren’t many women riders so it just organically grew into having a team (BN3 DH team), and then from having a team it escalated from local development to women going to World Cups and getting on World Cup podiums. But it was always conscious from the moment that we set up the team that it had to be a women’s team.

After Penshurst I went on to work for British Cycling and it was the first year of the RAV4 DH series and I introduced the non-elite women’s category because the way I viewed it was that there was nothing to encourage riders to come along if they were going to be riding against Tracy (Moseley), Karen (Van Der Beck) and Emma Guy, and at best try to ride for sixth place or something. Although it was always conscious there was never a great feminist thing about it, it was just about inclusivity.

Singletrack – You spend a lot of time on the international race scene, how does men’s and women’s racing compare?

Dan – Things are really positive. Simon Burney(UCI mountain bike and cyclocross) has been hugely influential in making MTB as equal as it is because at World Cup level it’s the only discipline where the prize money is the same and the TV coverage is the same, well, near enough. Obviously the women’s categories are slightly smaller but they’re still getting live TV coverage (the main differences are in the elite women’s DH where the field is smaller than the men’s and there is only live coverage of the top 10 female riders compared to the top 20 men). I think we need to keep on with that and use mountain biking as the example to all the other sports of how it can be done.

Singletrack – So actually at the top level from an organisational point of view women’s MTB is seen to be as big as men’s. Do you think that’s been by accident or design?

Dan – I think there’s been a conscious decision right at the start to make things equal. If we go right back to the start in the 90s it’s always been pretty equal in the recognition. I remember people like Ruthie Matthes, Juli Furtado, Missy Giove and riders like that were just as familiar to me as riders like Tomac, Overend and those guys. So I think we’ve always tried to promote it as a more equal competition. The fact that at every race there’s a men’s and a women’s race, you can’t have the excuse of “oh, well there’s a 100 years of history and we don’t have a women’s race”, there’s none of that.

Because of it being a relatively young sport it wasn’t ever going to be able to be so chauvinistic because many of those early pioneers were women; arguably Missy Giove was the biggest personality in the sport in the early years. It’s always been easier to work with that and not having to overcome the attitudes in some sports and cycling disciplines.

Last weekend the women’s race in La Bresse was the best race I’ve ever commentated on bar none (you can watch the whole race here). It was the most exciting XC race in the best part of 20 years. It made no difference that it was women, they’re just athletes. The only difference is that they do a lap less but the action is still just as nail biting, and it’s still one hour and 20 minutes of excitement. The race at the weekend just proves that we cannot have the excuse in mountain biking of “women don’t do as much”, it just doesn’t hold water.

High praise indeed

I think that’s the thing, women’s mountain biking is just as easy product to sell as men’s is. In the gravity disciplines we have the only rider who did the clean sweep was a woman with Vali Höll (in the junior women’s DH) and she’s one of the most exciting riders coming through, arguably a lot more exciting than anyone in the junior men. And then in the women’s DH it was the only category that went down to the last two or three riders on the hill (Rachel Atherton and Tahnee Seagrave were going head to head for the race win and World Cup title).  It doesn’t take that much to sell it as they’re the ones who are serving up the drama. I just want to keep pushing that side of it.

Singletrack – Despite the equality in the race structure, prize money and TV coverage there are fewer women than men competing at the top level and getting appropriate support.

Dan – You’ve got Monika Hrastnik finishing fifth in the DH World Cup rankings and is probably going to struggle to get a deal. Can you imagine that situation for the men? It would never happen. There are guys that are around fortieth, living off one past result, on a factory deal and yet there are women who are in the top three or four who can’t get any deal. So are we looking at the next stage to be for UCI teams to have to have a woman on the team? There are certainly some teams where the points from the women have kept them ahead of other teams, like those scored by Myriam Nicole for Commencal. Santa Cruz Syndicate, no women; MS Mondraker, no women; I think really the only other team with female representation who got close were Trek, and of course for most of the World Cup it was Rachel (Atherton) who was producing a significant proportion of the team’s points. So it’s looking whether there are opportunities within the gravity disciplines at the moment.

Rachel Atherton – responsible for most of Trek’s points in the DH Team rankings

Within XC it’s an interesting one as there are separate men’s and women’s categories for the team competition so there’s less incentive for teams to have any male / female split. But at the same time it also gives you the opportunity to build a team around a purely female ethos like Luna, now the Clif Pro team. That needs to be recognised as well and is something that Simon Burney should be applauded for, in terms of supporting teams who are all-female. There is still a lot that we can do though, there’s still a need.

annie last bh bikesannie last bh bikesWe need to make more of our female role models like XC Queen Annie Last Photo: Olly Townsend.

Singletrack – What you are describing is that elite international level is much more equitable and positive than we might think but that doesn’t seem to play out at a recreational level or even the local race scene where the proportion of women riding is much, much lower than men. How might we use the positives higher up in the sport to promote mountain biking for all women?

Dan – When I look at the domestic scene there’s a huge need even in XC. We have World Championship medals, World Cup wins and multiple podiums, but if you take a few riders out the equation then what is there? All our top XC riders have had their ups and downs this year but we still don’t seem to be learning any lessons. There doesn’t seem to be that understanding that role models generate more future athletes. We need Tracys and Evies and Annies and Rachels and Tahnees. When you look at DH that’s there, there’s definitely a positive input (from British Cycling) there to support them. But when you look at XC, because there’s all this political involvement, it makes it more difficult to.

T-Mo – everyone’s hero

I think the women’s programme at BC is a bit too much focused on road and leisure and what does concern me is that if we don’t have that progression coming through then it’s harder to instil to riders that the sport is equal and there are those opportunities for women. If you’re not seeing representation and role models at the elite level then you become more detached from it.

Singletrack – So what can we – the media, advocates, British Cycling and others in MTB – do to get that to work and make the most of the success that women are having at an elite level to promote the sport to a wider range of people?

Dan – There’s a very strong case for looking at a mass participation race which will incorporate a category one UCI elite race as the headline event but then have other categories and come and have a go races. That gives you that aspirational ladder going up and a social element where you can have people going up to Annie Last and chat about racing. That’s something that you can take to a lot of mainstream companies and that would be a very attractive package to put forward and get support for.

Singletrack – Bar the category one race that’s something we saw at the HopeTech Women’s Enduro last year with Annie Last and Tracy Mosley mingling with riders who had never raced before…

The HopeTech Women’s Enduro – where racers rubbed shoulders with both the elite and flying unicorns Credit: Duncan Philpott

Dan – Events like Enduro are akin to marathon running really, there’s only a very few at the top who are there to win it, everyone else is doing it for a personal challenge. You can set your own time and pace, it lends itself well to mass participation.

There should be many opportunities for people to get into the sport, if that means women-only rides and women-only events then more power to it. The problem that we have is that mountain biking is still a relatively unstructured sport, you don’t need to go down to your local circuit or club, you can just go out on your bike. That’s great on one hand but the issue then is that it makes it harder to introduce any kind of structure to encourage people through.

One of the other things that makes it harder for women to get into mountain biking is that it’s one of the sports that encourages the all-the-gear-no-idea kind of person who are, let’s be honest, predominately men. They are often the first person that someone coming into it encounters and they probably not the kind of person that gives a good introduction. It will probably always be a sport that’s dominated by males but if you have female only events which are a testosterone, dick-head free environment then that can only be a good thing.

Changing view

Chatting to Dan certainly changed my view of things; there is a lot in mountain biking that is equal between the sexes and we should be proud of the fact that riders like Tracy Moseley, Rachel Atherton and Annie Last are as recognised as much, if not more, than their male contemporaries. The challenge is now how we can take what goes on at an elite level and use it to support and encourage female riders whatever their ability.

We want to hear from you about who we should be talking to for next month’s Inspiring Women’s feature? Which female rider inspires you (whether you’re male or female), or who has done lots to support female riding? They could be a pro, a local coach or someone next door. Let us know in the comments below who we should be featuring and why.

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