There's been a lot of news, revisions and updates coming from the UCI board regarding top level racing for 2017. Some of it good, and some of it not so good. With the announcement of the UCI's decision to reduce the number of female entries at the Elite mountain biking level, we have to question who really favours from this, and who are the ones to suffer?
Despite the rapidly growing number of women who are hitting the trails, entering into races and throwing themselves into the dirty descending lifestyle, it appears a lot of catch up is needed to reach the top-level competitions. At times it feels that women's progression in mountain biking is very much a one-step-forward-two-back dance of politics and money.
The lack of women's media coverage is one of the biggest gripes us women have with racing. In order to promote the sport, secure more funding, sponsorship and captivate the masses, women's cycling needs to be showcased at its upper most level.
While we can only attempt to fathom the inner workings of event organisers and race committees, we can share the plight of our fellow women in arms who struggle to fight the system. Caught up in the difficulties of women's riding is Bex Baraona.
When being in top 10 in the world is still not enough...
"I also love the danger side and extremity of it all - love to scare myself and have a good dose of adrenaline!" - Bex Baraona
Hailing from the Peak District, 23 year old Bex Baraona now resides in the rolling mountains of South Wales where she works as a bicycle courier. Courier by day, and trail slayer at the weekend, Bex has worked hard to earn herself a fierce reputation in the enduro scene.
Unlike most world cup athletes, Bex found her cycling passion later in life. With a motorbike mad father, Bex grew up with a sense of fearlessness and hunger for adrenaline, the perfect combo for a champion athlete. After her first trail ride - on the Fort Bill World Cup track! - Bex found herself falling head over heels for mountain biking, literally.
A true advocate for women's riding, Bex explained why she loved the MTB scene: "I liked was the fact that the female field was so small, it was a great opportunity to be part of, at the time, a boys sport and my aim was to try and turn a few heads and represent the women!"
Since falling for the sport, Bex has scooped up an impressive number of wins and results: 2nd in Megavalanche 2016. Won the PMBA Enduro Series 2015, won the Red Bull Foxhunt 2015 and in 2013, Bex won the Pearce Cycles downhill series.
Dedicating all her free time to riding and training, Bex Baraona entered the Enduro World Series 2016. It was her first full EWS series at elite level, competing in all 8 rounds of the legendary event. Facing unfamiliar terrain, weather and the pressure of racing at the top level, Bex smashed each round, securing herself a stage podium finish and an overall 7th place for the EWS series.
Hoping her impressive racing resume, and amazing finishing rank for 2016, Bex was hoping to secure herself a spot on a factory race team. Unfortunately, this hasn't worked out and now she's having to raise a staggering £17,000 to finance herself for the EWS 2017, which is no easy feat.
"I can’t wait for the opportunity, but right now I am really enjoying what I am doing…and that is the main thing!" - Bex Baraona
Disappointed, but not discouraged, I asked Bex whether she believes the lack of media coverage, and inequality in women's racing played a part in her not getting picked up by a team for 2017:
"I think Brexit has played a part, the industry has got tighter budgets and I believe that is probably the case across men and women in the sport. But for me, undeniably I was a little disappointed not to get picked up as I thought I’d “proved myself". However, after more thought and having to deal with multiple team rejections, I realised that privateer life is really pretty good and actually at the end of the day I will still ride my bike! I am very aware that if I do get the chance to compete with a team, there will be a lot of unnecessary stress removed (logistics, finances, facilities, support etc.). I can’t wait for the opportunity, but right now I am really enjoying what I am doing…and that is the main thing!"
"I came up with the idea of the raffle. A way for people to support what I am doing but also have a chance to win some great prizes! I wanted people to get something back from supporting me" - Bex Baraona
In order to raise funds for the EWS this year, Bex has rallied up the support from major mountain bike brands, athletes and supporters to hold an incredible raffle later this month.
"The main prize is a 2017 Transition Patrol Bike, plus over £4000 worth of other prizes. There are 200 tickets and 101 prizes, this way there is a great chance of winning some goodies! The tickets cost £50, and other prizes include: £900 Sixth Element wheelset, Half day coaching with Tracy Moseley, 5 Airshots, lots of O’Neal protection/clothing/accessories, entries into various UK Enduro events, Helmets from Bell, Met and Seal, Chainrings from SRAM and Works Components, UK Bike Park Passes…and much more!"
If all tickets are sold, the raffle should generate a significant proportion towards the £17,000 target. In addition to the raffled, Bex will be raising funds from her courier job, and will have some support from local companies and her team Female Riders Inc.
Personally, I find it a hard pill to swallow. Bex is clearly an incredible, motivated athlete with enough titles and wins to boot, so why is the 7th best female enduro rider unable to secure sponsorship?
Thankfully her determination and initiative will see her through another season of EWS racing, but what more can one do to prove themself worthy of a factory team spot? It's worrying to consider the lengths that riders must go to in order to secure the support they need to compete, ride and most importantly, inspire future generations of champions.
For more information about Bex's raffle, and to get involved in helping her raise funds for racing, head over to her Facebook page here.
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