Julia Long is encouraging youngsters to ride like a girl.
Long, a rising star in both cross-country and enduro disciplines, has spearheaded a free event for girls aged 10 to 17 on Friday, June 22. Riders will meet at Blackcomb Base II at 3:30 p.m. with the event wrapping at 5:30 p.m. The route will be the Canada Cup cross-country trail for the race on June 23.
Long said the ride is being facilitated through the Ride Like A Girl mentorship program, in which Long was a participant for two years. After experiencing the benefits of receiving instructions from a pro rider, as well as through the Fast and Female camps she did as a younger athlete, she's now looking to give back and provide support to a new wave of up and comers.
"We'll inspire, hopefully, some of the girls that are racing this weekend and help make them more comfortable with the course," Long said.
Long explained there are a couple of differing reasons why female fellowship is important in mountain biking, as it can be difficult at times to find role models who are women.
"It was really inspiring because mountain biking is a very male-dominated sport, so to have women to look up to who are excelling in the sport and being able to learn from them (was good)," Long said.
As well, she explained, watching the guys might not do the girls a whole lot of good, and having the chance to learn from someone who rides more like they do will be more beneficial.
"Sometimes, women have a different riding style, so to be able to watch them and be able to ride with them is inspiring," she said. "I think women ride more conservative, which in a sense could be good. I even noticed it this weekend (at the Canadian Enduro Championships) talking to some of the boys' parents—we wouldn't go super fast into a corner and then just crash out. We'd take it slower and be able to ride it clean. Riding smart is one of the things.
"And body positioning is a bit different. It's not too much different, but there are a few changes."
Chrissy de Vall of TaG Cycling is also keen for the event to go ahead. The 2000 Olympian credited Long for taking the initiative to approach her and hash out how to make the ride a reality. She agreed with Long that being a female rider can be a lonely pursuit at times.
"I found that there's not a lot of girls or women to ride with. You're usually in with the boys or the men," she said. "It's something close to my heart to take on."
All told, de Vall hopes to get 20 girls riding and connecting with one another from the Sea to Sky, Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island. In terms of pros, Jaime Hill and Katie Button are confirmed to attend.
Roughly 10 girls had signed up to participate as of June 19, though Long hoped to see more come out.
Considering that the ride consists of a competition-level course, de Vall noted riders should be comfortable riding singletrack. She also hopes participants pick the brains of the pro riders onhand in order to get the most out of the experience.
"The meet-and-greet is to talk to the pros, ask them anything," de Vall said. "Ask them why do they ride a mountain bike, who did they ride with, did they ever want to quit, what's their favourite bike?"
Those interested in registering or finding more info are encouraged to do so at www.tagcycling.com.