The MuleBar Girl – Sigma Sport Team has been a fixture on the domestic road, track and ‘cross calendar for a few years now. 2015 is the team’s fifth season and it’s one in which its members will be making more of an impact on the off-road race scene, too.
The roster has seen some changes since the team’s debut in 2010, with riders coming and going, the disciplines and events tackled by the team expanding year on year and team colours changing annually. This year’s riders are Natalie Creswick, Adel Tyson-Bloor, Anna Glowinski, Phoebe Sneddon, Diane Lee, Niki Kovacs, Wiesia Kuczaj, Rebecca Charlton and Maxine Filby, and their distinctively cosmic (or should that be cosmically distinctive?) new kit coincides with more of a mountain bike focus for the team.
Previously it’s been seen most often on the road and at velodromes around the UK, with a few cyclocross events thrown in for good measure, but thanks to new team member Maxine, the girls have enthusiastically seized the challenge of the dirt and with a little help from Sheffield’s Aline Coaching are gradually turning themselves into kick-ass mountain bikers, as well as rad roadies.
We got a chance to catch up with a couple of the girls at their team launch near Salisbury last week. Maxine has been a familiar face on the British cross-country scene for a few years now, and we were interested to glean an insider’s view of cross-country racing, as well as finding out how on earth she’s managed to convince track racing team mate – and complete novice mountain biker – Adel Tyson-Bloor – to tackle the brutal Cape Epic South African stage race in 2016. It’s not the ideal event for a first-timer…
We spoke to Adel first, learning how she made the switch from boards to dirt, and how she manages to fit training and top-level competition into her life alongside work and family life as she prepares to take part in the 2015 Trans Continental.
Singletrack: How did you switch from track and road racing to mountain biking?
Adel Tyson-Bloor: I’m an individual pursuiter, so [a friend] suggested I rode Street Velodrome, which is actually nothing like a velodrome, it’s kind of like riding a giant berm. I wanted to get good at that, so I did a couple of BMX sessions. It’s awesome, I love BMX! I’ve never been near a BMX track where people aren’t consummately friendly and inclusive. They look well intimidating, these young lads, but they’re just brilliant. I put a tweet out and said I need to learn how to ride a berm, and I need to learn now. Tony ‘Jedi’ Doyle replied and said come and do a day with us, and I tell you what, it was incredible!
That night, Maxine said ‘we’re doing Bontrager 24 and we need a girl, why don’t you do it?’ I just thought ‘don’t be ridiculous, I don’t have a bike, I don’t have shoes, I have nothing’ – and in typical cycling community spirit, all of my friends who were racing said of course we can get you shoes, pedals, bike – so I had 24 hours to pick up all of these bits from all over and get myself to Plymouth. You’ll never guess whose team I was on – Mr. Bontrager! It was amazing. And that was that.
ST: How have you adapted to mountain biking coming from a track background?
ATB: It’s a really different environment to track and road. People mountain bike because they love to ride their bikes. They don’t have to race, they don’t necessarily even want to race, they just want to be social, they want to go out – it’s just a nice vibe. It’s not so competitive, until you get to the races, and I found the actual cross-country racing more hostile than the road races. Mountain biking is this super friendly, welcoming environment until you get to a race and then it really is quite frightening. I’m off to Barcelona in two weeks for a stage race with Maxine, and we’re doing some of the 24-hour events this year.
Really I just want to just keep doing mountain biking because I love it. I think it’s really good to mix it up with the road racing because it’s natural interval training and the handling skills can only improve my road riding. I don’t plan to be bursting onto the XC scene with huge results, that’s not going to happen!
ST: With two kids aged 10 and 11, how do you find the time to train and work?
ATB: I’ve got lots of different jobs, with very understanding bosses! I coach the GB Academy triathletes, 14-18 years old on the GB performance pathway, that tends to be one weekend a month. I also work for Frog Bikes, covering the southern region; I’m a triathlon coach, I’m an open water swimming coach, and I’m also a beach lifeguard though I don’t do very much of that! Sometimes I work in the village shop, I teach Bikeability… Everything fits in. It’s really good to have those different jobs.
It helps that the children are massively independent, they always have been; it’s just me and them, so we crack on. They come with me to races, though they’re not really interested in my racing. Both ride and race BMX, track, road, mountain bike; they just get on with themselves. I’m really lucky that their dad lives two miles away and my parents live half an hour away too.
ST: Do you get bored easily?
ATB: Yes, funnily enough. I don’t know how I can get bored… there’s not much time in my life for it! If I found the discipline I enjoyed the most and stuck to it I would probably excel, but I just can’t work like that. The more controlled and organised my life is, the more I feel I need spare time. I just love to be doing something different. On Sunday I tend to plan the next week and I think a lot of people really struggle to live like that, but I love it. And it also means that I’m really open to saying yes to stuff.
I’m really lucky that I tend to think everything is amazing, but also when it isn’t amazing, well, this isn’t so bad, let’s just carry on. I don’t need routine or plans or structure. The more I think about it the more I will panic and get stressed, I like things to be a surprise. The more you know what’s coming, the more you stress about it.
The team is supported by Cannondale (keeping it local – importer CSG is just a few miles away from MuleBar HQ, on the south coast). The cross-country racers are riding the top-end FSi, which we reviewed in issue 95 of Singletrack and which seems to be going down a storm with the girls, too.
Here George – CSG’s King Cannondale – explains what’s great about the “freaky fork”:
…while Maxine waxes lyrical about the Lefty-equipped FSi hardtail she’s racing this season. You might think that she’s obliged to say nice things about Cannondale’s kit, given that the team is supported by the brand, but few things are as important for a racer’s success as their belief in the equipment they ride…
Maxine is one of the newest MBGs, joining up for the 2105 season having previously been a privateer. She’s got the honour of being the one who introduced the road-oriented members of the team to mountain biking via a skills day – or, as she puts it, “slowly pulling them to the better side of cycling.”
ST: How did you go about persuading your new team mates to pedal towards the light?
Maxine Filby: I mentioned to Adel about the Cape Epic and how I thought she should have a go. We did Street Velodrome together last year, which is how we met, and then she did 24/12, and I could see that she could ride a mountain bike, and she’s got that no fear factor, so I suggested it to her, and she agreed.
So we decided we’d better start really working on mountain biking, so we had some sessions with Aline Coaching, and we thought it would be good to have all the girls come up and they all loved it. I’ve never seen so many smiles in one place, it was brilliant. It’s really good to see them do something different.
Obviously for me I’ll have to go the other way and join them on the road; we’re all mixing it up a bit this year. It’s nice to be on a team where I’m not the only mountain biker; it means we understand each other, and it makes weekends away more fun.
ST: You’re an experienced racer – what are your feelings about the UK race scene from the point of view of a female participant?
Gravity is a bit more daunting to go into, whereas cross-country is a little easier, confidence wise, to get into. Endurance events like 24-hour races and the Brighton Big Dog are really accessible, for both women and beginners; the atmosphere is good and it’s very friendly.
I don’t think cross-country racing is very accessible at all, though. You turn up to a cross-country race and it’s all very serious, nobody speaks to you, men shout at you, it’s not a nice environment, for any beginner but especially a woman beginner because you’re often not quite as confident on a bike. The grassroots races – Gorricks, etc – make a point of saying ‘respect each other’, which is lost in the national and regional events.
Some of the women that race are as guilty as the men, too; they’re not welcoming at all, it’s a very closed environment. I find it quite disappointing that [the women] aren’t more welcoming, actually. If you see someone new turn up, go and chat to them, see if they’re okay, offer to go out with them on practice laps; if someone’s stopped at a section then ask if they’re okay – that could mean they’ll come back next time. But it’s not like that.
That’s why I stay away from women-only events, I almost find them more daunting than turning up and riding with a load of blokes. With the events like Stilettos on Wheels [women-only mountain bike series], I can see what they’re trying to do but… One day you’re going to have to turn up to a competition with boys and you might as well do it sooner rather than later.
ST: So there’s a limited place for women-only events, but what about day-to-day riding for you personally? Do you prefer to ride with men, women, or both (or neither!)?
MF: I ride a lot on my own, because I live in a really sparse part of the country for mountain bikers, and I do go out with a lot of blokes too. But then this year there’s the team, which means I can meet up with the girls, and we’re all over the country which means I can travel, which is nice.
One of the things I get out of riding with men is that stubborn pride of keeping up, particularly when you’re mountain biking, following lines, feeling like you’ve got to do a section because you’re following someone who’s done it, so you just do it – that improves your riding massively. There’s nothing better for that than riding with faster people, be that men or women – if someone’s faster than you, then you want to keep up. Men are a bit more gung-ho too; if you fall off, then OK, you’ve fallen off, you get laughed at, you get back on again. There’s none of this ‘shall we call an ambulance?’, which suits me quite well.
Riding with the team is fun. Everyone’s so different, there’s a complete mix of personalities, but it just works, it gels. I was really nervous when I first met them, it was a mountain bike day and it was like walking into the first day of school; there’s this gang of people that have been together for ever and you just think ooh, this is going to be awful, and I walked in and felt like I’d known them all forever. We’re all racers, so we’re all very competitive; no-one wants to be the one that gets left behind, so you just push yourself that little bit more. I love it!