When racing resumes after a one-year hiatus this spring, Jess Daniels will be ready. The Vancouver, B.C. rider spent the last year putting together Ellevate XC, Canada’s newest elite women’s cross country team, along with co-founder Jenny Lehmann.
Ellevate XC came together when both Lehmann and Daniels made the move from road to cross country. Both found quick success racing off-road, earning podiums at XC marathon and provincial championship races, but wanted the team atmosphere and support they’d had on tarmac.
“Coming from the road, there were a lot of women’s teams there,” says Daniels. “But we found that, while there’s now support for women at the junior level and the international level, there weren’t a lot of teams at that in-between range. So we wanted to make our own.”
Ellevate XC will debut with a three-rider roster in 2021. Emily Williams, an enduro racer who has refocused on cross country, joins Lehmann and Daniels. All three are in their mid-20s to early-30s.
“There’s a lot of support for youth now, compared to when we were growing up,” Daniels elaborates. But that support tapers off as riders enter the elite category. Part of the motivation for creating a team from scratch was to create a space for “women who are entering the sport later, who missed those junior opportunities.”
Building a team in a pandemic
Forming a new team in the middle of 2020 wasn’t easy. The uncertainty of surrounding the racing calendar and the cycling industry struggling to keep up with demand made finding sponsors able to help out more difficult. Still, Ellevate has a strong roster of supporting brands, inside and outside the cycling industry. This includes title sponsor QCA Systems Ltd., as well Tality Kombucha and Maxxis and prior individual sponsors Daniels’ brought to the team like Hornby Organic and Steed Cycles.
While there wasn’t an established elite team for Daniels to join, she found there was plenty of support for creating one.
“Everyone we approached was so supportive,” Daniels shares. “Even when they couldn’t provide support, whether for financial or supply chain reasons, they were really positive. So that was really encouraging to keep trying, and to keep working towards more for next year.”
That welcoming atmosphere was part of what first drew Daniels’ into mountain biking after years of racing on the road. “Even if there isn’t as much representation of women,” she says, “the community is more welcoming. I can’t speak for Jenny,” Daniels adds,” but for myself, I just didn’t find the riding in a peloton all that inspiring anymore.”
“Plus, there’s so much crashing. Mountain biking just felt safer.”
Crashing is a serious concern, given that all three Ellevate riders are holding down full-time jobs and school schedules on top of racing. Daniels is an urban planner in Vancouver. Lehmann is a physiotherapist in Nelson, while Williams is a full-time kinesiology student. Crashing out on Sunday makes going to work Monday difficult.
Not just racing – Ellevate XC women’s ride clinics
When Daniels talks about creating a space for female riders, she isn’t just about racing. Ellevate XC will be running women’s intro to mountain biking clinics across the province throughout the year. While they’re still hammering out final details of funding, the plan is to have the clinics be free or affordably priced. The current plan is to hire coaches to run the clinics, in addition to the trio of athletes’ input. No matter how funding turns out, the clinics will be free to aboriginal women, including rentals if needed, helping address a group that’s chronically underserved in mountain biking.
Ellevate – At the races
For its first year, the team is targeting a mix of Canada Cup races, when the series visits Western Canada, XCO national championships and XC marathon events, and some enduro for Williams. Ellevate’s also aiming for the Singletrack 6 XC stage race, and BC Bike Race. If that goes well, there’s already interest in expanding to four or five riders in future years. After managing to find footing in a tumultuous 2020, it wouldn’t be at all surprising to see Ellevate’s numbers growing by the end of 2021.