Liv Racing is challenging mountain biking's status quo.
Liv Racing comes to the 2022 Absa Cape Epic with two power teams to compete in the CM.com Women's category… and a unique (so far) all-women support crew, firmly aligned with Liv's mission of getting more women on bikes.
South African Sarah Hill is racing in 2022 with USA star Kaysee Armstrong in the factory team, supported by fellow Americans Serena Gordon and Crystal Anthony, with the controlled chaos that comes with getting four athletes to the start line, through each stage, and beyond falling to industry veteran Elizabeth Walker as team manager, with Paige Stuart wrenching the bikes back to top condition each day.
"The team manager role is a full-time job;" says Walker. "The Absa Cape Epic is just the first 14 days of my intense 2022 season. In the off-season, I help inform team strategy, connect with internal teams on product development and product marketing, scout and contract staff and athletes, renegotiate sponsorship deals, form our team race schedules, order team gear and equipment, and provide a sports marketing perspective for brand global marketing campaigns. I'm a key connecting point between our athletes and the organisation."
"The team manager role is a full-time job. The Absa Cape Epic is just the first 14 days of my intense 2022 season."
"Once the season starts, a lot of the event-specific "work" actually occurs in the weeks immediately before and after the events themselves: booking accommodation and rental vehicles; creating flight, travel, and ground transportation itineraries; coordinating shipment and receipt of athlete gear and equipment; researching immigration, visa, and Covid-19 policies; confirming mechanical, physio/bio, and media (photographer/videographer) support; liaising with internal teams and sponsors to make sure we're leveraging opportunities; writing pre- and post-race reports; and all the other things it takes to keep the ship upright and moving forward. It's not unlike running a family unit; there are a lot of moving parts."
"If I've done my job well, the events themselves feel more like a 'holiday' – everything is in place. There's always the "Oh no, I forgot ____!" and the daily chores making sure everyone is fed and rested and content - it's actually a really big effort, over and over and over again, but we all contribute significantly, and it shows in our results."
"If I've done my job well, the events themselves feel more like a 'holiday' – everything is in place."
Stuart was recruited by the Liv setup from the famous Chile Pepper Bike Shop in Moab, the Mecca of USA (maybe even world!) mountain biking. "Liv Racing set out to find a woman mechanic, and I'm so grateful they found me! I hope it catches on as an inspiration for other companies to get more women involved. You need to plant the seeds to grow the garden. Women will feel more welcome if they can see themselves represented in the industry."
Walker is on the same page and uses her position to drive the process. "At Liv, we put women first in everything that we do, and our racing teams are no different. This commitment doesn't stop with our athletes – it extends to our support staff and contractors as well. This isn't to say we don't have or want men supporting our teams and women - that is very important too - but if there is a woman who can fulfil the role or meet the need, we want to give her the opportunity first."
"If there is a woman who can fulfil the role or meet the need, we want to give her the opportunity first."
Are there advantages to hiring women in the male-dominated bike mechanic milieu? "I can't say women inherently bring superior qualities, are any better mechanically, or are better at organisation and personal relationships," says Stuart. "Those sorts of generalisations are just not helpful or worthwhile. I do think that as more women start to show up with their toolboxes, it will help grow the numbers of women joining the trade or reaching out to learn the trade."
The final word comes from Walker. "It's about addressing the bias and prejudice we have regarding women in the sport and leadership positions. Yes, the field and competition are just as tough as the men's field. Yes, women in the roles of manager, coach, mechanic, and physio are just as skillful, and capable. Yes, women are leaders. These are all non-issues. So what's holding us back? Equitable opportunity and support."
"It's about addressing the bias and prejudice we have regarding women in the sport and leadership positions."