Bear Development Team supports new women's mountain bike team

The Bear Development Team will be expanding to include an elite women's development mountain bike squad in 2013. Five young women will make up the new ladies' team, which is being run by Julia Violich.

Stu Bone started Bear Development, which had its first season, with only male racers, in 2012. "The genesis of the team was an accident. I never set out to create a junior biking team," said Bone to Cyclingnews. "I just knew a lot of kids from Santa Cruz. They were winning races regionally and deserved to be at national caliber races, but didn't know how to get to them."

"As soon as we had a guys' program, I felt like we needed to have a women's program. [Pro road racer] Evelyn Stevens is a friend of mine. She talks about how she discovered the sport late in life and how she wished she'd had an opportunity to get into the sport earlier in life. That's part of why I thought it was a good reason to have a women's development team. Hearing a story like hers, I realized it was important to provide same opportunities as for the guys."

In 2012, the team supported 10 male racers who competed in road and mountain bike. The team had a lot of success off-road, fielding three of the seven racers selected by USA Cycling to do a European MTB racing program. Tobin Ortinblad and Bryan Duke were also among the team's most successful racers at junior nationals.

Bone knew he needed help with a growing team, so he brought onboard Violich in preparation for 2013. "Part of the reason why Julia is so great for our program is that I don't have a lot of experience with mountain biking. For some of our kids, that's the entirety of their program," said Bone, who also appreciates her experience with young, female athletes.

"I've been doing junior development for about 12 years and have focused on women in the last five years," said Violich. "I've been very successful in creating a couple of national champions. I'm excited to work with this team. It's like a breath of fresh air."

"Women develop at different rates than men. In men's cycling, if you're not a U23 hottie, you don't make it. You're out. It's different with the women. USAC doesn't even look at women riders before they are 25 or 26. The women don't reach the upper echelons until they are in their 30s. That's true on the road and mountain. Look at riders like Georgia Gould or Kristin Armstrong."

In 2013, Bear Development will support five young women. Four have been named and one slot is still in process of being filled: Victoria Yoham (U23); Josie Nordrum (17-18); Maddie Ortenblad (15-16) and Avery Morin (15-16). Violich says she prefers quality over quantity. She has coached two of the women for a few years and is bringing onboard the two new 15-16 junior women.

Violich's approach is to start working with the women while they are still quite young. She begins with them when they are "close to the ground and more apt to take chances and are less risk adverse. I can teach them the technical skills and the love of speed while they are young. That will stick with them, even if they take a break from the sport for a few years, which is common."

"I'm grabbing the women in high school - like freshman and sophomore year in high school. Once they leave my program, they go to college and I'll keep working with them. All of my girls go to college and are good in school. I then also want to work with them once they graduate from college and get them onto elite teams."

Hang around juniors and watch them grow up long enough and you'll quickly realize that many don't stick with the sport. That doesn't faze Violich, who realizes she will lose some. "If they don't go onto racing, I want them to be well rounded women who are ready to go out into the world."

She usually starts with women who are mountain bikers, but she likes to expose them to other disciplines, even if they don't race them.

Violich limits her riders to those from California. This approach keeps her close to her athletes, as they grow up on and off the bike. "It's not just about riding and racing - it's about making good choices for school and jobs. It's more than just racing and training. I lose my ability to do that if the athletes are outside of California."

Look for the Bear Development women to race the US Pro XCTs and races like Sea Otter and US Mountain Bike Nationals in the Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania. She is also hoping to get a few of her athletes selected to do trips to Europe with USA Cycling, something that has happened in previous years, when she has worked with the Whole Athlete/Specialized team.

Violich expects that some of her women will race some road and track in addition to mountain biking. "I don't want to make them do anything they're not comfortable with, but if I see potential, I will try to get them out with some of the local pros and get some more exposure."

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Sue George is an editor at Cyclingnews.  She coordinates all of the site's mountain bike race coverage and assists with the road, 'cross and track coverage.