The fire was lit in Jet Tanner‘s belly when he received a communiqué from USA Cycling that basically said if you’re a 15-16 junior boy, fill out the application and you can go to Europe.
After Tanner distributed it to the boys on his Southern California team, his daughter asked a very good question. “Milliegoat looked at me and said hey where’s my application?”
“I went back to the governing body and I asked the question.” continued Tanner. “The answers that I got back were not favorable. Answers as in they get bored with the sport, they fall out of the sport, it’s not worth it to invest money at that age, there’s no dedication, there’s no one who is up there that can compete at a level that will even warrant to even send them to Europe. That burns a fire in my belly because those are all the wrong messages that you want to send to young girls. They said that they have all the statistics to prove it, all the stuff behind it that says it’s not really worth it to invest the money.”
“I really want to close the gap, or fill the gap, between junior cycling and pro cycling for women.” said 15-year old Jet Cycling rider Claire van Ekdom. “I work as hard as all the boys, I hurt as much, my thighs burn as much going up those hills, I’m out there every day and why don’t we have the same opportunity that they do? They got a paper saying do you want to race in Europe? They didn’t have to do an self-promotion. I want that paper and not just that but I want to help other girls, younger, my age and even older than me get that paper..”
And there it is, there is no clear path for junior girls to experience high-level team racing with a goal of making it to the highest level.
So Jet Tanner decided to create that path but not just for his daughter. “She needs friends. Well her friends were all on different teams so there was no sense of teammates and working together so I brought them all together as a cohesive team.”
He created the JET Cycling Junior Women’s Elite Team.
“I love racing with my teammates. My last team I raced with a lot of boys and they race and train differently. We all have common goals, we encourage and help each other. I love being with my teammates.” said Jet Cycling rider Marta Morris.
The girls had to meet a very specific criteria to make the team. First of all, they had to be “ambassadors for the sport”, by being eloquent which we found out first hand at Interbike. Then they all had to be student athletes with good grade point average.
And finally, the girls had to “be on the top of their game” with at a minimum a State Championship title, and medaled at a National Championship.
Meet the Super 4 Jet Cycling riders who are all of racing age 15-16 this year: Milliegoat Tanner, Laurel Rathbun, van Ekdom and Morris.
Jet Tanner’s daughter Milliegoat has been racing for 5 years. “Everybody rides a bike growing up, all kids have a bike. I was playing softball at an elite level and also riding a bike. My love for cycling grew, as I continued through softball. Eventually I was doing so well in cycling and I was doing okay in softball. It was getting hard because I was either going to a softball game or a cycling race.”
The 15-year old had to chose. “I am so thankful I chose cycling. Cycling has become my passion, I realize that I am doing what I love.”
But what about the name Milliegoat? “Milliegoat is a nickname.” she laughed. “I got it back when I first started racing. There was this crazy course with 7% incline for miles. I was dominating the race and some guy kept yelling, “She is a billy goat!” My mom got mad because she thought he was calling me “Billy.” I told my mom that he was yelling “Milliegoat.” That is how the nickname started.”
Starting with triathlons at the age of six, 15-year old Rathbun has now been racing for seven years. “My second race was actually triathlon Nationals which was in Sacramento, California, and I was probably three minutes behind in the swim, I was a terrible swimmer but I could bike, I had a purple 30 pounds Gary Fisher mountain bike and I rode so fast on that and I was a pretty good runner, I could hold my own on the run, totally not expecting it, I won when I was 7.”
The one-time National Time Trial champion and multi-times State Champion feels her strength are as a stage racer. “I can time trial really well, but then I love the 55-mile road races, some people can’t hang in there that long, I definitely love climbing and I have new sprinting powers which help me out so much.”
A different path brought van Ekdom into cycling. “I got started on a bike after an entire spin season. My coach brought me into a spin room and saw that I liked doing VO2s. Who loves doing VO2 right? A cyclist. So he took me through the racing season, it’s almost been 4 years now and I’m still in love with it.”
Her resolve to pursue cycling was strengthened when she was hit by a truck while warming for Time Trial National Championships, her goal this past road season. “Two weeks later, after taking a week in the hospital basically, I beat the girl who second in the time trial, so she got second at National and I beat her but you know what? It just makes you more motivated to win this coming year because I’m still in the same age group, I’m pumped.”
Morris came to cycling via a broken leg in a skiing accident. “After awhile my parents wanted to help me recover, they did not want me to just sit around. They took me to the gym and I started doing spinning classes with my mom. As soon as I got the cast off, they got me a road bike. We found a local team that really supported junior cycling. I got involved and it was amazing. ”
On her fourth year of racing, the 14-year added, “I liked the feeling of getting on my bike and just riding. I wanted to keep competing. I kept working for it. I wanted to get better.”
The girls all aim high for their future in the sport, and are willing to work for it.
Rathbun aspires to be a professional cyclist. “You can never say for sure that it’s going to happen but it’s definitely what I want to do and always dreamed of doing.”
“Next year I really want to place top 5 at Nationals. I think that would be a goal that I could achieve with a lot of work.” said Morris. “Going to race in Europe would be a great experience. For my future goals, I think it would be really cool to race as a professional cyclist. The key is to have fun.”
van Ekdom wants to combine her cycling with her medical school. “My dream is to go to Stanford and race for Stanford. I’d love to go to and win Collegiate Nationals but I really would like to do is in between med school and college, I want to race pro and then I want to race in Europe.”
And Milliegoat Tanner wants to represent the United States at the Olympic Games. “In the future I want to get on Team USA. We are helping me do that by going to Europe. I want to race in the Worlds and the Olympics. Olympics are a huge goal for me. I dream about it and aspire to be in the Olympics one day.”
Starting a movement. “Are these girls not dedicated? Can these girls not do what they say they’re going out to do?” commented Jet Tanner. “There’s a movement that we’re trying to create, the movement is to get other girls to circle around us and say hey I want to go to Europe. I want to compete.”
Europe is in the plans for the 2012 road season. First off, the team will race a domestic cross season, what he called “a promotional season” culminating with Cyclocross National Championships in January.
The team will grow for the road season, ending with Road and Track Nationals Championships. “We’re adding two more so it will be the magic 6, and it’s almost like super heroes gone wild.” laughed Tanner.
And then, Italy. “Right after road and track nationals, a couple of weeks apart, these girls are going to be at the top of their game. We’re going to fly across the pond, land in Italy where they’re at the top of their game. And we want to throw it down and we want to see, can we compete at that level? Can we be those champions? Can we show our governing body and everybody else out there that we got some girls with some talent?”
Tanner is working with Davide Cerutti to enable the trip to Europe next summer. “Davide has teamed us up with a junior women’s team in Italy so we’re creating this international bridge from the United States to Italy. What we hope to get out of it is giving these girls something to shoot for, something to aspire to, a chance and an opportunity to feel like wow, I’m getting an opportunity, I have somewhere to go.”
Tanner is already looking at the future. “Next year, two move up, two stay and I’m going to be adding four girls that’s going to make it the super 8 for cross. Double it and I’m going to bring over eight girls.”
He really wants to start a trend. “I’m hoping to extend it outside of our team to other girls who have accomplished the goal that they’ve set out for themselves and invite them to want to take part in this. So it’s bigger than just us, it’s really a movement for junior cycling and women to give them the same opportunity that’s not offered to them as the boys are.”
van Ekdom does believe that the gap can be closed. “I think it is going to happen. I think we’re going to start and other girls are going to get sort of angry too. We love USA Cycling, USA Cycling has done so much for us but now we’re asking for more.”
Will all the girls make it to the pro level? Well, statistics say no. Let’s not forget that a majority of the junior 15-16 boys don’t make it either. But don’t they deserve the same opportunity to find out? That being said I wouldn’t bet against the Super 4.