Cecile Ravanel is the reigning queen of enduro racing. In the last two years she has won 14 of the 16 EWS races she has entered. Dominant barely does her justice. Yet coming into the 2018 season, in her own inimitable style, she discretely announced that she may not contest the whole season. As she prepared to head south to Chile for the opening rounds of the series, we caught up with her to find out more about her decision, how she came to be racing enduro and what she thinks of the the current direction of women's enduro racing.
I think most of our readers won't really know much about your career before the EWS, where and what did you start racing and how did you find yourself racing enduro?
Before enduro, it was another life for me… I raced XCO for 13 years with the French National Team. My best result in Elite World Cups and World Champs was 7th. Then I got tired of going around 5km circles for an hour and a half. Our team partners, Seb Raymond and Guillaume Koch, wanted to continue working with us, so we decided to focus on enduro instead (thank you guys!).
You're one of the few riders who has barely missed a round of the EWS since 2013, how has the sport evolved in that time and what have you had to do to keep yourself at the front?
The first year of the EWS, I discovered a new sport, a new type of riding… At the same time, enduro started to become more professional, the rules changed, the bikes as well. At every single race, I learned something new. In fact, I always give it all I can when I'm racing, I race like it is the last one, because you never know what could happen tomorrow. Even after all these years, I still really like to progress, maybe not really the physical side anymore, because I trained so much when I was racing XCO hahaha, but I mean technically. Riding my bike really makes me happy.
Can you explain your decision to maybe miss some rounds this year? You've been so dominant for the last two years, do you feel the need for a new challenge?
I know that I‘m in my last few years as a professional athlete and I feel I like there are still some competitions and races that I want to have a go at, and I won't be able to do them later. I said I didn't want to race all the EWS rounds this year because I wanted to be honest with my partners and I wanted to let them know I would like to race the first DH World Cup of this year. After that, I don't know what I'm going to do... I'll decide in April!
At World Cup DH level, do you have an idea of what level you think you could realistically reach?
I have no idea! I don't even know if I'll get down in one piece after the first run of practice, hahaha.
Do you ever feel that you're still racing in the shadow of Tracy and Anne-Caro to some extent? They were so dominant, and even though you are the only woman to take a win from them during those first three years, it is hard to talk about your career out of context of those two?
Hahaha, no, not really and the thing is that I really liked being in that position, I had less stress! You know, it's better to chase rather than be chased! I really want to thank Tracy and ACC for these beautiful years, they really helped me to progress in this sport and sometimes I miss having those two racing with me.
Do you think there is a problem for women to get support to compete at the EWS? Looking at the women's field, there are a lot of women who were in the top 10 who have stepped aside since 2013, Tracy, Anne-Caro, Pauline, Kellie, Rosara, etc and there don't seem to be enough new women coming through to fill those gaps.
The main thing is that our sport is very difficult, in both the physical and technical aspects. Every single race is an adventure. We always have to push harder, commit more and this is what I like (except when you have more than 2 hours for a liaison, haha). I think the EWS series puts a lot of value in women's categories - we have very good coverage in their press releases and in the media too. We have the same prize money as the guys, which is still not done in some other sports. Maybe the problem comes from the team managers or big sponsors which don't want to invest in women?! I don't know, but there are some new good riders like Noga and Camille and I'm sure we'll see more in the future.
There are accusations of a talent gap in the EWS women's field and the numbers would seem to support that interpretation - looking at some of the riders behind you, many still have the same size time gap to you in 2017 as they did in 2013, but with fewer riders in front of them they are getting a better result than they would have then. Do you think that's a fair assessment? And if you do, what can the series do to improve that situation?
Maybe they could open a new category, like U18 with one or two fewer stages to do? They could do that for the national races or continental races and it would make our sport more accessible to young people. What I'm sure of is that I really want that the races stay “difficult” with the same stages as the men. We have to do the same circuit. EWS is an international circuit, it's the hardest race of this discipline and this shouldn't be forgotten! Even if the EWS atmosphere is more relaxed than some other disciplines and looks sometimes less serious because we chat and joke during the liaisons, we can't forget it’s an “Elite” circuit. EWS should be a challenge for amateurs when they want to try one.
How would you like to see the EWS evolve in the future?
I think the EWS series need to professionalize their regulations even more so we have consistent rules, they shouldn't change over the course of the season or from race-to-race. They need to set up an anti-doping control at every round for at least the top three. We should show the right values of the sport for the future generations.
More rounds is something that people often talk about, is the flipside to that, that the cost of competing in a full season would be even higher, which will make it even harder for emerging riders to get a break?
I don't see any interest in having more rounds. When you compare EWS to the XCO or DH circuit, we are totally on the same program. In enduro, we're pretty lucky because, over the last few years, we saw some beautiful races emerging, like Andes Pacifico, NZ Enduro, Transmadeira, so if you want to add some to your calendar, you just have to pick up one!