In northern Italy, the number of women racing and riding mountain bikes is climbing steadily. Women are putting on skills-clinics, creating women’s specific companies and product lines, filling executive roles throughout the cycling industry, and building networks to support other women within the vast shred-o-sphere.
Raptors Bike is a mountain bike team based in Italy that includes some of the most talented female riders on the peninsula. With tracks traversing almost every open hillside, and at least one mountain bike event scheduled every weekend from early March to late September, northern Italy provides seemingly endless opportunities for a good dirt party.
Here are some of the lady Raptors’ personal stories about how, why, and where they enjoy the Italian gravity buffet. Note, the quotes below were translated into English from a written survey, and represent the rider’s words as accurately as possible.
Elena Petrò // Shreds – Specialized Demo Carbon // @e_pe
Elena came to mountain biking through downhill riding, and chose to stay there, getting her start on big-bikes in 2012. Initially motivated by her partner’s passion for the sport, Elena is now happily surrounded by a team of talented gravity racers. It’s a smaller posse of folks on the DH-only train, but a handful of the Raptor enduro riders also take part in regional downhill events.
Elena’s love of DH racing is rather poetic, “Yes, I do DH races, basically to push my limit more and more. It’s a race with oneself, with breath and legs, and above all with the head.” Brilliantly stated! When asked what she loves most about mountain biking, Elena replied, “when I am on my bike I feel like I am in my own place”. This sense of belonging and comfort in mountain biking was a resounding theme throughout all of the ladies’ stories, and several of them mentioned their desire to share it with other women.
When not hucking huge jumps at full gas, or diligently studying for law school exams, you will find Elena and her new carbon Specialized Demo exploring Italy’s park tracks with close friends.
Pedal or shuttle? Shuttle!
Dani Ternelli (Lady Fox) // Shreds – Saracin Ariel//@daniternelli
Each of the Raptors supports fellow female shredders through their own unique efforts, and Dani Ternelli is a great example of that. In 2015, Dani created a social media community tagged Bik(H)er to showcase women’s racing and riding throughout Italy. The aim of the community is to share the enthusiasm and fun women are bringing to the dirt, and entice other women to give the sport a try. With over 3,000 followers on their Facebook page, they are certainly getting some attention. Dani organizes rides through the BikHer page that have had a solid turnout of new and seasoned female athletes.
In addition to managing the social media community, Dani races a lengthy season of local enduro events and works full time as an interior architect. She is well supported as a brand ambassador for Saracen bikes, Fox suspension, Madison clothing, and several other notable companies. Dani began mountain biking seven years ago and is now excited to share.
“I compete in enduro, and I have participated in national and international competitions. I like to test myself in endurance races of several days, like the Trans Savoie in 2016 or enduro2 in Les Arcs and Davos! The competition adds the adrenaline that pushes [me] to try to always exceed [my] limit!” Finding the edges of possible is something all of these women mentioned as a mountain bike motivator in one way or another.
Ever the busy human, Dani is also part of a group of global suspension testers for Fox called the Lab Rats, and regularly rides with a custom tune that Fox is testing to find the best balance for lightweight riders.
Pedal or shuttle? “All! But above all, travel to new places with the bike!”
Valentina Marsaglia // Shreds – Canyon Strive // @valentinamarsaglia
Every squad needs a baller, and Valentina is she! After charging for the hoop for the past 19 years Valentina traded in her basketball shoes for a mountain bike, and she maintains high levels of athleticism and fun in tandem.
The 2018 season will be Valentina’s first year of racing, and she is stoked to see new places and make friends along the way. All of the Raptors riders shared their favorite bike component, and several responses echoed Valentina’s. “The telescopic seat post? In the enduro it is an incredible comfort! If not that then the Garmin, which has saved us on so many trips”! Like many riders of her tall stature, Valentina benefits from being as low as possible on the bike. On non-race weekends she is often exploring her favorite trails around Cuneo or following a GPS track to find new treasures, with as many friends as possible.
Away from the pedals, Valentina runs a marketing firm full-time and is a dedicated parent to her equally athletic son. Her firm focuses on digital communication, through social media marketing and web page optimization.
Pedal or Shuttle? “Certainly pedaling. I like the satisfaction I feel when I reach the top with my legs. Also in our trips, especially in summer, we often include portions of portage, for which we reach places that we could never reach with the shuttle. The shuttle for our group is more an occasion to celebrate special events like birthdays The rule is that the party that organizes the shuttle also buys the beer for all of the guests!”
Bruna Benedusi // Shreds – Saracen Ariel // @_mywalden
The Raptors’ co-captain, and resident badass, Bruna Benedusi has raced nearly every genre on the mountain bike spectrum. At age 7, when many of her friends were just learning to ride a bike, she took up XC racing. Originally she rode with a large local team run by her mom, Daniela. Bruna recalls that “cross-country racing was very different back then. We just raced around in big fields on our bikes. Now it seems XC tracks are becoming more technical, more interesting, and with a lot more climbing.”
Today, fourteen years after that first race, Bruna is honing her technical descending skills on DH and Enduro tracks. With numerous top-step photos in her album, she is handily one of the fastest enduro athletes in Italy.
When Bruna and Daniella decided to start a new team focused on gravity riding, they wanted the mascot to represent the fierce and nimble characteristics of mountain bike racing. They were both reading and watching the Jurassic Park story at the time, and Raptors seemed like a perfect fit.
Their explicit goal from the beginning was to support women in the sport and to have as many women join the team as possible. The women’s side of the team grows annually, with a current roster of seven strong ladies. Their hope is to continue a high level of support within the current group while adding select sponsors and new riders each year.
Though training and team logistics take up a good portion of her days, Bruna also manages a full-time job at a plastics manufacturing plant. One product of note that she had a hand in designing is the ever popular Madflap mudguard. With a wide variety of colors to choose from and endless custom graphics options, Madflap has quickly become the go-to mudguard for local shredders. The laser cut guards can be custom shaped for specific frame needs, for both front and rear applications.
Pedal or shuttle? Both!
Giulia Bombardieri // Shreds – Scott Genius// @giuliabombardieri87
“The idea of spending Sunday in the middle of nature, doing something fun and stimulating rather than lounging on the sofa” is Giulia’s stated stoke for getting on her mountain bike. She is also motivated by the opportunity to venture into different regions of Italy that she has not yet explored, and the massive number of friends she continues to make through the sport. It’s no surprise that many of her teammates mentioned their excitement for the growing community they have found on the trail.
Specifically, regarding racing motivations, Giulia exclaimed, “YES, especially in DH but also some enduro. I love competitions, I’ve been skiing since I was 3 years old and the challenge, first of all with myself, is something that makes me feel alive. The adrenaline, the anxiety of departure, the concentration during the descent, but also the falls, spur me to continue to go beyond my limits and improve more and more.” Her ability to find positivity in crashing, as well as start gate adrenaline, speaks to her devotion to her sport.
Guilia enjoys nearly every type of trail with an infectious positivity, but the political climate for mountain bikers near her hometown of Bergamo is problematic. “In Bergamo, we are surrounded by endless mountains but 80% of the trails have been closed because they are only used by people walking.” Maybe the future lawyer on her team can help improve regulations and trail access for everyone.
Shuttle or pedal? “My coach would like me to say that I pedal, hahaha! I like the descent, I love the DH, then shuttle all my life! (although at the end I almost always end up pedaling)”
Virginia Buffa // Shreds – MDE Damper // @rideraddict
With an extensive background in horseback riding throughout her youth, Virginia found comfort in the balance and challenges her mountain bike provides. Though not currently racing, she rides often with members of the Raptors squad and attends races to photo document the season. Her favorite place to ride is the famous Mottolino Bike Park. “The air of Livigno is magical, after the first day you can open the gas and you feel at home. You can refine your riding style in every situation.”
Virginia contributes to our sport in an important way, devoting a majority of her free time to her popular mountain bike blog, Rideraddict.com. In addition to creating unique news articles, product reviews, and releases, she follows the Raptors seasonal results and adventures, detailing the many beautiful places to vacation-shred all around Italy. This work gives her a reason to stay connected with friends, to put her artful photographic skills to use, and to travel to new places with her bike.
Asked what she likes most about mountain biking, Virginia connected all the cultural dots. “What I love about MTB is the environment. On the weekend I meet up with like-minded people, simple, kind, and dirty with mud. When they remove the helmet you discover many different [people] such as architects, bankers, interior designers, programmers. People who are calm and precise in cycling can express it in full their personality!” Virginia is the thoughtful kind of shred partner we all want to ride with!
Shuttle or pedal? “It depends on the situation. If I want to improve on a trail without losing too much energy I choose the shuttle, while if I want to have the feeling of leaving all the problems behind and see the city becoming smaller, absolutely pedaling.”
Megan Chinburg // Shreds – Yeti Beti (SB5c) // @mchinburg
The resident Americana on the squad, Megan Chinburg recently made the move to northern Italy from Portland, Oregon. Megan likely has the broadest spectrum of cycling experience in the Raptors lineup. “I have tried quite a few [race genres]. I started with short track mountain bike, that rolled quickly into cyclocross, followed by road racing, a couple years on the track, then onto cross-country mountain biking, and finally enduro.” Megan seems set on sticking with enduro for the foreseeable future, as it fits well with her need for consistent challenge and self-improvement. Compared to her former XC calendar, enduro also requires fewer training hours, which fits better with her 50+hr work weeks, as the lead of a large software engineering team.
When asked to pick a bike component that she finds most important Megan replied, “Only one!? There is so much technology that has drastically enhanced the trail experience over the years: slacker geometry, wider wheels, tubeless tires, suspension, dropper posts… But if I really only had to only pick one, I think I would choose disc brakes. It is the single piece of technology that has most drastically changed the way I ride.”
Megan described her reason for racing in a clear and thorough manner. “I often ride my best when I’m under pressure and feeling the heat of competition. I push myself harder, take more risks and see my skills grow with every race.” Her interest in constantly improving and focusing on what is possible was echoed throughout the team. Directly challenging one another to take chances and learn are some of the ways these ladies support one another in their quest to become better riders.
Shuddle or pedal? “Pedal!”
All together now
The Raptors provide strong examples and inspiration for other women to join enduro and downhill mountain biking, by pouring their time and energy into positive representation and inclusion. Women’s race payouts are often smaller than men’s, and sexist marketing is still paying far too many bills, but the shift toward greater involvement and support of women in the sport is happening, thanks in part to rad athletes like the Raptors!
While there are loads of dirt-loving ladies who could be included in this article, these women represent the energy and trajectory of women’s mountain bike culture in Italy.
Catch the Raptors at the Super Enduro, Italian National DH Series, EWS, and numerous other gravity events in 2018, and follow the team here.