This Former Judo Black Belt Now Races EWS: The Julie Duvert Interview

Young French mountain bike racers are known for their throttle, and Julie Duvert is no exception.

Young French mountain bike racers are known for their throttle, and Julie Duvert is no exception. Where she stands out is the fact that she didn’t start riding and racing as a kid as many French mountain bikers do, and instead hopped in her first French Enduro Cup event in 2014. Then, in 2016 she raced three Enduro World Series rounds in the Under-21 category and took first, second, and third at those events. Over the past four seasons, she has been racing EWS in the pro women’s category with a variety of sponsors, landing firmly on Theory Global Enduro Team in 2020 where she’ll stay for the coming season.

Duvert has a wealth of experiences and knowledge to share, and we got a chance to ask her to share some of it recently. Check out her story, learn a little about her beloved Santa Cruz Megatower, and find out which skills she sharpens to corner faster and brake later.

Where and when did you start riding mountain bikes? 

I started riding MTB around where I live in the South of France at 16 years old. In France, each community has its own “club” where you can join other riders of your age and skill level once per week. I joined the club in Blausasc and that was the start.

You moved up to the elite category recently. What are some of the things that change when you switch from U21 to elite? 

Moving from U21 to Elite, the level change was a huge shock. Elite is way more competitive and there are many more girls. It was pretty intimidating at first to race against the best riders in the world. 

Photo: Julie Duvert

You had some impressive results last season, despite the pandemic. What changed to make that happen? 

A lot changed for me after the 2019 season. I changed my bike brand, wheel size, training routine, EWS team, and training buddy. Changing bikes was a big shift for me, I moved from the Ibis team to a Santa Cruz sponsored team and I starting riding the Megatower, which is a 29er 170F/160R enduro race bike. I was on a small 27.5 bike before and I was pretty skeptical about moving to a much bigger bike as I am pretty petite. This change ended up helping me and my speed tons, I had a solid platform to grow from and I think the 29″ wheels help me a lot with speed.

This was also the first season that I started riding and training with my boyfriend, EWS rider Nic Bean. I think this helped me gain speed and confidence to follow him and see other lines and speeds. With Nic and my coach, Melvin Pons, we built a really good plan and practice for my training season which focused more on MTB skills and fitness. It was key for me to practice specific technical parts of riding and helped me improve overall. 

Who is riding with the Theory Racing team? How did that team get started? 

I love it. The Theory team was started for the 2020 season and it was basically a group of friends that already traveled and raced together, then just made it official and got sponsorship together. Nic manages the program and when I didn’t have a team in 2020 he took me as the female rider. So Brady Stone, Daniel Self, Nic, and I were the riders in 2020. It’s an awesome atmosphere, there is no stress on performance or results because we put enough pressure on ourselves already! I like how we are not being a “traditional” team and keep things casual. And they can help correct my English if I get something wrong. Hah!

Duvert on the final stage of the 2020 Pietra Ligure EWS event.

What race goals do you have for 2021? Is there a person to beat in most races? 

I really want to be more consistently in/close to the top five. Last season my results got better and I want to keep improving on that. I never have a specific person that I want to beat but more a general goal. 

What’s unique about the setup on your Megatower? Do you have cool setup tricks or tips to share? 

I think my setup is pretty normal, but I have to do some specific things because I am small on a small bike with big wheels. Running a 150mm dropper is tight for the frame/saddle/tire clearance, so I needed to get the shortest 150mm dropper possible. If I move my saddle any lower it zips the wheel when I ride, so luckily it’s just my size. I am pretty light so my tire pressures are low, but it feels good to me. I love having a grippy tire up front and in the back. Some riders go for less grip in the rear for speed but I don’t like the feeling. I have 740mm bars, a 40mm stem, and I run my brake bite pretty close to the bar. I chose the Crankbrothers Mallet DH pedals over the enduros because I really like the most control and security on my feet. I run short 165mm cranks. I usually run a small Cush Core in the rear. Lastly, I only ride with aluminum bars because I find that carbon bars cut down to my size are too stiff. My wrists have problems if I don’t. 

Which element of the bike are you most particular about?

I think I am the most particular about my suspension settings. I need them to be right or it is hard to ride well. For me, everything is important, even the color! I can’t choose something to neglect, it all affects me on the bike.

We noticed some new Pirelli tires in a photo you posted recently. Can you share any news about those? Can you at least say if you will be racing the prototypes for the coming season? 

Good eye! You must be watching, haha. Pirelli is a new sponsor of the team for 2021 and we are a part of the prototype development. I can’t share too much but I can say that we are really happy with how things are shaping up. Keep watching!

How do you prefer your suspension setup? Can you share your shock and fork settings for curious readers?  

I like to run a bigger 170mm fork compared to the 160mm rear. I run my fork a little firmer than the shock. It’s good to have the extra support. I like to have the DH shocks because they have the most performance. I started running a 38 fork and was worried that it would be too much for me, but I actually love it. I think it is more stable.

Photo: Julie Duvert

Do you train exclusively on the Megatower?

I use both my Megatower and my road bike. My coach gives me road riding in the training season for endurance and intervals. But otherwise, it’s my Megatower. I am also in the gym often.

In racing and training, how do you think about breaking into and/or through a turn? 

I try to brake early and set up outside whenever possible. That helps me carry speed out of the corner. I’m always trying to look through the corner to help finish well.

Does it help to skid in some cases (racing or normal riding)? If so, when and where do you like to break the rear tire loose? 

I like to skid around some flat/loose corners to help rotate the bike. Sometimes with my foot off. Other times, I use the back brake to make small adjustments and help the back wheel come around in some corners. Being French, I like to nose-turn and use the front brake to pivot the back of the bike around too.

How do prepare for a race with only one look at the tracks? 

I take GoPro videos of every run and I make notes on my phone to help remind me of sections on each stage. I want to try some new techniques to remember like making a voice memo of my impressions right after each practice run. I download the GoPros onto my phone so when I have extra time before each stage, I watch them. I have to study a lot or I am not prepared. It’s hard to stay focused and remember all of the different parts of a long day.

What percentage of weight do you put on your hands? How do you think about weighting the tires to maintain grip? 

This is a hard question because it changes a lot based on the terrain. I think I am neutral generally, but others tell me that I ride pretty far forward. I know that the more weight I put on one part, the more grip I will have, so it changes based on the section.

Do you use skills like jumping and manuals in races? 

Yes, of course, there are usually jumps in the stages and for some sections, it helps to manual to hold speed. These aren’t my best skills but I am always working to improve them because they help a lot at the races.

What are your favorite local training trails, and who do you like to ride them with?

I love to ride in Berre-Les-Alpes (my hometown) and nearby in Turini/Moulinet. It’s really fun to ride with Nic and my small group of friends.

What’s unique about riding or racing in France?

The trails are pretty difficult here. Mostly everything started as a hiker trail so there are a lot of awkward situations and corners. The terrain changes a lot from village to village so it’s nice to change the scenery by just traveling in the area.

Pushing hard for a top ten at the 2020 Finale Ligure race.

If you could live anywhere, just for the trails, where would it be? 

This is a hard one for me because the weather is a big factor. Some of the nicest places to ride get really snowy in the winter. For me, I couldn’t live in a place that snowed all winter because I like to ride all year. But I will say that one of my favorite places in the world is the Haute Savoie (Alps on the French/Swiss border). A place like Morzine is like Disneyland because there are so many nice bike parks that are all really close together.

What is your favorite French food? 

My favorite French food is a specialty from Nice called Socca. It’s like the base of a pizza, just made with olive oil and chickpea flour then finished with salt and pepper. You cook it in a pizza oven, and it comes out like thick chips. It’s so good! I recommend that everyone try authentic Socca!

What’s something that most people in the racing community don’t know about you?  

I actually started riding later than some people, and before that, I practiced Judo at the National level. I did Judo for 12 years and have a black belt. Most riders don’t know that!