While most of us mere mortals were busy trying to shut out screaming quads and lamenting not spending more time in the saddle in the lead-up to the 50km Otway Odyssey last month, a powerhouse mother-daughter duo were carrying out a quiet assassination of the weekend warrior field.
The fact that 15-year-old Ruby Taylor and her mother Liz would be the 2nd and 5th women (respectively) to cross the line would probably come as no real surprise to anyone who knows their racing pedigree. Liz Taylor (nee Tadich) cemented her place in cycling’s hall of fame when she became the first ever Australian (male or female) to make it onto the podium of the World Road Cycling Championships – finishing just one centimetre behind the winner in San Sebastian in 1997. Liz went on to represent Australia in the 1998 Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur and again in Manchester in 2002.
With such a strong background in road racing, it wasn’t too much of a leap for Liz to make the transition to mountain bike racing. While she says she had “dabbled” in mountain biking for years, it was only when Ruby stepped up her interest in the sport during Covid that Liz decided to take it up a notch too.
Liz was obviously happy to indulge Ruby’s newfound passion, with the pair regularly hitting their local Hans Loop together during the lockdowns and alternating Queen of the Mountain status on Strava. “I’d go out and set a new record and then she’d go out and set another new record,” laughs Liz. “At the moment I still hold it but that’s through Ruby not riding it this year, I think! I’m a little bit worried for when she goes out and has a proper go at it again!”
When asked who they thought would cross the line first in the Otway Odyssey, Ruby is resolute: “Oh definitely me!” Liz reluctantly concedes, but adds that it’s really only been this year that Ruby has been able to beat her. “Fitness-wise it’s been this year,” says Liz. “She’s had a real progression physically this year, she’s a lot stronger and fitter. Maybe on the gravel, I’d still take her on. Distance is not always her friend, but she’s definitely got power, lots of power.”
And if Ruby’s recent race form is anything to go by, she’s certainly worked out how to channel that power. Not only was she the second female overall and first U18 in the Odyssey 50km, but she backed it up with first overall female the next day in the 49km gravel grind. This was hot on the heels of a blistering season in the Victorian Championship Series (XCO), where she dominated the podium and ultimately took out the State Title – a feat she then followed up with an impressive second place in the National XC Championships at Thredbo two weeks ahead of the Odyssey.
Her results in this year’s Odyssey also point to a solid upward trajectory in power and stamina. Despite dropping her chain several times throughout the race, Ruby’s 2023 Odyssey effort was a full half-hour shorter than her first attempt in 2022, where she placed 6th female overall and first female in the U18s.
Quizzed on whether things get a bit competitive between this mother and daughter, Ruby replies: “Absolutely!” To which Liz laughs, “More so from Ruby’s head! … It is a bit of fun though, definitely!”
Where is your favourite place to ride?
Ruby: I really, really, really love riding in Mt Beauty. I find them the best tracks to ride in Victoria, especially because once you think you’ve done it all, you definitely haven’t. There’s a labyrinth of tracks. They’re all really technical but really fun if you like that kind of stuff. It’s not flowy but that’s not really what I enjoy riding.
Liz: I prefer the flowy, so not Mt Beauty! I don’t mind Mt Beauty, but I prefer Falls Creek. I also like Buxton, and Forrest.
Do you like to hit the gap jumps?
Liz: We see little videos of the Dirt Devils doing jumps and things like that and we go ‘Gee we need to go out with the little kids to learn how to do these jumps!’ That’s still daunting to me.
Ruby: Not really, not huge ones! Considering the injuries I’ve had riding my bike in the past I don’t really want to do that more than I have to!
What does a typical week of riding look like for you?
Ruby: I ride to and from school (11km each way), a couple of Zwift sessions a week, crits on Wednesday nights, and some longer rides on the weekend, about 80-100km – nothing super structured. A lot of the time on the weekends it’s a gravel ride with Mum and Dad (James) around Eltham way and Mt Pleasant where the gravel tracks are. If not, it might be riding to Hans Loop and around Warrandyte State Park, which is about 30km, and then I might add a little bit more on.
Liz: I ride to work (20km each way) and I try to get a longer ride in on one day of the weekend and a shorter ride the other day. I’m currently doing between 200 and 300km a week but I probably need to try to keep it closer to the 300km mark [in preparation for the Swiss Epic, a 5-day stage race in August in Switzerland]. I should really talk in hours though, not kilometres. If you’re on a mountain bike, 50km is like 80km on a road bike. I’ve got a group of girlfriends who like to go out on a gravel ride. It’s always hard kilometres – everywhere around here is up!
How do you overcome challenges on the bike?
Liz: I was gunning for a spot on the Olympic team in 2000, and got hit by a car just before selection. I broke my collarbone and really hurt my back and it really mentally hit me because it’s only every four years and women’s cycling at that point was all about the Olympics. I’d already just narrowly missed out on 1996 – but my family and friends helped me change focus, not just having cycling in my life. I had study and tried to come up with alternate goals to plan for. In this case it was Worlds at the end of the year. It’s not always easy. That’s a big part of cycling in general, particularly mountain biking where so many things are out of your control – mechanicals, chains breaking, punctures, crashes. It’s a huge part of the sport being able to refocus, not only after big crashes but within a race, because so many things can happen in mountain biking. It’s about being able to pick yourself up and not focusing on ‘I stuffed that up’, or ‘I’ve lost time, what am I going to do?’. It’s more ‘I took that corner well’, ‘I’m getting my rhythm again’ – trying to make your brain think about the positives so you just don’t lose it completely.
Ruby: A couple of years ago I had a big stack on Hans Loop. I hurt my hips and couldn’t really walk for about six weeks. That was a huge setback, and at the end of last season I broke an arm and a finger racing at Falls Creek. For me, the injuries don’t really feel like big injuries when they happen, it’s more when you can’t do what you want to do because of them that it’s really annoying. After breaking my arm, I didn’t notice a mental difference in how I rode until I came to the same track where I crashed and fell. I just couldn’t ride it. I had a huge mental block there but riding it a couple of times and working through the features you struggle with with a trusted coach or someone really helps.
How do you find the courage to tackle a new feature or something that takes you out of your comfort zone?
Ruby: My general idea is the more you look at a feature, the worse it's going to get, so I kind of just close my eyes and hope for the best! If you take something with enough speed, it’ll probably be fine!
Liz: Mine would be to follow someone through it. That’s why racing is good because you’re almost in a flow and you think ‘that wasn’t so bad’. But first you have to have the basic skills under your belt with positioning and things like that.
Ruby: I think a lot of it is just commitment, I think you can ride a lot of features with bad skills!
Liz: (Laughs) Oh I don’t know about that!
What advice would you give to someone who is thinking about giving racing a go but might be a bit scared?
Liz: I’m a good example of that. This year I decided to race the Vic Champs, which for me was a little bit intimidating because I’m always scared it’s going to be too technical. I’m not too worried about the Odyssey because they don’t usually put in stuff that’s too gnarly. The Vic Champs series was all fine really. There were some sections that I walked but even our 11 year-old (Jimmy) could ride around the courses comfortably. I would say generally just give it a go – it's never as bad as you think it’s going to be!
Ruby: Rohan, the organiser [of the Vic Champs series], makes really good courses that are suitable for everyone. There’s usually A and B lines around everything and the community is so incredible.
Why do you like racing?
Ruby: You get a really good feel for how the high-level people ride and where you should be at if you want to confidently ride at a high level. You also get to really improve your fitness through the high intensity and having the fun of being on the podium and winning chocolate, which is pretty good [double thumbs up]!
Liz: I’m coming from a different perspective from Ruby. I’m not looking for a pathway to elite racing. I get a sense of achievement just from getting through a course, nailing a line, and technically getting a bit better. Racing always pushes you to try a bit harder or try features that you wouldn't normally have tried.
Do you have any pre-race rituals?
Ruby: I kind of just wake up, get nervous, try not to be nervous, have a gel 15 minutes beforehand and then race. Oh, and I warm up too. For an XCO race I do 20 minutes including some high cadence efforts, sprints, making sure you get the legs going and the heart rate up so you don’t blow yourself up on the line.
Liz: I don’t have any real pre-race routines. Generally I’m trying to juggle children at the same time. The main focus is trying to get some kind of warm up in, just because it’s so intense at the start, trying to get to the singletrack first. If it’s a big event there’d be a whole lot of routine before it, as far as training hard into it and backing off a few weeks out, and having a structured recovery program – but I don’t have any lucky socks or anything like that!
How do you deal with pre-race nerves?
Liz: (Laughs) Don’t ask Ruby, she needs some tips in that area!
Ruby: I’m really, really bad. I either don’t get them at all or I get overwhelmingly nervous and I just cannot function. But yeah, don’t ask me, I’m really bad at it!
Liz: My advice would be just focus on the process. Have some music playing, try not to overthink what’s coming ahead and what could happen. So it’s more just ‘What do I need to do to get ready?, ‘Have I got my food?’, pinning your number on, just trying to focus on the process, not the results.
How do you manage your nutrition before and during a race?
Ruby: It depends on the race, but if it’s a long one, I need to eat every half an hour. Any longer than that and I know I’m gonna go hunger flat, and I make sure I’m drinking really regularly, regardless of the distance. If it’s a lap race, like XCO, I drink most of a bottle beforehand and then carry maybe three quarters of a bottle with me around the course. You don’t really want to be carrying a full bottle if you have someone to give you a bottle pass because then it’s just extra weight. And then making sure I’m eating carbs before, but Mum’s probably a better one to ask about that than me. I usually like water while I’m racing and electrolytes beforehand.
Liz: It really depends. XCO is very different to the Odyssey. With the Odyssey you’re out there for a while, you probably want to have a bit of carbo-loading the day before and a good breakfast a few hours before but for Olympic distances they’re so short and intense you don’t want to have much breakfast. You do want to have that gel, you want simple foods and carry your gels. If it’s hot, I always have some sort of diluted electrolyte drink. In the Odyssey, nutrition is very important. For the Swiss Epic I’m going to get a proper Camelbak. I find it really hard to drink when it’s ‘twisty-turny’ the whole time, it just seems like there’s no occasion to drink and it’s easier to drink out of a Camelbak. It’s really important in the longer ones to keep the hydration and nutrition up. I hate cleaning out electrolyte from my Camelbak, so I take water in that and a bit of electrolyte in a bottle, and then I’d have Cliff blocks and also gels.
What are you grateful for, in relation to your riding?
Ruby: I love having the feeling of being really fit and just being able to go out and have time for myself and think about what's been happening recently and just chill – and send as hard as I can down descents and get that adrenaline rush!
Liz: I’ve learnt that I’m a much happier person if I exercise, and cycling is my happy exercise. I really enjoy mountain biking because it forces you to stop thinking about other things. You really have to focus on your lines and what you’re doing and get into the zone – it’s like a meditative state. It’s what keeps me mentally healthy. It’s very good for stress relief.
What events do you have coming up?
Liz: The Swiss Epic, and I’m planning to do a number of the Shifty 50 series. We also hope to do the National Marathon Champs in Wagga Wagga, and then Ruby’s probably going to have a dabble in the junior road series. She moves into U19 next year and in the pathways program they like to see you do a bit of road to be flexible in your disciplines.
Ruby: The National rounds in Bendigo are coming soon.
What’s on your mountain biking bucket list?
Liz: The Swiss Epic definitely. We’ve watched reels of it before and it always looks amazing, so hopefully it lives up to the dream! I’d like to go and do Cascades. We’ll have to get to Tassie one day too!
Ruby: For me, definitely racing any kind of gravity race, I really want to do that. And maybe winning the National Title…
We’ll be watching Ruby’s progress with keen interest and waving the 3113 flag from the sidelines. With the backing of her new sponsorship team, Flanders Racing, and her biggest supporters (Mum and Dad) behind her, it seems that nothing is out of reach for this rising star. And if you’re out on Hans Loop or the Warrandyte State Park, keep an eye out for Ruby and Liz. Just don’t blink, or you might miss them! 😜
Otway Odyssey 2023 - 5th female overall, 3rd in category (Veteran)
2002 - Represented Australia at Commonwealth Games in Manchester
1998 - Represented Australia at Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur
1997 - Second in the World Road Cycling Championships, Spain
1995 - Won the Australian National Road Race Title
Otway Odyssey 2023 - 2nd female overall, 1st Junior (U18); first female overall in 49km gravel grind
February 2023 - Second U17 in the National XC Championships - Thredbo
January 2023 - XCO State Title - Victorian Championship Series - Ballarat
Otway Odyssey 2022 - Won Junior U18 female and 6th female overall