Monday, February 3, 2014

Is Jared Graves The New John Tomac?

Jared Graves has been touted as “perhaps the most versatile and dedicated mountain biker of our time” (Flow MTB) and it’s hard to argue with that. As well as winning multiple 4X World Cups and the 2009 4X World Champs, Graves also has a BMX World Cup podium, 6th place in BMX at the 2008 Olympics, a 3rd place at the 2013 World Champs in Downhill, 2nd place in the Enduro World Series and a recent win at the first round of the Australian Mountain Bike Series in the discipline of Cross Country. But how does he compare to John Tomac – another versatile all-rounder, albeit from a different time?

There are certain parallels between the two that immediately come to mind. Both have achieved success in BMX as well as both Cross Country and Downhill mountain biking. While Graves has managed an Olympic berth, unfortunately for Tomac, sports like BMX and Mountain Biking weren’t part of the Olympic program back when he was competing at the elite level. Olympics sports have changed over the years and even included the Tug of War up until 1920.

If Tomac had been born a few decades earlier, one wonders whether he might have managed an Olympic berth in Tug of War.

While Tomac also spent time racing in professional road teams, Graves has not yet made that leap. Despite this, Cycling Australia recently Tweeted (mistakenly) that he was “racing up the track ranks ahead of #tracknats” – however this rumour was quickly put to rest by Graves when he alerted CA that this story actually referred to his brother, Nathan.

On a side note, always be careful with your #hashtags. While #tracknats refers to the Australian Track Cycling National Championships, this should not be confused with #trackgnats, an obscure form of insect racing that is popular amongst illegal bookmakers.
Both popular sports with bookmakers, #tracknats and #trackgnats can be easily confused.

And while Cycling Australia should probably know better, it’s certainly not the first time that a cycling body has had to deal with confusing name issues. Australian mountain biking has been struggling with the dilemma of how to handle two Shaun Lewis’ for quite some time…

…while in the USA, mountain biker Juli Furtado is often confused with Canadian singer-songwriter Nelly Furtado. In fact, Furtado and Tomac both had cameo parts in Ned Overend’s famous video Performance Mountain Biking while Tomac also appeared in the first ever mountain bike instructional video, cleverly titled The Great Mountain Biking Video, back in the late 80s. 
It’s even possible that John Tomac’s video performance was an influence on Graves as a young child and it was this that led to the numerous parallels in their respective careers.

They are both riders who are not afraid to use unusual equipment with Graves riding to 3rd place at last year’s UCI Downhill Mountain Bike World Championships aboard a Yeti SB66 – a bike usually associated with trail riding or Enduro racing rather than Downhill.
Graves with his Enduro bike (left) and his typical Downhill bike (right).

But in this regard, Graves certainly has a long way to go before he can compete with Tomac. Back in the late 80s and early 90s Tomac pioneered equipment on both the XC and DH mountain bike scene that included aerodynamic wheel covers, road-style drop handlebars, massive chainrings and skinsuits.
While it’s fair to say that the sport of Downhill Mountain Biking has probably changed a fair bit since that time, it would be interesting to see if Graves can also pioneer some innovative new types of equipment in contemporary Downhill.

Could this be the future of DH mountain biking?

Interestingly, both Graves and Tomac have been sponsored by Yeti Cycles at various times in their careers but, unlike Tomac, Graves has not (yet) made the transition to professional road cycling. During 1990 and 1991 Tomac rode for the US 7-11 and Motorolla road teams and raced such illustrious events as the Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix and the Giro d’Italia.
Graves’ early career saw him focused on very cool and exciting events like 4X, BMX and Downhill mountain biking which all include lots of crashes, big jumps and baggy clothes. Now he’s made a transition to the Gravity Enduro racing scene which, while still generally regarded as cool, does include some less cool elements like occasionally riding uphill and carrying water bottles. 

Recently, he’s also competed in Cross Country which only has the occasional jump, less spectacular crashes, multiple water bottles and sees riders generally dressed in lycra – which is obviously not cool at all. A career in road racing would seem to be the next logical move. Or perhaps he might follow in his brother’s footsteps and get involved in track cycling. Either way, once you become a road or track rider, the only thing more un-cool than that is cycle-touring – unless you are these guys.

If Graves can manage to successfully juggle road racing and mountain bike racing then he will probably be on a par with John Tomac. If he can take it one step further and get in to some serious cycle-touring (or perhaps bikepacking) then he will, without doubt, go down in history as one of the most versatile riders of all time and join Tomac in the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame. Hopefully, when that day comes, they’ve managed to hire a web designer and update their homepage.

The MTB Hall of Fame website could probably do with a bit of work.

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