women shred WOMEN SHRED: KENNY BELAEY AND FIEN LAMMERTYN an interview by Trina Ortega, read it on womenshred.com
Trials World Champion Kenny Belaey and his wife, Fien Lammertyn, organizer of the UCI Trials World Cup, held the first-ever Women Shred festival May 8-11 in Bentonville, Arkansas. Despite rainy weather, 100 women showed up for the free four-day event, which included skills and informational clinics with pro athletes, trials shows, panel discussions, group rides with the Women of Oz advocacy group and the inaugural All American Race. The festival coincided with the annual Bentonville Film Festival, which showcases the work of female directors, producers and actors, and Women Shred also included films highlighting female cyclists. Belaey and Lammertyn talked with Mountain Flyer Managing Editor Trina Ortega about the importance of celebrating women in cycling.
Mountain Flyer: How did you first come up with the concept for Women Shred?
Kenny: It was very organic. I come to the States [from Belgium] quite often. As a European, the trials bike shows that I do are more about entertaining. I do these NBA half-time shows, for example. They’re big, but you don’t do them every day. I end up going back and forth so much I thought it would be great to have a base camp and set up my company here, too. I did some research on where to do it and, at first, I thought about doing it in Boulder, Colorado, because it’s central and has a nice outdoor scene. Some community members in Bentonville convinced me to come back here to check it out. So I came last year, same time, did some riding, stayed for two weeks when I was on standby for some NBA halftime shows. I ended up staying here a week longer, during the film fest, and I was looking around, saw the big screen, nice movies were playing. It was also International Women’s Mountain Bike Day, and IMBA was sending me messages, asking me to promote that. Then someone who works for the Walton Family Foundation [based in Bentonville] called me and said, “Kenny, you have to come to the Rapha pop-up store. There are 30 ladies there, and they want to see your show.” So I took my bike over, jumped over one of the girls on my bike. I thought that it would be great to link the film festival to the mountain bike trails.
Fien: Also, the film festival is mainly about empowering women and inclusion. But there was something missing because Bentonville is known for the trails, for the mountain biking. Kenny was like, “I’m missing the link between those two.” He was wondering why there weren’t any films about strong women on bikes.
Kenny: That was the first idea—to create a documentary about women on bikes, have the cast come to the film fest and create an event around that—but we worked the other way around. We did the festival first, and we brought in videos from Crankworx. The ambassadors are featured in the films, which is a winner. Hopefully, one day, we’ll have documentaries that are under the title of Women Shred. And we can work further on that concept. The film fest hosts talks, Q&As, panel discussions all over town.
Fien: We did have a big Q&A on Friday. We had the screening of Lael Wilcox’s film about the Navad 1000 endurance race and Caroline Buchanan’s Road 2 Recovery film and afterward we had a Q&A with all of the ambassadors, which included Lael, Caroline, Anneke Beerten, Perrine Devahive, Julia Hobson, Claire Bennett and Rachael Walker.
MF: The panel discussion was excellent and seemed to engage a range of ages from the audience. Do you feel you succeeded at connecting the film festival and the mountain biking?
Kenny: My philosophy—for trials, for example; trials is a niche sport—my challenge was always how can we bring that to the mainstream? Instead of organizing a show in a forest, we decided to organize it on the city square in Antwerp.
Fien: Bring the sport to the people instead of trying to bring the people to the sport.
MF: Kenny, you’ve been trials riding since age nine. Did you have other family members who rode?
Kenny: My dad was a moto trials rider, so he did the motorized version of what I do. He introduced me to bicycles. I think it was a holiday somewhere—we rented one of the trials bikes. He made me do some sections of riding between trees. I’ve seen photos of him doing it on motorcycles; he was show ing me how to do it on a bike. He sold all his motorcycles and trailers and invested all of that in bicycle gear for me and my younger brother. Then, soon after that, we started traveling the world. At age 11, I was already flying to Lake Tahoe for World Cups, youth championships, European championships. We drove all over the world. I think we went through three RVs and two cars with them driving us all over the world; them spending all their money on it because the traveling was expensive. And now, fast forward, we’re still doing it, plus organizing shows.
“With Women Shred, the community wins, the individual rider wins, the film fest wins.”
MF: What do your parents say now, seeing how your career has grown? Did your brother continue to compete and do trials riding?
Kenny: I think they’re happy seeing how it’s all turned out. I’m sure they’d appreciate it if I was home more. I’ve always been professional in just doing trials. My brother made the transition to videography and photography, and now he has projects all over the world doing that, plus the trials shows. He rides on our team, he is a show rider, but he doesn’t compete anymore. And he’s the head coach of our Belaey Trials Academy. He’s the official videographer for the Women Shred event. There will be an after-movie to show what Women Shred is about.
MF: Fien, what is your history with cycling?
Fien: I grew up with horses. But because we’re Flemish, we love road cycling. I remember vividly, as a kid, when the road season started, we would go to the races because races like Tour de Flanders went right past our door. My parents would look forward to that moment for weeks. As a kid, I really felt it. Every time road cycling season started, I was the little girl on my bike racing with the guys. I’ve never been girly-girly. I was always out with the boys, messing around in the trees. I continued horse riding until I got injured and stopped sports for a while. Then, beginning in my 20s…I don’t know…well, I do know how it happened. Actually, it was my ex-boyfriend who got me on my bike.
Kenny: It wasn’t me?
Fien: It wasn’t you, Kenny. Everyone thinks it was you, but it wasn’t. A bunch of friends decided to go on an organized group ride on a Sunday. One day I came along. I really liked it. I used one of my brother’s old, cheap bikes. After, I went to the bicycle shop and the only thing I cared about was that my bike needed to be white. The owner of the shop was trying to tell me about other bikes, and I said, “No, I don’t care. I just want a white bike.” We went back into the stock and pulled out a model of the year before. I still have that bike. Kenny sometimes calls it a piece of old junk. I’m like, “No. That’s my first bike.” I have so many memories with that bike. It was a Commencal. Now I have an enduro bike and a cross country hardtail bike, an Ednine, a Belgian brand.
MF: Do you also compete, Fien?
Fien: Yes. During my horse riding, I did show jumping. I did the military stuff. It was obvious when I went into biking that I would compete. I’m a competitor. I love the adrenaline. It was just a matter of time ’til I got into racing.
“A lot of people talk about getting more women into the sport. They complain about it but take no action. Kenny is all action.” –Fien Lammertyn
Kenny: She has ridden the Cape Epic.
Fien: For me, the race isn’t the hardest part. For me the hardest part is the training. We Europeans need to train in wintertime. Then once you’re there, in South Africa, the most difficult part, it’s just mental, just convincing yourself you’ll get to the finish.
MF: You do that awful-sounding, into-thewind beach race back home and you’re doing another Megavalanche, the start of which looks crazy. Obviously, cycling has been part of both your lives for a long time. Now you’re sharing it with others through Women Shred.
Kenny: I had the idea of doing this, and we have experience in organizing, but Fien has played a big role in why I did it. She’s always the first one to send emails to race organizers, asking why they don’t post photos of women.
Fien: I hate it when they only highlight the men; it’s as if the women don’t exist. I’m the one that will send out an email: “Hey, guys. Did you have a women’s race?” They say, “Yes. Why?” Because I don’t see it on social media. Also, the same for prize money. We organize the World Cups for trials. The prize money is not high in trials but, for years, the prize money for men was higher than it was for women.
I agree there are 60, 70 men for elite and, for women, there are 10; it’s way out of balance. But I’m like, the top women need to train the same amount of hours as the top men, but the women don’t get rewarded for it. It doesn’t add up. So one day, I went to UCI and said, “This has to change. We’re changing it.” They were like, OK.
Kenny: Of course, we could change; it was our budget. But they put it in the rules: Equal prize money for all.
Fien: Now there are also more women motivated to ride the World Cup because now they feel appreciated, like we’re not just an aside.
Kenny: Also, we were the first ones to livestream the women’s finals. It’s live on YouTube and on TV.
MF: What is the mission and goal of Women Shred?
Kenny: The mission of Women Shred is to inspire, celebrate, get people started riding bikes, screen films with women and also indirectly promote the Oz Trails on a worldwide scale.
Fien: Also, it’s a good opportunity for the men that already go out on the trails. They can bring their wives. The women can take a demo bike, try it out [without having their husband there]. It’s an event for women who already own a mountain bike, but it’s also to attract more women to the sport. We can show them this is also mountain biking. Sometimes they get intimidated when they see the guys going on the trail.
MF: In addition to the clinics like the pumptrack tips with Peyton Ridenour, technique with Perrine Devahive and trail riding with Anneke Beerten, you launched the All American Race. How did that come about?
Kenny: We noticed that after school, 20 kids were doing laps on the new All American Trail, going as smooth and as fast as they can. Being inspired by Red Bull events—which are short, powerful, easyto-see, have quick results—we said why don’t we do an All American Race and just claim it and attach it to Women Shred.
Fien: We just decided that a couple weeks ago. It’s a short sprint, max 30 seconds, 40 seconds. It’s fast. It’s fun.
MF: Hope Technology provided demo bikes. What else is on the schedule?
Fien: Friday afternoon/evening and Saturday are the most important days. That’s when we have all the workshops. One hundred ladies signed up, and they got divided into five groups. They rotated from one workshop to another, from a nutrition workshop with Caroline Buchanan and a nutritionist from Fayetteville, Arkansas. Then they went to a workshop with Perrine to work on balance skills, basic bike-handling skills. Then they went to a bike maintenance workshop hosted by WD-40 and Phat Tire bike shop with a female mechanic, Morgan Barkley. Then two groups went on the trails with Anneke, Lael, the Hope Tech athletes. And it’s all for free.
MF: You could both be doing other things than this free, labor-intensive festival. Why is this important to you?
Kenny: I see opportunities, and I saw this as something that was not being done yet. But I know it’s also important for Fien. It’s great to do something like this, like trials, to create it. It’s like an artist’s blank canvas.
Fien: A lot of people talk about getting more women into the sport. They complain about it but take no action. Kenny is all action.
Kenny: I don’t talk about it, I just do it. It’s rewarding. You see kids on the pumptrack smiling. Mom is happy that the kids are happy, and we’re like, “We created this.” When I saw Peyton leading the kids on the pumptrack, I saw it was working. I was like, “Mission accomplished.” I always try to make it a win-win. With Women Shred, the community wins, the individual rider wins, the film fest wins. Gary Vernon [program officer for Walton Family Foundation] said, “We want to make sure Oz Trails is the bike capital of the world for women.” The trails are well-thought-out. I can jump a double while someone else can just roll it.
Fien: Before I came to Bentonville, the only thing I would see from his video clips were drops and jumps, so I didn’t even want to come ride here. He kept on pushing me to come out. I can jump, but I’m not that good. But here, I can just roll something if I don’t want to jump. And now I’ve progressed. I’ve learned to jump and drop here.
Kenny: Another advantage to these trails is there’s not a lot of big elevation. In Colorado and Spain, you climb for half an hour and go down for three minutes. Here, you’re having fun all the time. The people who start biking here, they’re super blessed to have this. Kids, afterschool, they’re riding singletrack every day. If you get bored with Slaughter Pen, there’s Springdale or Bella Vista.