Jane Daniels only started riding in 2006. That’s like yesterday to any of us over 40 (heck, time races by). Yeah, just over a half dozen seasons ago she was a 12-year-old schoolgirl making her first tentative laps on a Yamaha TTR125 at a WOR race experience day. Now she’s on the podium at the enduro world championships and has already twice placed in the top 10% at the fearsomely tough Erzberg Rodeo extreme enduro, beating something like 1378 men. She is though, so quiet and understated, still the girl next door, from the suburbs of Wigan (you can almost picture George Formby strumming his ukelele on the door step and giving that wide-eyed looks of surprise – ooh, mother!).
Indeed Jane Daniels is quite possibly the most successful riding talent to have come out of Steve Ireland’s WOR series. Fact is she still rides WOR events and, but for a hugely successful season in the British Sprint Enduro Championship (she scored a 100% win rate to take the Women’s title at a canter), she’d stepped almost directly out of that clubman series into the highest in the world – and made the podium at her first try.
Last season she was the talk of the EWC paddock – Britain’s first ‘next big thing’ not to have been born and bred in the Isle of Man! The 18 year old had the enduro world (almost) at her feet. Then over the winter came disaster. Only being Jane – as quiet and un-supposing as you could ever find such a talented rider – she was very quiet about it. And if the top step of the podium has eluded her this year, then when you hear what’s happened, you’ll fully understand why.
This is Jane Daniels in her own words.
THE BROKEN BACK: IT WAS THE BEST OF A WORST CASE SCENARIO
“Originally I wanted to do the Tough One to start this season but I ended up fracturing two vertebrae at the end of last year. It was at the enduro-cross held in a speedway stadium in November. Basically I went over one of the obstacles not quite fast enough, sumped-out on top of it and the momentum of my body sent me over the bars so I landed straight on my head and squashed my vertebra and wedge-fractured two of them, T5 and T6 – the ones between the shoulder blades.
“I was taken to hospital with a suspected broken neck, but they checked my neck and said it was alright.
“It didn’t help that I was waiting there for a good five or six hours and during that time I was really needing a wee because I’d not been for sometime. So I got myself up and walked the ten yards to the loo and back – it took like 20 minutes. But because I’d got up the staff said ‘you’re fine’ and sent me home with ‘muscle damage’.
“It was only because I was not sleeping – and in agony – that my Dad said we might as well pay privately to get me checked out. So we went and paid quite a hefty sum and I had X-rays. It wasn’t clear on the X-rays but as the accident had been two weeks earlier this was expected, so they sent me for an MRI. I had my accident on November 10 and found out on Christmas Eve that I’d broken two of my vertebrae, so it was kind of a slow and painful Christmas. I don’t think they could have done anything in the first place, but it would have been nice to have known from the beginning because if I had thought, oh, I feel alright today, and gone for a ride on my motorbike I could have done something that would mean I’d not be walking now. I think I was at the best end of a worst case scenario.”
A MESSY OFF SEASON
Up until the Italian EWC round last year, when she stepped – totally unexpectedly – onto the podium, Jane had been just another happy amateur rider, riding local events. Her EWC exposure changed all this. But the transition from amateur to semi-pro didn’t go smoothly.
“After the ride at the Italian round I got offered a one-off factory ride, like a trial run, with Husaberg at the French GP, for them and for me to see how it goes. I rode Jamie’s (McCanney) 2012 bike because he’d got his 2013. I got along with it ace – I loved it.
“After that I had a couple of offers, and originally I went with one that turned out to be problem after problem. We were trying to work through that when I had my accident. So I was months off the bike and got to January with no ride either. So I went and sort of asked for my offer back from Husaberg. That was in January – by then a lot of stuff was set in stone but they were really good and I am grateful that they said they could offer me something, otherwise I would have been stuck.
“So I didn’t get to do any riding from November – that’s November no riding, December no riding, January no riding. It was mid February and the day before my birthday when my dad said, ‘we’re going trail riding if you fancy it’. I’d been for checkups and they’d said if you take it steady and you feel alright in yourself then okay. So I went out on a trail ride with Dad and his mates. It felt alright, it did ache quite a lot, but there was nothing like sharp shooting pains so I thought alright I’d better start gradually building myself up – it’ll not be long before the season starts.
“At the end of February the Superenduro in France came around. That was my first race. I kept it steady and feet up and got second, I was pleased with that – especially after falling off in the first corner. Then I did a couple more weeks practice before I went to the first British championship enduro – and on the second lap I stretched the MCL in my right knee. I got myself a knee brace and braved up to race the British Sprints – and broke my radius (one of the two bones in your forearm)! They say 13 is an unlucky number – I think I’ve had my fair share of accidents. And bad luck comes in threes so now I should be invincible!
“So it ended up I went straight into the Spanish EWC round this year from that injury. I think I had a day’s practice before I went, so I was a bit rusty. I think fracturing those vertebrae also definitely knocked my confidence – it’s not nice to admit it, but I’m going to have to. I don’t open it up as much as I used to. Me and Dad went practicing recently and we did a figure of eight that’s like 250 metres long so you have to accelerate up to sixth then slam on the brakes, feeling the power of the bike. I’m having to do exercises like that, just get the speed back.”
AN INNOCENT ABROAD
It’s worth turning the clock back a year just to see where the story of ‘Jane Daniels international racer’ began. And just what her level of understanding was at that time!
“Fionn (Griffiths) and Emily (Davey) (Jane’s rivals in the BSEC) went to do the first two EWC rounds and at that time I didn’t even know there was a ladies class! After that Jonty Edmunds asked me why don’t I see if you can get an entry for Italy? He then helped me get the entry and we got a Husaberg TE125 as I had a KTM 150SX at the time and you can’t get that road registered. We built the bike on the Sunday – in the living room – and set off on the Monday. I hadn’t even ridden it or run it in.
“We arrived on the Thursday afternoon not knowing you have to walk the special tests. I only found out when Jordan Rose looked at me in shock, ‘you’ve not walked any of the tests?!’ I didn’t think you had to. We had arrived in the van and parked it in the paddock so it couldn’t be moved until the weekend was done, so Jordan took me to the extreme test. And it looked ace, there were logs, hills, rock sections – I prefer a challenge to a flat out straight, so I loved the extreme test. And then later that night I went to walk the cross test with Danny, Jamie, David and Paul Edmondson. And Paul was showing us some great lines that I would never have thought of using. Friday morning came around and I didn’t have time to walk the enduro test, but I went out to walk the Supertest for that night.
“I did alright in the Supertest, I got a second, to Laia – so I couldn’t complain. I went into Saturday morning not really knowing what to expect, riding on the wrong side of the road on a bike I wasn’t really familiar with, but it couldn’t have gone much better.
“The first two laps were great then the third lap I started to feel tired and sick. It was 40º and when I got to the out-check I started throwing up everywhere. A bloke said to me ‘it’s okay Jane, there’s only 45 minutes left’, so I did the extreme test and the enduro test for the last time. And on the Saturday you’ve got to wait for your minute, you can’t go in early because you’ve got to have your 15 minutes to change the tyres, so I was sat there in the queue feeling bad. I buried my head in my hands, thinking to myself, ‘what have I done?’ Dad checked my bike over with Graham (Ward from Midwest Husaberg) but I couldn’t face changing the tyre.
“I put my bike in the parc ferme and I’d had to ask Dad to come up on a motorbike to bring me back because I didn’t feel so good. I sat in a deckchair and said, ‘Dad I think I’m going to be sick’. There was a bucket next to me with a sponge and I started throwing up in this bucket. Dad was saying it’s alright, have some water, but I was throwing up and throwing up – and I’d probably filled half this bucket if not three-quarters. So he took me over to the medical centre and they put me on a drip for the next two and half hours. We figured out I’d drank 12 to 16 litres of water in six hours and over-hydrated myself – which is as bad dehydrating yourself. I’d almost drowned myself from the inside out.
“After that I pulled myself up to the podium, because I heard you get a fine for not going. Jonty said he’d never seen anyone sit down on a world enduro podium before. I couldn’t help it. I must have looked awful.”
SO, THIS IS JANE
“Up until this year I’ve been a full-time student. I still go to night college on a Tuesday, six-to nine in the evening. I have a personal training diploma, a sports massage level two and three, and I’m on with my four and five next year. I’ve nearly finished my taping and strapping – I’ve got my certificates. I could become a personal trainer but I don’t think I could listen to people telling me how hard a day they’ve had tapping on a keyboard! I’ve not trained all this time to do that. So I’m specialising in sports injuries so I can do physio for people after operations or sports physio which is like rehabilitation for athletes. I chose the sports option as I’m quite sporty myself.
“I’d like to concentrate on my riding a lot longer, I’d like to be still racing in my thirties, I’m 19 now so I’d like at least another 10 years in racing, but it’s about keeping on finding the money to do it.
“A lot of people around me don’t understand why I keep going away and why I don’t have the time to go into town, get drunk and dance the night away. My best friend does though. She’ll embarrass me when we do go out, she’ll say, ‘Ooh, I’ve a famous best friend’ and I’ll be saying ‘Megan be quiet!’ Some people understand, some people think I’m weird and antisocial, but I just keep my head down and enjoy what I’m doing.
“Comparing women to men in enduro, I think the guys are a lot more ballsy – they’ll hit things flat out where we’ll take a more cautious approach. In EWC they give us one less lap to do than the lads, and I can’t fault them for that because I don’t think I’d be enjoying that one more lap. We get hard-easy options on the routes, too, but in Portugal they did take some things out that I thought they should have left in for us. And at the same time they took the extreme bits out they left the big jumps in, when to me, going off a drop-off at 10mph is a lot safer than hitting a jump flat out in fifth.
“Being a girl in this sport I think is ace. To see a lad’s face when you take the helmet off and go ‘hiiiii’! I think there’s a case for equality in sport but I don’t know if I want us all classed together. I don’t know, on this I’m a bit lost for words!”
Jane’s results this year have set her up for an almost certain top-three in the worlds. Most of us – probably herself included – would have anticipated top-two, but a broken back, a stretched MCL and a broken radius will do that to rider, boy or girl. You have to come back to it bit by bit.
Jane didn’t help her championship with an uncharacteristic fifth place on day one at the latest round in Romania. This was on account of crashing twice in the first enduro test, losing around two and half minutes.
“There was a big hill and there were two lines, the quicker one for the lads and a slower escape route intended for us girls. I decided to take the lads’ line as I could gain a fair amount of time but instead I lost it right on the crest of the hill. The bike got away from me and let’s say it made it back down to the bottom long before I did!”
Jane lost an almost certain podium in that crash, but this is all part of lifting her game – taking the risks, reaching for that next level. In Laia Sanz she has the most powerful of opponents – a rider with countless world trials titles, the reigning enduro world champion and a rider who has placed in the top-10 outright in stages at the Dakar.
“She is a cut above the rest of us, she has so much experience and with rally, enduro and trials she has the best skills base.”
No one is unbeatable though and Jane has the singular distinction of being the only rider to beat Laia in a test this season.
“That was in an extreme test, though – I’m good in those and even then it helped that she made a mistake. Right now I have to work on my speed. Last year’s EWCs were technical and that helped me, but this year they’ve been fast and flowing and this has helped the likes of Jessica Gardiner who excel in motocross type going. You see, nothing’s guaranteed in this sport, you have to work for it.”
And that’s Jane right now. Working towards the final round of the EWC season in France. What comes after that, who knows, as Jane says, she doesn’t like to look too far ahead as she’s not been so good at it.
And Jane is still like you or I – although being 19 and female, probably nothing like us. Point being, while being semi-pro means Husaberg supply her bikes and support at the EWC, the rest she’s finding herself – that’s flights, accommodation and hire cars. She did Erzberg this year by splitting costs three ways with her dad and brother and sharing the driving of the old (and it is old!) Sprinter. She’d love to ride the Romaniacs, but with an entry fee of €1200 and it costing €800 for transport and basic costs just to get to the start line, then for the time being it’s too costly. But in essence she’s taking the same approach as us to enduro, which she regards as her sport, rather than profession.
“I like trying different things and it doesn’t really bother me if it’s a trial, an enduro or an extreme event, I’ll do any of them if it’s fun and I enjoy it. I’ll grit my teeth and just do the best I can.”
2020: Jane has continued with world level enduro – placing second to Laia Sanz in 2013, ’14 and ’15, then third in 2016 and second in 2017 (this time to 2x motocross world champion Maria Franke). After not competing in 2018, in 2019 Jane finally won the Women’s World Cup – having blitzed the competition – and also placed third in the ISDE. Sadly the women’s enduro championship has been reduced to one round, which is a travesty for as we know from other sports the women’s competition is equally important to the sport in terms of credibility, public appreciation, to sponsors and as a target for aspiring riders to aim for. Let’s hope this gets sorted for the coming years.