Facebook tells me today is 'The International Day of The Girl' so it seems apt that I publish something that celebrates the ladies who cycle, specifically the awesome lot that take themselves to the muddiest corners of the UK each weekend to pedal a mountain bike! We caught up with Claire Bennett, one of the fastest ladies on the UK race circuit to find out what it feels like to outfox the fox at the Redbull Foxhunt.
The Redbull Foxhunt has always struck me as a bit odd like a backwards game of cat and mouse, the organisers seem to have overlooked the fact that fox is supposed to be hunted by the hounds and Redcoats rather than the other way round. Or maybe it's me that has missed the point on that one, and it's some ironic take on a banned sport that has sailed straight over my head.
This year it was North Wale's turn to host the fourth edition of the increasingly popular Red Bull FoxHunt with Rachel Atherton. Pretty close to home for me on a hillside in the small market town of Machynlleth a trail was transformed into a downhill track fit for 200 female shredders. The aim? A large mass start event, to race down the track quickly as possible and outrun the 'fox' aka Katy Winton on this occasion due to Rachel's recent injury. It sounds straightforward but throw in some Welsh riding conditions (that's a shed load of mud for those that don't know!) and it's anything but. We were in for a treat, not only did the track have some difficult A and B line choices to make, the conditions were made tough due to the overnight rain. Mud fest doesn't even come close!
Fresh from racing the Enduro World Series and finishing 3rd in the overall, Katy would be a tough one to try and outrun on the day. She'd be taking all the A lines that's for sure, we could only hope she'd be held up in the inevitable bottlenecks.
Saturday was all about practice and seeding. Providing the efficient uplift and top banter almost to the top of the hill were the guys from just around the corner, Antur Stiniog. Once dropped off, a short muddy pedal/push got us to the start.
The track began as a wide bracken lined grass trail leading off down the barren open hillside. It was nice and fast, one for keeping the fingers off the brakes and one that got the inside leg twitching to get a foot out into some off camber muddy turns. We were soon in the woods, then the fun started!
A line choices were for the brave whilst B lines were for the brave too..... there wasn't much to choose between them, it all came down to your preference of a steep sharp drop or if your off camber game was strong then take the B line. Choices choices, and mud, lots of mud, it was wild! Katy and Rach were both on track to give advice and help out on these sections, it was great to chat to these down to earth racers in daunting situations. Aside from being on your bike the next best way to learn skills it to watch someone else ride and these girls are masters of their sports!
With a couple of sprint sections thrown in for good measure (a spot of enduro perhaps), the track was complete. A great mixture of terrain, it was a track to keep you on your toes especially with the mud.... did I mention it was muddy? Once seeding was complete and we knew our running order for the next day we could make use of the powerful jet washers, onsite shower facilities and tuck into some healthy hearty food and a beer or two of course!
Sunday and race day dawned, track conditions were surprisingly similar to the previous day, 200 ladies wheels had done a good job of churning up the trail, it was going to be a case to keep the wheels turning and the mud clear, getting bogged down in this lot would mean the race would be over. I was pretty excited about the mass start, we don't get many of those in the UK and it's something that really gets the adrenaline going.
With our FoxHunt red and white jerseys on, all 200 ladies together was a pretty awesome sight, the photos from Redbull are top drawer, the rolling hills of Wales making a majestic backdrop. The first 60 ladies stood gridded in lines of 15 with the remaining 120 able to go whenever they wanted. Rachel waited, standing tall on the boulder in the middle of the track (precarious!), with start horn in her hand. Katy was aloft in her position on the wooden start ramp, amped to give chase!
With a 10 second countdown, the adrenaline monkey started doing laps in my head and we were off. Jostling for the lines I'd practised desperately trying not to fall off, and aiming to stay up high on the off-camber corners but on many occasions I was pushed to the low lines, finding myself in the bracken, slipping and sliding about the place, hoping nothing got caught in my mech. It's safe to I loved it, the unpredictable nature of a mass start race really appeals to me!
172 of us made it down across the inflatable Red Bull arched finish line with Katy coming through in 21st spot. A sea of red jerseys, big smiles and high fives packed out the finish area. I was super chuffed to finish in 3rd spot behind young guns, Rosy Monaghan in 2nd place and Atherton team pinner, Mille Johnset who took the win.
Chapeau to all the ladies who got down the track during practice and also to those who went on to race, it was not an easy task.
Words: Claire Bennett
Photos: Redbull Content Pool