PMBA Hopetech Women Enduro 2019
Pictures by Duncan Philpott and Roo Fowler
Hopetech Women Enduro seems to have become a mountain biking institution in just a few short years. Every year in October, lots of wonderful women make their way to Gisburn Forest, Lancashire to take part in the event. This is an event run by Hope Technology under the watchful eye of Rachel Walker. This years event was the third iteration of the Hopetech Women’s Enduro, and it really felt like it is here to stay.
This years event took place over two days, which from what I could see and hear was welcomed by participants. Saturday included workshops for attendees from mountain bike pros like Tracy Moseley and Katy Curd, demo bike opportunities and general ride outs to practice the route and take in the remaining trails Gisburn has to offer. I personally did not manage to sign up to any coaching sessions as they have been snapped up by riders in a few short hours. However, I did manage to demo a bike from Jungle Products, Santa Cruz and Juliana’s UK distributor. More to come on the Juliana Maverick, I was lucky enough to swing a leg over soon.
Day two was the race day. As with the previous year, the morning provided riders with a chance to practice the course before giving it your full beans under timed conditions in the afternoon.
On registration at the Gisburn Forest Hub, all of the participants received a goody bag from Hope that included a water bottle, bottle opener, stickers, keyring, neck gator and obviously snacks! By that time, I already felt like I made my sign up money back, and this was before we even got to the event itself.
It’s worth saying that with grassroots events, if an event put together by Hope can be called that, there is a risk that the organisation and general “flow” of the event might be a little lacking. From what I could see throughout the weekend this definitely didn’t seem to be the case. I didn’t hear a single complaint from any riders (though that isn’t to say there weren’t any), which is arguably in stark contrast to Red Bull’s Foxhunt which has, rightly or wrongly, received criticism concerning its organisation previously.
The event was a three-stage enduro loop that follows the main paths of the Gisburn trail centre over approximately seven miles.
The first stage is known as Homebaked and is a Gisburn staple. It is a natural, rutted and rocky descent that weaves through the forest. It’s not too steep, and the key is to keep your flow and momentum as it twists back and forth through the Lancashire jungle. The darkness of the wood was eased by the fairy lights strung up through the trees, making it a fairytale-like descent (provided you didn’t get distracted and stare into the bulbs for too long). Towards the end of the stage there is an “A” or “B” split, where you can either choose the rock staircase or go round and down a rocky been if sorts. The staircase is probably fastest provided you are feeling confident and can hold on. I’ve recently mastered this route and, overall, this is definitely one of my favourite trails at Gisburn.
The second stage, mostly taking place on a recent addition to Gisburn called Long Way Down, is based at the top of the Whelpstone Crag, which is one of the furthest points away from the trail hub where the event kicked off. Obviously then, if anything goes wrong, it will be there! The climb to stage 2 is the longest and depending on your preference involves some rocky climbs and wooden bridges (or you can opt for fire roads part of the way). I tactically avoided the wooden bridge section on the climb, as I am still terrified of this particular wood section after trying and failing at it early on in my mountain biking life.
Stage 2 started from the top of the Cragg and then weaves its way down through the forest, across a fire road and onto a swoopy section, Long Way Down. Despite its name it actually involved lots of pedalling to keep things moving quickly! If you are fighting for the podiums this is probably the deciding stage, it’s much longer than the other two, or at least it was for me. I felt like I struggled to maintain my flow on this trail and was definitely frustrated as I ground to a halt almost on some of the sharper gravel turns. Something to practice for next year’s event.
The third stage is similar well known to Gisburn visitors. The “Hope Line” has lots of jumps, berms and a few short pedalling sections. It’s shorter than the previous stage and is all over for most in a minute or two. This year, the jump lines were decorated with fairy lights, resulting in some fantastic pictures (aka instabangers). It is really nice to see the thought that has gone into making the event special. It was similarly amazing to see the elite women (and some us “muggles”) send the jumps at the end of the track with warp speed, it definitely made me want to practice my skills more as I “scrubbed” the tabletops on my run.
There was an overall feeling that this year’s Hopetech Women Enduro knew what it was about and was more assured. Having seemingly got the fundamentals right in the previous years, there was a focus on the finishing touches. Crepes were being made (delicious), and a raffle was set up to help Ride for Charlie charity. Charlie was a 15-year-old boy that suffered a cardiac arrest due to a rare physical reaction. Charlie’s family decided to celebrate Charlie’s life by supporting young riders, that were inspired by him.
A decent number of distributors and sellers made their way to the trail hub, allowing ladies time to explore products that are actually designed for them (how often do you walk into a shop to find only men clothing and men saddles?!). I know Mr Betty turned up in the afternoon (to act as Bike Butler) and had his eye on the Women’s version of the Ergon SM saddle.
Despite what it says on the tin, Hopetech Women Enduro is not really a race, it’s an event for the sisterhood. The spirit of inclusiveness was strong throughout the weekend and whilst some came to claim first place, there wasn’t and aggressive mood to proceedings. The aim of this race is not necessarily winning (if you are fast enough, go for it!), but it is all about bringing the female mountain biking community together. Seeing so many women on the trails is a fantastic experience and I’m struggling to find a bad word to say about (perhaps one more stage?). If you are looking into getting into racing, this is a great place to start and you should grab your tickets for 2020 as soon as you can.
October 23, 2019