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Mountainbiking, Women & Lifestyle

Red Bull Fox Hunt with Rachel Atherton

red bull fox hunt rachel atherton mountain biking

It is almost a year since I first caught ‘the bug’ for mountainbiking. In the first few months I found the most amazing Facebook group MTBChix&Trails (check it out!) which helped me to understand that there is a strong and close-knit community of female mountain bikers in the UK and beyond. As with so many things, I first heard about Red Bull Fox Hunt whilst scrolling through the MTB Chix Trails newsfeed.

Red Bull Fox Hunt is hosted by Gee and Rachel Atherton, with both leading the way for their respective genders. Rachel’s Fox Hunt took place on 1-2 October in the Eden Valley, Cumbria, whilst Gee’s is to take place on 8-9 October in Northern Ireland. Despite the racy name, no animals are hurt, though I did hit the dirt a few times during practice. Red Bull Fox hunt is a relatively unique concept; is a mass start downhill mountain biking race where the hunters (aka participants) are being overtaken by a fox (Rachel Atherton). Now given that Rachel was recently crowned World Champion for another year it seems only fair that she starts further behind the pack. The aim of the game is to get to the finish line before the fox.

 

red bull fox hunt rachel atherton mountain biking

mind the mud river below…

I put my name on the list to be offered the chance to buy tickets, and on the day sat eagerly on the Red Bull website refreshing the page like I was waiting for Glastonbury tickets. I was lucky enough to get one of the 250 place and subsequently set about planning my preparations in the build up to race day. Upon reflection I could have eaten less pizza and hit the gym a little more.

Rachel Atherton is probably the most iconic woman in mountain biking. Multiple World Champions and the only Downhill racer to achieve the perfect season, taking exclusively top spots on the podium throughout the season. In addition to her numerous medals and accolades Rachel is extremely passionate about getting more women into mountain biking. Rachel’s desire to encourage more ladies into the fold was evident throughout the weekend of Red Bull Fox Hunt, she was consistently supportive and clearly put the effort into ensuring that we all came away with more confidence and big smiles.

 

red bull fox hunt rachel atherton mountain biking

Rachel Atherton is the most inspirational woman I have ever met

This year’s Red Bull Fox Hunt took place in the North Pennines on the first weekend of October around the dramatic scenery of Melmerby Scar and the Eden Valley. As the weather steadily worsened in the weeks leading up, it was time to pack the sleeping bags, find at least one of the once numerous tent pegs and head to the campsite. Upon arrival, it was immediately obvious that the entire event was going to be mudbath! As the car skidded through the mud in the car park I was hoping my wellies would stand up to the abuse coming their way.

One thing I am certain of is that I have no great love for camping, it is like sleeping indoors but there is no fridge and no Mr Betty to bring me tea in the morning. Frozen to my core I woke up for the practice day on Saturday morning. Only after some rather delicious porridge and two cups of coffee was I finally able to feel my toes and forget about the hangover from the night before (thanks girls). To our collective dismay, the entire tent of women were informed that the uplift service would not be working until the seeding runs, and for the practice we will need to hike a bike to the top of the mountain. I pitied the Red Bull staff member who had deliver this news to a room full of hungover women first thing in the morning but this was definitely something I was not ready for.

The track itself was not particularly technical, but it was steep and exposed, making it difficult to master in wet conditions. The soil on the mountain was clay based, meaning that your big chunky tyres were going to be slick with mud in seconds. The first tricky section was a muddy and rocky section. The entire track was fairly steep, however the off-camber sections were causing me and many other ladies real difficulties. Thank goodness for the choice between A and B lines, despite my determination I chickened out on a number of features. The mud was making the track difficult, and this was only compounded by 250 women shuttling through numerous practice runs.

 

red bull fox hunt rachel atherton mountain biking

Smiles for miles!

After lunch on the first day, the seeding runs began. We were told that if you didn’t do a seeding run, you wouldn’t be racing on Sunday. After waiting nervously in line when I finally got to the front of the uplift queue we were told the uplift was cancelled, even the jeep couldn’t make it up the muddy tracks. The organisers changed the rules, if you couldn’t do a seeing run you could still start the race but at the back. I was happy with this compromise and settled for enjoying a warm shower instead of climbing a hill in the rain.

 

red bull fox hunt rachel atherton mountain biking

Beautiful views from a frozen campsite

We woke up to a beautiful, crisp Sunday morning. The campsite offered us some of the most beautiful views of Cumbria. The sun shone through the fog drying out the track and rainbows appeared overhead, this seemed like a good sign. Thankfully, the uplift was working today so I did not have to sweat my way up the hill for another time.

It was great to spend some time with my fellow ladies, I always enjoy riding with Mr Betty, but there was something so comforting and encouraging about hanging out with such a positive group of women over the weekend.

The event itself was super exciting, charging forward down the mountain with women on all sides, each one focussed on trying to beat the fastest woman on earth. Despite the fact that it was a race, every woman was there to support each other and help out in completing the task. The competitiveness was there, but it never boiled over into aggression or unpleasantness, everybody seemed to understand that the event was an important date in the female mountain biker’s calendar. I heard over and over that it was “not like riding with the husband/boyfriend/male friends” and I think we all understood what that meant. I hit a ground few times, but took every skid and slide with a smile and someone was always there to pick me up and cheer me on.

 

red bull fox hunt rachel atherton mountain biking

fellow competitors – fun fun ladies!

Overall, the event was one of the friendliest races you could ever take part in and if the aim was to encourage and reassure women that mountain biking is just as much ‘their sport’ as it is the guys. Rachel Atherton is the most encouraging athlete I have had the good fortune to meet, it is clear that she wanted to pass on her passion and knowledge to women, and it is clear that she understood the obstacles that we sometimes face. The people around were there to help ensure the event ran smoothly. I felt truly overwhelmed with the amount of new friends I made, if you are looking to make new riding friends then Red Bull Fox Hunt is definitely the place to find them. The course was challenging, but easily accommodated for riders of different abilities.

There were a few things that I found didn’t go quite to plan. I understand that predicting the weather is not so easy, but bearing in mind the race took place in October in the North Pennines, it would have been good to see more consideration given to the muddy conditions in the campsite and on the uplift track. The lack of uplift made the event more stressful, especially for the ladies with injuries (or just lazy like me). It would also be great to see bike brands there to show off their latest offerings to 250 or more eager women. Any brands with lines for women would have had access to a captive audience of keen lady bike geeks.

red bull fox hunt rachel atherton mountain biking

I can’t wait for Red Bull Fox Hunt 2017, i’ll be there with all the other women, trying to take Rachel’s advice and “keep off the brakes”….

Cranky Betty

 

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