Report – Red Bull Foxhunt 2017
I’d only ever entered one bike race before this one. I had turned up, on my full suspension Vitus Sommet, in baggy shorts with my knee pads on. When I saw the miles of lycra and the 29inch rigids, I realised I’d accidentally entered a cross country race. This time, I felt more at home among the full face helmets, the goggles, bright colours, baggy shorts and bikes with lots of bounce. Of the three of us, Emma had the most experience racing, having entered a few enduros, but other than my brief mistaken excursion into cross country, Rab and I had only ever watched, not taken part in, a mountain bike race.
On arrival, we signed in, already able to see the effect of the rain that had fallen overnight. Kit was donned, race briefing listened to and then over for the first uplift, joining those who had camped the night before and started practice early.
The trail started at the top of the hill, with stunning views of Machynlleth and the surrounding valley. It then sped away across the moor and down, through open steep slidey turns, towards the woods. Here, the rain had scoured the rapidly narrowing track, leaving a layer of thin slippery mud on the approach to the first A/B split. The A was a tight entrance, over a rock slab and down a drop, while the B line was a more gentle series of turns, which by this time had been worn slick by the passing of many wheels. As people stopped to look and share lines, Rachel offered tips and cheered everyone on, and then Katy flew past, nailing the tight high line on A, showing us all how to do it. While the three of us tried to emulate it, with Rab coming the closest, we couldn’t quite match Katy’s confident style.
As the trail wound its way through the woods, the gradient reduced, letting the mud congeal and thicken, sticking to tyres and clogging wheels. Katy waited at the second split, sharing advice and encouragement, and chatting to everyone as they came past. The option of a near-vertical rock slab or a slippy off-camber route both led down towards a banked turn into a steep descent. Coming out of the woods, the trail steepened again, allowing an increase in speed, letting the mud fly off in satisfying splatters. A few more tight, techy, slippy turns into steep descents and chutes led into the final slide, guarded by roots, heading down towards the finish. Out of the last few trees and the Red Bull arch reared up in front.
Seeding gave the opportunity for a non-stop run, with space to check lines and develop some flow. Despite the incoming mizzle, all the ladies dug deep, found reserves and rode sections that some, at the beginning of the day, had felt they were unable to do. The queue for the much-needed bike wash was alight with smiley, mud-splattered faces and excited chatter of the lines, the drops and the crashes.
After an evening of food, a question and answer session with Rachel and Katy, a film and general chat, the morning dawned with the sort of autumnal light that you can only get in the Welsh hills. A pink glow bathed the site as breakfast was eaten but by the time of the race briefing, the sky had clouded over again. The girls were not discouraged and the uplift started for the practice runs.
Tension mounted as the race approached. All the ‘hounds’ were gathered at the top of the hill, waiting for those that had seeded in the top 50 to join them. Once all had arrived, and the grid organised, the sound of an air-horn blasted through the Welsh air. With one final cheer from Rachel, the hounds sped past, while Katy waited on her ramp to follow them down. As the last rider passed her, Katy set off, finding inches of space and weaving between the ladies in red to overtake, even as the track became narrower. Shouting encouragement at all as she passed, she flew off the two A lines and down into the middle woody section. At the final chute, Millie Johnset flew into sight, ignoring the traditional line around the top of the corner, instead launching into the bowl and past the cheering crowd, leaving them waiting over 30 seconds for the next rider down. Katy soon followed, mirroring Millie’s line into the bowel of the corner but, regardless of their speed, each and every rider that followed was giving their all to the race. Some flew down, almost looking like pros, some struggled and eventually walked, while others, after a moment of hesitation and doubt, nailed it. What cannot be doubted is the enthusiastic cheering that could be heard from the finish line in the field, cheering every rider as they crossed beneath the Red Bull arch.
I know that reports on the internet will vary between those who had a great weekend and those who were hugely disappointed. I know there were people who struggled to ride the course and those who became frustrated with scheduling changes. While I shared some of those frustrations and accept that the weather badly affected the conditions, the course had so much potential and I would love to go back and ride it in the dry. Everybody I spoke to was friendly and supportive. Katy and Rachel were encouraging and approachable. While I do have female friends that I ride with, it was pretty inspiring seeing so many women digging deep and stepping up to the challenges of the weekend. Personally, while I may be disappointed at what I didn’t achieve, I’m also very proud of what I did achieve. Like many women there, I rode things I hadn’t thought I could and put myself in a situation greatly outside my comfort zone. I for one, have been bitten by the bug of racing and will definitely be seeking out my next challenge!
Words – Sarah Nash
Pictures – Red Bull Content Pool / Sarah Nash