This weekend I took part in an annual event which, while not roller derby related, has the comeradre and support often associated with that sport. The Red Bull Foxhunt is a downhill, mass start, mountain bike race where, in the female variant, 200 or so ‘Hunters’ are chased downhill on their mountain bike by a ‘Fox’. The Fox being World Champion Downhill racer, Rachael Atherton, well until while practicing in Australia she crashed heavily and broke her shoulder. So Endurance Racer Katy Winton took over being the Fox while Atherton continued with high profile support and advice throughout the event.
It was kind of ironic that an Enduro racer took over because weather conditions turned the event into as much a battle of endurance and wills as it was against the Fox. The track turned into a Quagmire in places, was extremely slippy and many cyclists struggled with severe clogging problems – often so severe that they had to stop to de-clog their bikes just to get the wheels to turn.
I was one of maybe 4 or 5 ladies who turned up on a Hard Tail, and while I can’t say for sure – having not done a back-to-back comparison – that it was the better choice, I didn’t feel compromised by only having suspension on the front and clogging was a complete non-issue.
The track itself was build on the side of a mountain overlooking Atherton’s home town of Machynlleth and was reached via a long, but very reliable uplift and final 15 minute ride/push. The uplift was very well run with experienced crews and the push to the top was a bit long but not really an issue.
The first section of the run was similar, if narrower, to last year with curving S bends cutting across grass heathland. I was worried I might struggle for grip but it happened that this was probably the grippiest section of the course. It had one tricky section with a short, steep, blind drop a few corners before the course narrowed and the riders plunged into a narrow twisting trail through the woods.
The woods, which in the dry would have been amazing fun, started off with some man-made berms and drops, before arriving at the first split. Initially this was an A/B split, but the B line quickly cut up and a C line was opened up. Many riders missing the C Line as, while official, it was both a blind entrance and un-signposted. Having seen Katie’s run it looks like the A line here wasn’t to challenging and probably ended up being easier than the B line. The next section was a short, sharp, twisting section through the woods with traction being a major issue.
A pretty straight single track section then led into the second A/B split, the A line here was for the very brave and talented, while the B was definitely the first really big challenge. It was a 20ft or so drop into a tightish left hander into a VERY greasy narrow single track which despite being pretty straight proved easy to crash on. I had my first significant accident here (well second because I crashed before the start of my first run) and crashed even more heavily in my seeding run. In both cased my bike made impact with another girls who had already crashed at the same point!!
I made sure to look forward after remembering the number one rule that you go where you are looking and in the race I did this section clean – although did get held up towards the end.
After this riders were faced with a series of steep descents with fast sections between. Each of which presented a unique challenge, before a final blast – traction and endurance permitting – through to the finish. Initially the finish had a last short climb and a tricky descent but that was cut after Saturday Practice to a straight in slightly downhill run.
I felt the track was really well designed, however with the weather conditions some areas would have benefited from some work to reduce the effect of the weather without particularly changing it’s nature.
Overall though I am buzzing from the weekend, really proud of my daughter who finished 161st from the back of the pack, and can’t wait till next year where I will definitely be aiming to finish higher than this years, very satisfying 66th place.
So what did I learn and what do I think about the event as a whole?
I think it was really well done, the weather just prior to the event was dreadful but mats were put down in the field to reduce it’s effect although I heard some tents flooded so a bit of guidance about where to camp would probably have been prudent.
The track was amazing, although I think a slightly wider start would have been good but given the nature of the race I think the best change would be to have a few more ‘C’ lines, where the C line is similarly complex to the B line but longer than the C line – but gives an overtaking line in areas which may clog up with riders. Also maybe some briefing on the terrain and expected tire requirements would be good. I ran an on-one 456 with 5″ old Marzochi bomber All Mountain 3 forks. A Frame capable of running 2.5″ tires, however my 2.25″ On-One Smorgasbord coped amazingly well with the terrain and while I would have liked a grippier rear tyre, I didn’t clog up once. Riders on bikes with tight clearance (which my bike didn’t have at all) may well have benefited from 2.25″ or even 2.1″ tyres.)
The big lesson I have learnt is to take the advice and session, sections. I may well have taken alternative routes in a few places in the race if I had actually scoped them out prior to the race. 70th in qualifying was amazing, really pleased with it, but the fact I had a HUGE number plate breaking crash means I know I could potentially have shaved a minute at least off the time – and thus qualified in hopefully slightly less congested traffic and thus finished higher up.
Overall an brilliant event with some strong, tough, amazing women who kept battling in energy sapping conditions and whether they finished first, last, beat the Fox or not, did not matter they did it.. and those that didn’t either didn’t due to injury, bike clogging issues, or mechanical problems – none of which make their efforts any less amazing – everyone who tackled that course is a heroine in my books – well done everyone.
Those who picked up injuries, heal up quickly and see you next year!!