Competitive racing can be quite intimidating at first. Your much loved hobby becomes a challenging race against the clock, and it can be hard to make that transition.
Fortunately, there are a number of events, races and women's coaching that are designed to help ease you into the race environment. Events like the Red Bull Foxhunt are geared to create a girl power atmosphere and help women get their wheels rolling into the race scene.
Bikeparks, trail centres and passionate individuals have been working hard to promote women's mountain biking by hosting events to encourage greater participation. One such individual is passionate rider, Lynne Armstrong who has been working hard to get women shredding the trails in Scotland.
Air Maiden events have been running for a number of years, running women's workshops, rides and races. This year saw the first of its kind, a women's only enduro race at Innerleithen , and we were there to check it out.
The first of its kind, the Air Maidenduro, took place at the weekend at Innerleithen, famed for its techy and gnarly trails.
An enduro race is an all mountain challenge which tests your climbing, stamina and skill. The format of the event was a 3 stage enduro race which means your descents are timed, but not your climbing transitions - thankfully.
Lynne's aim was to get more women involved in racing, encourage them to step out their comfort zone and push their limits on the trails. For this reason, the total course was kept relatively short in comparison to other enduro events. The course was as follows:
- CLIMB 1: 4.75km
- STAGE 1 - Old Skool: 1.3km
- CLIMB 2: 4.5km
- STAGE 2 - Repeat Offender: 1.2km
- CLIMB 3: 1.48km
- STAGE 3 - Flat White: 1.2km
The aim of the race is to hit the descents as quick as possible, and accumulate the quickest time over the three stages.
Each rider was placed into one of four categories to ensure riders were competing against others who shared a similar level of experience: Babies: under 21 / Cougar: Master / Virgin: Newbie less than 3 enduro races / Whore: Experienced enduro racer.
With over 70 women signed up, the anticipation had built to a buzzing excitement on the day.
On a humid and cloudy day in Scotland, women rolled up in their masses all eager and ready to ride. The main sponsor for the Air Maidenduro was non other than the leading women's MTB brand, Flare Clothing who had a wide variety of clothing and accessories on offer.
After signing up and collecting our number boards, it was time for a welcome announcement from the women in charge, Lynne Armstrong. After running through the format of the day's events and safety procedure, practice kicked off.
Three hours of practise time allowed each rider to scale up and down the mountain side to get familiar with the course before the final race in the afternoon. A majority of the climbing took part on gravel fire-roads with a fairly constant incline. The final push to Stages 1 and 2 were a little more technical to ride up, but still do-able.
Finding my home in the loamy trails of South Wales, I immediately faced somewhat unfamiliar terrain. As Stage 1 rolled from a steep run into the tree-line, the trail fell into natural rutted gulleys, webbed with roots and sloshy mud. It was evident that maximum concentration was needed, as with delicate braking and my ass sat on the back-wheel. Steep loose track rolled through into a long stretch of shelling which slid with you as you blasted through - my favourite bit.
Finishing the run led us back onto the fire-road and hike back to the top for Stage 2. Another sloshy and boggy start, stage 2 was the most technical of the three stages for having tight corners, rutted out trail, wet roots and the occasional drop off with a lot of tree dodging. A lot of pedal clipping on this one too.
Back up the fire-road once more for the final stage which was most favoured amongst the riders I spoke with. Shelly loose terrain with off-camber flow, great for gaining some pace and smashing your way through to the bottom.
On each stage, a qualified local coach awaited to help riders choose the right lines and encourage everyone to "Get off the brakes!". For an event that is geared towards encouraging women to race and get into the spirit of competition, I found the trails to be a little too advanced for beginners, and even competent riders. Seeing a lot of women - including myself - push down some of the way, there didn't seem to be a gradual increase in difficulty over the 3 stages.
With practise time over, 7o ravenous women headed back to the site for some lunch, and share some line tactics.
After lunch it was time for all riders to head back up the mountain and make their way to the start of Stage 1 for the final race run. With riders setting off at 30 sec intervals, each one made it down the mountain, and all three stages.
Back in the pit, there was an buzz of excitement and a rush of adrenaline, for the success of the event. With beer and cider on offer, along with other treats and nibbles, riders began to unwind and socialise, ravelling in the days' race.
With the victors of each category announced and the prize giving ceremony conducted, it was time for me to catch up with Lynne Armstrong for her thoughts and feelings on the event.
"Enduro Maiden far exceeded my own expectations in terms of turnout and general level of enthusiasm for women's riding!" - Lynne Armstrong, Chief Air Maiden
Lynne has been working hard over the years in both Scotland and Canada hosting and promoting women's riding through a series of events and weekends. Lynne says: "Having organised Air Maiden at Glentress and in British Columbia over the years, I know that women's event have the potential to really push women's riding purely through the creation of a supportive environment."
The Air Maidenduro was a great success for it's Maiden year. Seeing a great turnout of women, supportive brands and sponsors, the event was well organised and fun for everyone who took part.
With women like Lynne pushing forward and taking action to promote, encourage and showcase the awesome world of women's mountain biking, we can expect to see a lot more to come in the future.
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