I'm not a racer. Despite filling my childhood with sports and activities, I've never had a competitive streak in me... Unless we're talking about Cards Against Humanity, in which case, no one is as funny as I am. So why did I bother entering the Hope Tech Women's Enduro?
Given that my last attempt at racing enduro ended with an OTB crash, unconsciousness and a trip to A&E, I was certainly hesitant about entering this event. I find that as soon as a ride is labelled a "race", my mind and body fall out of sync and either through pushing too hard or just suffering a momentary lapse in muscular coordination, I end up taking an involuntary lie down.
I'm sure I'm not alone in saying this, but Hope Technology carries an air of elegance and prestige within mountain biking which is something we all learn very early on in our riding careers. Known for their rad colour-coordinating components, the British manufacturer takes pride in their products, their racers and their impact on the biking community.
Last year we saw the launch of the Hope Tech Women's Rides, fronted by the ever humble Rachael Walker who has nurtured and orchestrated an army of female riders to hit the trails and fall in love with mountain biking. From social rides to maintenance classes and from skill tutorials to social media inspiration, Hope Tech Women has gone from strength to strength since its inception.
Hope Tech Women's Enduro 2017
So what do you do when you've amassed a following of trail hungry women all over the country? You bring them all together, of course.
Along with the encouragement of MTB legend, Tracy Moseley, the idea of hosting a women's specific MTB race began to flourish with the enthusiasm and vigour you can expect from Rachael, Tracy and the Hope Tech crew. And so, the inaugural Hope Tech Women's Enduro was born; a single-day, three-stage event to be battled out on the trails of Gisburn Forest.
Held last weekend on a damp and muggy day, over 200 women from all walks of ability, age and fitness turned up to celebrate the first Hope Tech Women's Enduro event, and I was one of them.
Despite my racing reservations, I wanted to take part and join the mass of women who were all out to have fun. I'd never ridden at Gisburn before, so that was exciting enough but the real convincing push was that I'd be able to ride with so many women, some of whom I've only met online.
Pulling up into the car park, the rain was falling hard. Having forgotten my SealSkinz, I knew they wouldn't have helped me stay dry as some of the puddles soon expanded into pools of deep muddy water.
Joining the queue of eager-to-ride women, I registered for my number board and timing chip before heading out on a practice loop to scout out the three race stages. Fortunately, by the time I had set out, the rain had stopped and so myself and friends pushed on through the puddles and into the forest.
The Three Stages
There were three stages to the Hope Tech Women's Enduro event which culminated to a total of around 10-miles in length with 1000 metres of climbing. With two red descents and an orange downhill descent, every trail had A-Lines and B-Lines to choose from for difficulty, thus ensuring that every stage was ride-able and roll-able for everyone.
The first stage, Home Baked, was a short section winding through tight forest trees with some techy rock sections to navigate through. It was as fast as you wanted it to be and the tight bar turns through the trunks certainly made the neck hairs stand to attention.
The second stage, Whelp Stone Crag, was a little longer than the first and involved a few much-needed pedal strokes as the trail undulated through trees, open rock formations and down the mountainside. It was during this stage that a lagoon of rainwater lay disguised as an innocent puddle until you powered through with both feet fully submerged.
The final stage, Hope Line, rounded up the three stages. Graded as orange, this trail is considered for downhill riders, only it's not as bad as it sounds. With some fun rollers, awkward table tops and flat berms, this descent is where the thighs really began to burn.
The transitions weren't all that bad either. Untimed, these stretches of climbing involved a variety of terrain and many more pools to wet your feet in. It's during these transitions which are where I met up with friends and other riders, and where comradery levels were at an ultimate high.
The bonus bits
It wasn't just the 200+ women in attendance, or the riding of our faithful beloved bicycles, the whole event seamlessly managed to encompass the raw and brilliant essence of mountain biking.
Much to my surprise, I found myself standing in line with British cross-country Olympian, Annie Last, who made history in Lenzerheide earlier this year. She was accompanied by Tracy Moseley herself, and a number of other female elite riders such as Bex Baraona, Martha Gill and Monet Adams, all of whom rode their bikes and mingled in with the excitement of the event.
The trail centre hub was teaming with brands who showcased their wares along with the handy Hope Tech mechanics who were available to help out with bicycle maladies. It was awesome to see so many big names there supporting the Hope Tech Women's Enduro and women's riding in general.
Top tip: If you see Hannah Wilson at the Clif Bar stand, help yourself to samples, she doesn't bite!
Every finisher at the Hope Tech Women's Enduro went home with a goodie bag of swag and a medal. If you were a speed machine and managed to secure yourself a podium spot, the prizes included some pretty sweet merch and a sizeable trophy which could make anyone jealous.
So, was it all worth it?
What I feared was that I would have a mad attack of uncontrollable limb functions resulting in a mangled display of body parts and a seriously unattractive crying face. I feared that the label of "race" would add pressure, that I wouldn't be able to ride new trails well because I hadn't session'd them on repeat prior. I feared that every single woman would secretly be a pro and put me to shame in a blaze of dust and puddle splashes... Basically, I overthink too much, if you couldn't already tell.
In actual fact, the whole event didn't feel like a race in the slightest. Once the timing chip was tucked up my sleeve and my number board crowned to my cockpit, the entire event felt like a great day out on the bikes... with a couple hundred women. I spent the whole time riding with my best friend, Lauren and we chatted away with new and familiar faces as we completed two full loops of the course - Sorry again Lauren (she didn't want to practice).
Now, what kind of journo would I be if I didn't report the good and the bad? I feel this needs to be addressed so that if there's another Hope Tech Women's Enduro, my main critique will be considered in the planning process:
- It was a one-day event. Really, it should have been two, perhaps three days, or a week long. It's just not fair to reel us in and cast us back out into the real world after just one day of epicness.
Everything from the event hub, the registration, timings, trail choices, marshals, medics and support was so meticulously planned and implemented, you would have thought the Hope Tech Women's Enduro had already been a long-standing tradition in the mountain bike community.
From start to finish, the atmosphere was infectious as the roar of laughter and sight of smiles cut through the misty damp weather and rallied up perhaps the most buzzing atmosphere I've ever had the pleasure of being a part of.
Am I a converted racer? Depends, will there be another Hope Tech Women's Enduro?