On a bright and breezy Sunday, over 100 women lined up on a peak in the Pentland Hills outside Edinburgh for the first ever female Red Bull Fox Hunt MTB event, with the mountain biking legend that is Rachel Atherton. With the call of the hunting horn sounding loud, the Hunters set off over heather and heath, Rachel hot on their heels.
From start to finish, it was one of the most fun, inclusive, friendly and exhilarating events we've ever been too, and from the reaction of others who went, we fairly sure most people feel the same.
Organised by Red Bull, the event takes the traditional idea of a fox hunt and turns it on its head, with the hunted becoming the hunter.
Rachel Atherton was the Fox in question: “The Red Bull Fox Hunt is a quite a unique concept. It’s a mass start race. All the women set off in one go. I give them a bit of a gap and then set off behind them, and try and overtake and catch as many as possible in the race to the finish."
The Fox Hunt race format has been run before 3 times in Ireland with Gee Atherton, Rachel’s brother, but this was the first female version of the popular event.
“It sold out in a matter of days! I was really impressed that so many women wanted to enter. It’s by far the biggest mountain bike race that the women have ever done– I think 50 is the maximum any race has had before, so to have 117 is amazing."
All riders were kitted out in the rather fetching faux-tweed jacket style jerseys, especially made to commemorate the event. Rachel didn't dress as a fox, but did have a mascot to keep her company on the ride down.
Women traveled from far and ride to join the inaugural female Fox Hunt, with the vast majority of riders hailing from Scotland, Wales and England, but some had journeyed from further afield, including Ireland and the Netherlands.
“I’ve come from Rotterdam" said Debby Claus, one of the Hunters and also one of the fastest women on the hill over the weekend. “It’s a one-time opportunity to race against Rachel, and it was brilliant! If it’s on next year I’m signing up!"
The atmosphere of the whole event was fun, relaxed and welcoming, despite the fact everyone was gearing up for a crazy mass start race on the Sunday. A day of practice and timed seeding runs on the Saturday was followed by a barbecue, yoga, and plenty of time to relax in the unseasonably warm weather or lounge around on beanbags in the event tipi listening to the DJ.
There was a wide range of abilities, ages and experience amongst the riders, from mothers and daughters riding together, potential future World Cup downhillers all the way through to those who had never raced at all before. Maya, a young rider who has just completed her first season in the British Downhill Series, loved the opportunity to ride in this style of event. "It was insane, amazing! There were so many people on one track. I’ve never done anything like that before."
The encouraging and fun atmosphere went a long way towards ensuring everyone felt ready and able, no matter their level of experience. “It’s awesome to see so many women here and filled with such confidence. Everyone is loving it, even the people who have never raced before are having a blast" said Rachel.
When it came to the course, designed and built by the Red Bull team especially for the event, the watchwords were fast, wide and encouraging. Getting to the top meant a grueling push, but the views out over Edinburgh and the Firth of Forth from the mountaintop made for an epic backdrop for the start of the race.
In Rachel’s words: “It’s flat out down the grass, takes in some big moorland turns, before you’re into the steep stuff. It stays pretty fast all the way down, with some single track in the woods near the bottom, then back out onto the grass, a few little jumps then the finish!"
The race was fast for those in the first few rows who managed to get ahead of the pack before the trail narrowed, making overtaking difficult. Rachel passed the majority of the field quickly, with some clever lines through the wood section getting her further ahead. Fast though she was, in the end 16 women were fast enough to keep the lead and Rachel came through in 17th place.
Elena Melton took the win, heading off at light speed at the start of the race and completing the course in a blisteringly fast 4 minutes 25 seconds. Hot on her heels in second place was Claire Bennett at 4 minutes 33 seconds, and Elaine Hopley barely a second behind her at 4 minutes 34 seconds.
Everyone came across the line with massive grins on their faces, flushed with success and thrilled with their achievement.
Sarah Wylie, a first-time racer, summed it up perfectly. “I’m buzzing! It was really scary at first, but when you got going it was flat out fun. I’ve never ridden a bike so fast in my life, and I’ve never smiled so much. I wouldn’t say no to doing another event now."
Will it happen again? According to Rachel, it certainly seems that way. “This is the first of many! It’s definitely on the cards for the next few years, and it will grow, with more people entering and a bigger, festival atmosphere."
So if you missed out this year, you may yet get your chance to join the Red Bull Fox Hunt. We can’t wait!
— rachel atherton (@rachelatherton) September 28, 2014
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