Mountain Biking

Red Bull Foxhunt 2017 | We Head to Wales to Race a Trek Factory Racing Pro and 250 Woman on a Muddy Day for Mountain Biking

Gill Harris takes on Katy Winton and some typically Welsh conditions in the women's-only Foxhunt

Red Bull Foxhunt is an annual mountain bike event run by the Athertons, the most famous family in mountain biking.

The race challenges a flock of amateur riders to beat one professional down a set course. It has a mass start and the group are given a brief headstart. The event has become one of the most popular and accessible weekends in mountain biking, with Rachel Atherton acting the chaser in the three previous all-female editions. With Rachel injured this year, Trek Factory Racing Enduro star Katy Winton stepped up to take up the chase.

Trek Factory Racing DH’s communications guru Gill Harris took on her second Foxhunt this year at Machynlleth. Gill reports below for Mpora.

Words by Gill Harris

The 2017 Red Bull Foxhunt was seriously muddy. 250 women flocked to Machynlleth in Wales for an awesome weekend that always feels more like a festival than a race.

The atmosphere at Foxhunt is famously supportive, never more necessary than at this year’s event where conditions made the riding tough. The clay–rich mud clogged tyres, turning them into slicks halfway down the track and built up under mudguards, stopping the wheels from turning at all. The trick, apparently is to keep moving at speed. Easier said than done on this technical track.

Gill gears up for a day in the mud. Photo: Yasmeen Green

Katy Winton did a top job as the fox while Rachel Atherton advised and Trek Factory Racing mechanics Sam and Joe fixed, tweaked and coached hundreds of riders who dropped by for a chat and a helping hand.

Here’s the thing; because I work for Trek Factory Racing everyone assumes I’m an experienced rider, well they’ve sure had those illusions shattered! I’ve been at every Foxhunt to date and loved them, the first year I was too scared to ride, the second too full of cold, the third, at Melmerbey scar I did OK, 117th without really trying – so this year there was a goal – top 100 or bust!

Gill Harris, right, and left, 16 year old Atherton Academy’s Mille Johnset, the eventual winner of the event. Photo: Yasmeen Green

Practice was hilarious. Queues for the B lines kept erupting into laughter. I was struggling in the mud and took a couple of knocks but nothing major. I was still buzzing, everyone agreed this was the hardest track to date but loads of us were stoked to have such a challenging track; a legit natural trail. I felt proud to be a rider. I could do this!

Some chose not to seed after the arduous morning and I might have sat it out if the team-mates hadn’t kicked me up the hill. I was tired! About 170 of us headed to the top, I remember practicing race-faces with Buds from Antur Stiniog who was running the uplift but after that my seeding run is a blur. I definitely came off, maybe twice? I did manage to keep moving but it wasn’t the smooth run I’d had in my head, I crossed the finish line and burst in to tears! Why? I can’t say. Frustration, fatigue, adrenaline, relief – probably all of the above.

Rachel no doubt shouting her helping hints from the trackside! Photo: Leo Francis/Red Bull Content Pool

A quick hug from the team-mates and a sympathetic high five from the friends who’d struggled down ahead of me and I was right as rain but it did make me appreciate the huge emotional investment that racers make. Working with three of the toughest riders on the circuit I’ve always known that mental strength is at least as important as physical but there’s knowing and then there’s really knowing. There’s nothing like actual experience to drive that home. Thank goodness I’ll never have to race a World Cup!

Rach was running around everywhere, reassuring the nervous, joking with the confident ones, I kept hearing her say “Everybody here can do this, even in the mud, just have the confidence to have go,” and I started to believe.

So in the final reckoning 190 women took to the mass start grid and I was one of them. Fox Katy (so lovely OFF the bike!) was wild, overtaking all but 20 of the riders in some impossible situations. My room-mate for the weekend, 16 year old Atherton Academy’s Mille smashed it into first and I was happy to survive in 163rd – despite some serious heckling and several crashes!

Katy prepares to take on the masses... Photo: Leo Francis/Red Bull Content Pool
Rachel mixes in with the crowd. Photo: Leo Francis/Red Bull Content Pool
Is it even mountain biking if there isn't mud to go with it? Photo: Leo Francis/Red Bull Content Pool

When I crossed that finish line I was stoked. Absolutely made-up to have got down the entire course – yeah I crashed out, more than once. I honestly can’t remember how many times. There are plenty of pictures, I could count if I wanted! And the bruises… But I bloody did it. It was a hard track, it was full of other riders, it was muddier than I’ve ever ridden before and still I got down.

Stuck in the mud! Credit: Peter Lewis

A couple of days on and I’m gutted not to have gone faster. I let myself overthink and over-brake and I missed my goal by a mile, but in a way that misses the point. Red Bull Foxhunt is an awesome event, full of rad and supportive women, its mega fun and I’ve progressed in so many ways. I’ll see you next year!

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