As I ploughed through yet another flooded section of road, en route to Gisburn, I wondered if the miserable weather might have an impact on the turnout for the inaugural Hope Women’s Enduro. However, when I arrived at 8.30am, the race village was already a buzzing with crowds of excited ladies queuing to sign on, and getting ready to set off on a practice lap of the course.
A whopping 222 women had travelled from far and wide to race in the first ever women’s only enduro, which, considering that the average number of women entering a standard PMBA enduro is only around 15 out of 300, was incredible. Scanning through the list of riders, I was amazed to see 50 Vet ladies, as opposed to the usual 5, and the same was true of all the other categories. For many, it was their first ever enduro, and the promise of a fun and relaxed, testosterone-free atmosphere made it a much less daunting prospect than being one of a handful of women being chased round the course by hundreds of Sam Hill wannabes. However, it wasn’t just an event for first time racers, and there was also a good turnout of regulars on the race circuit, including several of the UK’s elite female mountain bikers
Driven by Rachael Walker, Hope has been heavily involved in encouraging more women onto the trails with their programme of hugely popular Hopetech Women’s rides. The company behind everyone’s favourite mountain bike bling had joined forces with the PMBA Enduro Series to put on the event, with the help of former world champion, and mountain biking legend, Tracey Moseley, who was milling around chatting to riders and offering race tips.
The course consisted of a 15km loop, with three timed race stages. After a steady pedal following the red trail centre loop, we arrived at the start of the first timed stage, where regular marshal, Glenn was keeping the queue entertained, and nerves at bay. Stage 1 was a classic section of Gisburn trail known as ‘Homebaked’; a tight, twisty descent through the trees, culminating in a steep rocky chute for the more confident riders, or a slightly less intimidating B-line. It was a fun, flowing descent with plenty of slippery roots to keep things interesting, and I, for one, emerged at the bottom with a huge grin on my face.
The transition up to Stage 2 provided great opportunity to catch up with friends, and have a natter with other MTB obsessed ladies, although the conversation died off a bit on some of the steeper climbs. As we neared the top of Whelpstone Crag, we were met with the sound of singing as injured rider, come superstar marshal, Roslynn Newman conducted a mass sing-along , ensuring there was no chance for any nerves to set in as we waited to start. Each lady also received a huge cheer and shouts of “pedal, PEDAAAL!” as they set off, which was sound advice for what lay ahead.
After pedalling frantically to get going, we were met with a massive pool of water that had formed in one of the big dips in the trail. With no easy way round, the only option was to brace ourselves and take the plunge. Engulfed by a wave of cold water that invoked a sharp intake of breath and temporary blindness, I stomped away on the pedals until I made it through and up the other side. With all momentum gone, and a distinct lack of gravity ahead, it took a good bit more pedalling to get going again, but it wasn’t long before the trail dropped into a series of tight loose bends, where lack of momentum certainly wasn’t an issue. After popping out on the fire road at the bottom, a short uphill sprint led us to a brand new section of trail, called “A Long Way Down”, which we had the privilege of being among the first people to ride. After an undulating start with a couple of unwelcome climbs, it soon became a fast flowing track. Although the surface was a little refined for my liking, there were several loose unbanked bends with a steep drop off the edge to keep you on your toes.
For an event sponsored by Hope, it was only right that the popular ‘Hope Line’ should play host to the third and final race stage. This bike park style descent, packed with jumps, tabletops, bends and drops provided the perfect finale, and loads of spectators had lined the track to cheer us on as we sent it over the features. The support was incredible and certainly helped to spur us on down the final stretch. Even the energy-sapping pedally section half way down felt relatively painless compared to practice.
At the finish line, elated riders were greeted by their proud partners, kids and friends, before heading back to the race village to find out where they’d placed. While some were happy just to have completed their first race, others gathered anxiously around the results screen to see whether they’d been able to hold on to their position. However, no one was taking it too seriously, and everyone was made to feel like a winner with a special finishers’ medal. The emphasis had most definitely been on having fun, and I didn’t encounter a single person who hadn’t had plenty of that. There had been a great vibe, both going round the course, and at the race village, and it was a fantastic opportunity to catch up with all the girls I’d met at other races, on group rides, or “knew” through social media.
While some women’s only events seem to struggle to create a course to suit riders of all levels, Hope and PMBA had managed to get it spot on. Although not the most technical of courses, ridden at speed it was challenging enough to test more advanced riders, without being overly intimidating for those new to the sport.
There had been an amazing show of support amongst the women who were racing, as well as from the marshals, organisers and spectators. In a refreshing role reversal, blokes who I knew from the race circuit were there to cheer on their girlfriends, while others had stayed at home to mind the kids. And for those of us who race regularly, as a tiny minority being drowned in a muddy puddle of testosterone, it was great to take part in an oestrogen-fuelled race that was all about us.
Unlike the majority of races that I’ve attended, most people hung around for the podiums at the end, regardless of whether or not they were going to be stepping up, displaying yet more support for both the event and its entrants.
While this was definitely a race that was more about taking part than winning, I was pretty stoked to come first in my category, and be awarded an awesome trophy and set of Hope wheels by Tracy Moseley, and her little helper. It was the perfect end to fantastic day and I came away absolutely buzzing, with an overwhelming sense of optimism for the future of women’s mountain biking in the UK.