When I first came across the advert for the Hopetech Womens Enduro it took me around 0.5 seconds to decide to enter. Following on from the Hopetech Womens ride outs around the country over the past couple of years, the entry level enduro was the perfect transition from fun ride out with like minded ladies to fun race with like minded ladies.
After not training or riding much this year I decided to head down a day early to have a pedal around Gisburn with my good pal and local shredder Emma Whitaker. I arrived late Friday afternoon to flooded roads and soggy trails but the thought of pedalling on new turf with the girl with two spleens kept my stoke levels from being dampened. After a short blast around Home Baked and the Hope Line tracks we were suitably soaked and buzzing and called it a day before the darkness caused us any mischief.
Saturday morning I woke up to the familiar sound of rain, rolled myself out of bed and staggered downstairs to find not only Emma, but also the ever smiling Jade Limpus joining us for breakfast before the race. Emma cooked some of her hens eggs, we ate, we changed and we got a shift on leaving around an hour later than planned.
The drive from Emma’s house to Gisburn Forest proved interesting, having to slowly nudge some cows and driving through rivers that had formed overnight after the rainfall.
The car park was unsurprisingly full, when we arrived, but after managing to squeeze behind the Vanbulance we quickly got ourselves set up, found the provider of cake, Cranky Betty herself, and headed over to registration. We picked up our race numbers, the amazing Hope Tech goody bags and chose our race start time. Gisburn Forest was absolutely buzzing with excitement and anticipation from the 200+ women getting ready to ride and race, at least half of whom had never raced before!
We started practice a later than planned and with the group taking a steady pace for my benefit we only practiced stages two and three. Practice was tiring but not so exhausting that I felt I needed to pull out unlike other enduro races I had done in the past, it was a manageable route and there wasn’t much of a time pressure. Before setting off across the start line we grabbed some of Grace’s brownies and blondies, because why ride bikes if you aren’t going to also eat cake?
“Be aggressive! Be be aggressive!”
The transition to stage one involved a fun technical singletrack climb from the car park to around half way around Home Baked where the trail begins to descend. There was a long queue at the start of Stage 1 but it moved pretty quickly and before you knew it you were next. Emma quizzed me on my line choices and provided some last minute motivation chanting “be aggressive”, something I seriously struggle with on new trails.
I don’t know if it was from experience of having raced a few times now, or if it was the atmosphere of the event but there were no nerves, just excitement and eagerness to catch up to my friends at the bottom and find out how they did.
The trail was tight and pedally with some flat corners that were difficult to carry speed around unless you fully trusted your wheels to bite. Like most trail centre singletrack this was a trail that was open to all abilities, the difficulty was dependant on how fast you wanted to ride it.
It was a pleasant surprise to see my wee pal and enduro hero Roslynn Newman as the start marshal for stage two, keeping everyone pumped up and ready to go after the tough transition and strong winds with her singing, heckling and cheering. After a few more choruses of “Be aggressive” and “I like enduro and I cannot lie” we were let loose on the toughest of the three stages.
Starting on a climb was a shock to the system but you soon got into the rhythm of the track, pedalling and pumping where you can. The most entertaining feature of the track was the knee high “puddle” within the first 30 second of starting.
At least 50% of the track was flat or uphill, you need some good pedalling legs for this one. The new section involved some steep rises that punished you pretty severely if you didn’t carry enough speed in, but the fast flowy descent was a sweet reward.
The Hope Line – This was the fastest track and arguably the most fun. With the end of the race day nearing there was a number of riders and supporters lining the track shouting encouragement, heckling and complimenting outfits – my stance socks stood out quite well apparently!
I pedalled off the start line and got into a smooth flow, trying to break my pedal-brake-pedal-brake habit and carry my speed more efficiently. After the first few corners and rises you turn into the tabletop straight before a small drop off. It wasn’t until I later seen a video of Martha Gill clearing those tables that I believed it was possible to clear them. I got my elbows out, got over the bars and took control on the berms and rollers into the finish line. This section is easy to get carried away with, too much speed and letting the bike jump and you can get bucked pretty quick.
I have done a few entry level enduros over the last couple of years racing and in my opinion this is the race I would recommend to an enduro novice (and any other enduro level racer for that matter) above all others. As much as I have enjoyed the other events I took part in, I recall doubting whether or not I was capable of finishing them, or struggling with the transitions and trails. The Hope Tech Womens Enduro was made as accessible for all levels as possible and I really think they nailed it. The trails were as challenging as you made them, the transitions were tough but much shorter than you’d come across elsewhere and the structure of the day allowed plenty time for riders to do a full practice and race with a break for food in between.
I cannot praise the PMBA and Hope Tech team enough for their efforts. This event was run for the right reasons. This was for the enjoyment of the riders, it is safe to say every rider I came across was smiling ear to ear – even the rare injured lass I passed was still grinning! The marshals as always were superb, shouting warnings of slippery bridges, cheering you on during the tough parts and offering advice before you set off.
I would like to thank Hannah of Flare Clothing Co not only for the support she has offered me over the past few years but for the simple things like letting me stash bits and pieces at her stall and being the smiley familiar face you need at a race. Another thanks goes to the boys at Mudhugger, with the weather being so stuffy I had to ditch the goggles and without my mudhugger my eyes would have had a bad time.
There are plans for another race next October so ladies keep your eyes peeled and follow Hopetech Women!