The Steezy Cross Country Mountain Bike Race x Hopetech
Racing can often be a bit daunting, making it to the start is an achievement for a lot of riders. Steezy decided it was about time that this changed! We collaborated with Herne Hill Velodrome and Hope to host a cross-country mountain biking EXTRAVAGANZA for women and non-binary riders. Our aim was to provide the tools for racing through coaching sessions, then put them into practice with a final XC Race. All that was required to enter was a mountain bike, a helmet and a rad attitude! We had a huge range of riders coming down, familiar and new faces, MTB riders in the community to first timers on borrowed bikes. The coaching sessions were tailored for all and structured to build skills and develop confidence. Everyone was a contender for the podium as the course was design to test the skills we learnt: low speed balancing, ascending, descending and even getting sendy on the steps.
Race day arrived and the behind-the-scenes team set out lining the course with Hope tape and some high-powered lights on the most technical sections. The off-road circuit at Herne Hill Velodrome is a series of intertwined trails in the wooded area behind the Velodrome. There are small drops, steps, sharp descents and technical corners, all of which were included in the final race. With a downpour the night before certain areas flooded and provided an extra layer to the excitement of the races. It was hotly contested with Becky Clarke racing off from the start and Sophie Drew following closely! After a crash (into some nettles!) happened in the podium positions on lap 4 out of 6 the race was blown wide open! Becky stormed the finish with Sophie closely behind and Stef Feltwell managed to swing in at 3rd avoiding the crash.
The winner Becky Clark provided us with her recollection of the training and race:
‘A last-minute space was going on Steezy’s MTB training at Herne Hill, and I saw an opportunity to liven up my Wednesday evening! It’s so cool to meet so many people into off-road cycling or buzzing to find out what it’s about. For a really long time these people weren’t visible to me and the Steezies are doing a fantastic job of teasing these ordinary yet eclectic bunch of women out, pulling them together and putting them on knobbly tyres (other tyres are available!). As the training got going everyone gasped at the steepness of “Big Bob” and wobbled around smiling from ear to ear as we practiced no-hands and occasionally dived into the bushes! By the end of the session, we’d worked away around the Herne Hill course, practicing little features and revisiting things in our own speed, picking away at the things that scared us, picking up tips from coach Charlie and plenty of encouragement from everyone riding.
On race night, the sun was well and truly set, my light was warning me that it didn’t have much battery left and the espresso I drank in a panic had made my legs jangle! 20 or so women fidgeted nervously with their bikes on the start line and Kitty told us what to do if we had a mechanical or broke a leg! There’s no denying I’m competitive, but this trait usually comes out in little bursts, and I knew that a 45 minute effort could really hurt! So, I decided that my “strategy” was to be consistent, and pace myself over the distance. The first lap was a bit frantic, and I fought with myself not to chase those ahead of me and keep to my strategy. The course was so wiggly, I tried to memorise the many, many corners without much success! But I did feel like the laps were starting to flow and had this wonderful feeling of my body and bike in harmony! In the dark I could see the lights of riders around me and exchanged fun little “whoops” as we criss-crossed around the course. At some point I dared to believe that I might be in first place, and then realised that I would have to complete the full 6 laps!! By lap 4 that harmonious feeling was deserting my legs and I had to really focus on the sharp turns, little drops and slippery roots that could easily catch me out. I made it over the finish line to a chorus of lovely cheers and cow bells. The big grins continued as we discussed over a beer the strategies others had and how successfully they’d executed them – it was interesting to hear that others were also just racing against themselves, and like me, learning how they reacted to the adrenaline of a race situation. Without doubt, my favorite Wednesday of the year, I went to bed dreaming of purple Hope hubs and Stayer wheels! Thank you Steezy, all the racers and the very generous sponsors.’
Our most improved rider Emily Robinson summed up her experience:
‘Trying something new as an adult is always so daunting so I was stoked to see such a welcoming environment lead by women to try to learn mountain bike skills in. Having the skills session lead into a race was great to put our learning into practice. During the skills training I loved the whooping and cheering as we tried new skills – I probably should have spent more time concentrating on the skill than cheering all the other rad riders.
Steezy was able to create an awesome environment for learning in from the outset, and all it made me want to do is say yes to trying more bike skills and adventures.’
We also got a few words from one of our amazing volunteers:
‘The Steezy team are putting on affordable and accessible races that are welcoming to all the participants. The organisers have done everything they can to make them as cheap to enter as possible and the courses are suitable for racers new and experienced alike. The MTB races I’ve been to previously can have very challenging courses and having to ‘mix in’ with a scrum of experienced racers can be a massive put off so events like Steezy Collectives, for women, non-binary and trans racers are very important. You should 100% get involved!’
Originally written for Hopetech