‘It’s super-important’: women take on world’s toughest mountain bike track | Cycling

Snaking down a Welsh mountain, featuring nerve-jangling jumps and screeching turns, the Hardline course is reputed to be the toughest downhill mountain bike track in the world, a severe test of body and mind for the boldest riders.

Until now it has been a male preserve, but this year a group of women from the UK, New Zealand, Canada and Argentina have joined the men hurtling through the forest at up to 40mph (64km/h), determined to show that this toughest of tracks is not just for the boys.

“It’s definitely important for the sport,” said Tahnée Seagrave, one of the two British women who have been tackling the course at Dinas Mawddwy on the rugged fringes of Eryri (Snowdonia) national park. “We’re followed by a lot of girls and young riders on social media. If they see us here, they’ll get inspired.”

Another of the six women, a New Zealander, Jess Blewitt, said: “It’s super-important women are doing it. Everyone’s always saying: ‘Girls can’t ride like the boys.’ It’s not just in this sport but in every sport. Girls are just not part of some events. So it’s good to push the women’s side.”

The Hardline course was built a decade ago to challenge the world’s best downhill mountain bikers. Each year a small invited field – around 30 this summer – gather on the mountain above the Dyfi valley for the Red Bull Hardline race.

It takes about three minutes to get down, negotiating features including the infamous Road Gap, which requires riders to complete a 17-metre (55ft) jump over a fire road high above the heads of spectators, but also dodging outcrops of rocks, tree roots, narrow gaps, coping with mud and the unreliable Welsh weather.

‘The jumps are huge, the technical element is intimidating’: the course attracts some of the world’s best riders. Photograph: Nathan Hughes

Over the years the course has broken bones and bruised egos, but some of the world’s best riders come and the magazine GQ has called the race one of the greatest live sport experiences on earth, putting it alongside events like Wimbledon and the Masters golf tournament.

“There’s just nothing that compares to Hardline,” said Seagrave, a world-class downhill mountain biker born in London and based in Wales.

“The jumps are huge, the technical element is intimidating. And you’ve often got tough weather. It was surreal the first time I put tyres to dirt – incredible”

The race itself takes place over this weekend and the women are unlikely to take part, especially as the weather is dodgy, but having them on site training at what organisers are calling a “progression camp” is seen as a positive development.

A woman leaning up against a wall beside her bike
Tahnée Seagrave: ‘For me the win has been having the girls on bikes on the track.’
Photograph: Laurence Crossman-Emms/Red Bull

Seagrave isn’t keen on the term “progression camp”. “It’s more of a hangout, a chance to see what the women can do.”

She says there are a number of reasons why women have not competed on the Hardline yet. “We’re not built the same, we’re wired sightly differently.”

But Seagrave thinks the main issue is that women have not had the experience of this sort of extreme track. “We haven’t been exposed to the features. It’s very intimidating when you see them for the first time. The men have been coming here for years.”

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The male riders have been supportive, taking the women on runs through the sections, “towing”, or guiding, them through the route. “For me the win has been having the girls on bikes on the track ticking off some of the features,” said Seagrave.

Blewitt, 21, was the first woman to get out on the Hardline last year. I wanted to start pushing the women’s side of the sport there,” she said. It ended painfully when she broke her collarbone after falling on a feature called The Renegade.

“There are five other girls with me this year, which is a big deal. Some of the drops are so heavy. The landings are definitely a lot harder for a female. And we don’t have the same mentality as the guys. They say: ‘My mate’s hit it, so I’m going to hit it.’ They don’t care as much. Girls definitely take a bit longer to think: ‘I’m going to hit that.’”

A mountain biker in mid air over a rocky green terrain
Jackson Goldstone on the male-dominated Hardline course last year. Photograph: Nathan Hughes/Red Bull

Gee Atherton, a two times downhill mountain bike champion and Hardline veteran, said he was pleased the women were there.

“It’s a terrifying course to roll up to – intimidating with the mountain looming over you. If you turn up with a good crew, you spur each other on.”

He says it isn’t the physicality that makes it such a hard course for women. “I think it’s the aggression. You have to rip the bike through some of the sections. There are heavy landings and turns, sometimes you have to be a bit aggressive with the bike. That’s what they have to learn to deal with. It will come, no doubt.”

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