‘ARD ROCK 2016  - Hetty Key

The alarm went off at 5.45am - somehow it had fallen to me to be the one that entered our team into the 2016 ‘Ard Rock Enduro. After a strong coffee and some furious typing (beware you don’t get long!) we were all in Saturday’s main event - a 45km loop with 5 downhill timed stages.

Prior to this I hadn’t given the race much thought, a friend had suggested it and as always I was up for a challenge. But now looking through the previous year’s photos and videos alongside the ever increasing number of comments on Facebook I was worried I had bitten off more than I could chew. I’m not normally someone who is bothered by the ratio of men to women in an event, but this seemed very much male dominated. In the back of my mind I just really didn’t want to be the girl that couldn’t ride any of the descents. I also was worried about holding other riders up.

Fast forward a few months of fairly intense practice, I was in the car heading to Reeth totally unsure of what to expect. First impressions were good – it was really busy but well organised and everyone I met was totally up for the weekend. It was buzzing! Whilst the race line up for the weekend only contained 87 women out of 2000 riders (that’s 4%!), the whole event was by no means aimed at men with Flare Clothing and Juliana Bicycles repping all things awesome for female mountain bikers and very excited queue of all ages gathering for a photo with Tracey Mosley.

After a lot of window shopping and drooling at a large number of bikes I can only dream of owning, it was time for action… When I am nervous I faff and get stress over fairly pointless things. This time it was which jersey to wear - short sleeves, long sleeves, blue, yellow… argh? I think it look me about half an hour to realise no one really cares! 

Anyway finally ready to go, I made my way to the start. I was the only women in my wave and really hoping to see more on course… At the top of Stage 1 nerves were at an all-time high - it was steep and some of the most technical riding I have ever done. Through the gates I was off! I need not have worried about holding people up - being in one of the later waves of riders to go everyone seemed pretty laid back and overall I was keeping up. The general gist is if you hear someone shout rider you let them pass as soon as you can, but likewise it is up to them to have the skills to pass you safely.

In practice there had been a particular bit of Stage 1 (a very steep corner into a rocky gully) I was pretty apprehensive about - I made the call to get off and push down this bit as currently it’s at the limit of my ability. Embarrassingly, as I jumped off the track to avoid holding anyone up, I managed to fall down the side of the descent in front of the slightly disappointed crowd… Styling things out has never been my strong point! 

Shortly after this I then had a pretty big fall heading off a very steep rocky drop with a right turn and stone wall at the bottom. The combination of the two meant my legs turned to jelly and the rest of Stage 1 was taken at snail pace. But, this made me realise something - I had pushed down a descent, fallen off and generally been a bit slow, and guess what… no one minded (most hadn’t noticed)! 

I am pleased to report that having made this revelation the rest of the day went really well. I was absolutely loving it – in fact by the time I got to Stage 5 I was a bit gutted that there was only one more stage to go. Once I had stopped caring about what people might think I actually rode better! It didn’t make an ounce of difference that I was a girl (with the exception of toilet situation) and I finished a better rider, having gone down some of the most technical riding I have ever done.

‘Ard Rock is definitely not for the feint-hearted but if you are game for some of the best natural riding in the country and a cracking weekend on the bike, I highly suggest you set your alarms for 5.45am the morning the 2017 entries open – I know I will be!

For the full weekend story and more pictures check out my race report: http://www.mudchalkandgears.co... 

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