Women Send Fear Packing at Red Bull Hardline Camp

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‘The World’s Toughest Downhill Race’, Red Bull Hardline, had a surprise up its sleeve this year, before the weekend’s racing has even kicked off. Tahnée Seagrave had pulled together a group of women riders to tackle the course, putting into a place an idea that had been brewing since 2019.

Tahnée Seagrave & Jess Blewitt at Red Bull Hardline 2023 in Dinas Mawydd, Wales. // Dan Griffiths / Red Bull Content Pool

Injuries and Covid had kept Tahnée from making the dream a reality, but Jess Blewitt’s appearance at Hardline last year gave Tahnée the extra inspiration needed to get organised. Jess returned for another assault at the Red Bull Hardline course, joined by Tahnée, Hannah Bergemann, Louise Ferguson, Cami Nogueira, and Vinny Armstrong. The plan was for the women to ride the course and features in the week running up to Hardline. If any managed to put a full run together, then they’d be able to try for qualification.

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A post shared by Tahnée Seagrave (@tahneeseagrave)

Like all good plans, there were a few spanners in the works along the way. Louise was a last minute replacement when Casey Brown was injured. Cami’s plane was delayed by a day, and then her luggage too. It rained, and it rained, and the wind blew – making the incredibly technical course even more difficult, and cutting down the time the women were ultimately able to get out on the track. Hannah was also injured, so couldn’t ride, but came along to offer some valued expertise. Tahnée deliberately invited a mix of racers and freeriders, hoping the different disciplines would bring different skills to the table.

This part of the plan seems to have worked well, with everyone at the round table session I attend to chat about the week’s riding professing high levels of stoke. The atmosphere in the press room is dampened slightly, not by the incessant rain that’s driven everyone into a local inn and away from the event field, but by Jess Blewitt’s absence. She’s off having a medical check up following a hard landing the day before.

Tahnée and Louise confess that seeing Jess apparently nail a feature, only to pull up injured due to the sheer force of the landing through her foot and ankle, was something of a reality check. The consequences at Hardline are so much greater than at a World Cup track. There’s no going slow with big air features – and then the landings here are “just sooooo tech” says Cami. All the riders agree that it seems unfair that Jess should be injured without even crashing, and many are wondering what she could otherwise have achieved. All agree that it took incredible bravery to turn up on her own last year and figure out some of the features for herself, without more experienced riders to show the way, or the support network that the women have provided each other this week. Even Hannah Bergemann, perhaps the rider there with the closest riding experience to the slippery technicality and big air of Hardline, say “I don’t know how Jess did this by herself…when you’re riding super high consequence stuff, you really want to make sure you want to do it and you feel ready, and you have all the right processes in place. When you’re by yourself and all the boys have left you… it’s so hard to get in the right headspace. I don’t know how she managed to pull it off”.

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A post shared by jess blewitt (@jessblewitt_)

For this year, Bernard Kerr was enlisted to show the way. He explained later that he had agreed to help show the women the right speeds and lines for each feature before he’d really considered the level of responsibility he’d taken on. Despite being familiar with the course from previous years, he hadn’t ridden it this year before the women’s camp. The pressure of leading riders off a feature and getting it wrong weighed on him, and he was quietly relieved when the weather reduced his two day task to just one.

He says that the women asked him to ride the first rock slab ‘as stiff as possible’ – to illustrate to them that even ridden really badly, it was possible – giving them confidence it didn’t need someone on their A game to clear it. Once they’d got into riding a feature or two, confidence started to build, and while Bernard doesn’t think better weather would have given anyone time to get at top to bottom run, he does think some would have completed the iconic road gap. It’s not the most technical feature there – in fact it might even be the easiest – but the mind games and consequences of getting it wrong mean that many of the men say it’s the scariest feature.

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A post shared by Cami Nogueira (@caminogueiraa)

Consequences are a recurring theme. Hardline racks them up: consequences for the body in the form of injury, or for a career in form of a season disrupted or a World Championships selection missed. For all the big air and technical events these consequences are weighed up by each rider against the potential benefits for skills progression, or advancing their career. Particularly when an event is non-competitive and there’s no prize purse to factor into the risk and reward equation, I wondered if the riders were being offered more than just ‘exposure’ for their efforts. I was reassured to hear that the riders here all received an appearance fee, and the women I spoke to feel like the industry is now putting the investment into supporting them riding at this kind of level. It feels like times have changed, and all the talk is now about progression, and what’s next.

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Everyone seems keen to return. Between the weather and first time nerves, it’s taken a moment to start ticking off the features, leaving plenty of unfinished business. Even the first one, a rock slab that Tahnée describes as a “disgusting rock roll thing that was super intimidating” took some getting into. “The first day, we looked at it for so long!… we were looking at all sorts of different line to try and avoid the roll and then Bernard was like, no, you’ve just got to roll it”. Vinny confesses “I almost did cry after that” – and Louise and Tahnée agree that the relief and adrenaline of hitting that first feature was enough to bring them to the edge of tears. Louise says with all the rain, the rocks are so slippery that she even crashed on her way to the track – hardly ideal preparation for a janky rock slab that’s so steep it doesn’t look rollable – but is. Between Bernard’s ‘ride it badly’ demonstration and Tahnée giving it a shout of “rider!” and dropping in, with onlookers diving to clear the track, the riders started to see what’s possible.

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A post shared by Hannah B (@hannahbergemann)

The mix of backgrounds came together well, with the big air free ride experts giving the racers confidence, and the racers showing the free riders that take offs and landings don’t have to be groomed to work. Cami’s big air confidence pushed Tahnée to give a feature called the Cannon a go, while Vinny’s stylish air pushed her to ‘be more Vinny’ and relax in the air. With the free ride contingent all coming back from injury, they took inspiration from Tahnée’s own recovery from a serious concussion. All agree that events like this allow progression and sharing of experience away from the pressure of race tape and competition. Louise, Jess and Tahnée with the World Cup backgrounds can see the benefit of stepping back from friendly rivalries. Tahnée said ‘as racers we’re so used to a competitive environment, and that was just all stripped back. When you’re that scared and you’re in that much fear of things, all that gets stripped back and you just really do help each other…it was just so good, I’ve never been in a position like that really’. Hannah agrees it’s a different culture in Freeride “you kind of have to rely on each other, you can’t do it on your own”. That said, the freeriders had a taste of the racers’ support network with some interest. “We’re freeriders, we don’t have mechanics!” laughed Cami, “I wish I could have a mechanic!”. “They cleaned our bikes for us!” exclaims Vinny. Tahnée brought her experience of race support to the event, making sure everything the women needed to focus and succeed on the track was in place. “I didn’t want Hardline to be watered down in any way, I didn’t want anything to be made easier just because the girls were coming. I just really wanted for us all to experience exactly what the men experience and have done for the past ten years now.”

Tahnee Seagrave riding the Cannonball at RedBull Hardline in the Dyfi Valley, Wales on July 13th, 2023. // Sam Dugon / Red Bull Content Pool
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A post shared by Vinny Armstrong (@vinnysarmstrong)

It’s not so much a case of worlds colliding as worlds combining. The women’s camp at Red Bull Hardline brought together riders who shared skills and knowledge to bring about progression for everyone. By combining the main Hardline event with the women’s camp, the women got the chance to build further on the experience they’d gained in the previous days. Without the camp, the gap would have been too big – some groundwork needed to be laid in terms of skills and confidence. Maybe the foundations aren’t built yet, exactly. We’re still at the stage where the trench is being dug, and the first bricks are being placed. As Hannah puts it, just thinking “I’m going to Hardline, with my bike” felt like a hurdle. But this year’s women’s sessions have given shape to the foundations. Riders can see that possibilities are there, the support that will help them get there, and the shape of what future events might look like.

A first step next year looks likely to be ‘bigger’, by getting a few more women riders along to the event. Tahnée hopes to persuade Veronique Sandler to bring her vibes to the course, and all the riders agreed Casey Brown, ‘the OG’, would bring a level of experience and calm that would help in figuring out those consequential features of Red Bull Hardline. When the landscape is so intimidating, you don’t need the added pressure of rivalry and competition. Insight, understanding and stoke are the order of the day. And some calm dry weather wouldn’t go amiss either. That road gap is on everyone’s radar: it now seems within the realms of possibility, they just need another chance to hit it. Let’s hope we see them back next year.

For those wondering about Hardline 2023… there’s no riding on Saturday 15th July due to the weather. Fingers crossed Sunday’s racing goes ahead as planned…

https://singletrackworld.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/07/red-bull-hardline-who-is-racing-and-how-to-watch/
https://singletrackworld.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/10/issue-145-red-bull-formation-a-foundation-for-the-future/

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Hannah Dobson

Managing Editor

I came to Singletrack having decided there must be more to life than meetings. I like all bikes, but especially unusual ones. More than bikes, I like what bikes do. I think that they link people and places; that cycling creates a connection between us and our environment; bikes create communities; deliver freedom; bring joy; and improve fitness. They're environmentally friendly and create friendly environments. I try to write about all these things in the hope that others might discover the joy of bikes too.

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Home Forums Women Send Fear Packing at Red Bull Hardline Camp

Viewing 13 posts - 1 through 13 (of 13 total)
  • Women Send Fear Packing at Red Bull Hardline Camp
  • masterdabber
    Free Member

    Thanks for that. A very good article I thought.

    Oblongbob
    Full Member

    Great read!

    stwhannah
    Full Member

    Apologies for the lack of pics, I’m on a campsite in Wales and don’t seem to have enough internet for image uploads! Glad you enjoyed the article.

    goforest
    Full Member

    Cheers Hanna , that was worth the read

    captain_bastard
    Free Member

    Thanks for that. A very good article I thought.

    yup, I’d second (or third / forth) that!

    nickc
    Full Member

    Great article. It was a shame that Casey couldn’t make it. Next year one of these incredible women is going to get down a complete run, that would be amazing to see.

    1
    noeffsgiven
    Free Member

    It’s gonna do wonders for Tahnee’s confidence after her issues, so great seeing the her, Louise and Jess taking it on, and the other girls, sorry I’m not more informed on who they are but hugely impressed. Great seeing Bernard’s genuine enthusiasm and encouragement, he’s really helping the girls out towing them in. Top man, king of Hardline, especially for continuing after that hugey last year.

    steamtb
    Full Member

    Super, thanks for that write up, my daughter was keen to hear about all the women glimpsed in the videos so far! :)

    honourablegeorge
    Full Member

    Curious about Rachel – am sure she’s had a few sneaky runs – has she talked about taking part at all?

    weeksy
    Full Member

    Great read… Thanks lots… :)

    fooman
    Free Member

    Curious about Rachel – am sure she’s had a few sneaky runs – has she talked about taking part at all?

    Rachel snapped her achilles landing a jump much smaller than anything on Hardline I very much doubt she would take the risk as her achilles is still going to be weaker than before.

    Radioman
    Full Member

    Great article… very interesting background information which I would have otherwise missed .

Viewing 13 posts - 1 through 13 (of 13 total)

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