The Red Bull Foxhunt 2018 took place in the hills of Machynlleth, Wales last weekend with the recently crowned world champion, Rachel Atherton chasing an all-female pack of 155 hounds (Eds.: including our own author Jessie-May, who finished in the top-10 managing to elude the World Champ’s chase).
The event took place over two days, with course practice and timed qualification runs taking place on the Saturday, followed by the main event race on the Sunday. The riders – the Hounds – took on the purpose-built 2 km course in a bid to outride the Fox – the fastest downhill racer in the world, Rachel Atherton. The hounds were released with a head start shortly followed by Red Bull athlete Rachel Atherton, who was challenged to overtake as many riders as possible. With the Fox Hunt now in its 5th successful year and surrounded by much hype, I went along to see what all the fuss was about, and to be a hound of course.
So, what’s it like to have the world’s most decorated downhill mountain biker, plus 155 other women chase you in a mass start downhill race? Utterly wild. Possibly the most adrenaline-fueled 3 and a half minutes of my life. The course was short with a large proportion of it consisting of what is essentially a grassy slope however, there were 3 or 4 super challenging features to deal with as well as some of North Wales’ finest slate rock. Undoubtedly there are numerous race reports out there in addition to Rachel Atherton’s own 360° POV race run so I don’t seek to duplicate those here. In the aftermath of the race, when stoke levels were at their peak, I got in a quick interview with the fox herself.
Exclusive Interview with Rachel Atherton
BIKERUMOR: Tell us about your bike choice for this weekend’s race, why did you opt for the Remedy [150mm 27.5] over the Slash [150mm 29er]?
Rachel: I don’t have a Slash. I have a Trek Remedy and a Trek Fuel EX. If I ride a 29er, I ride the Fuel for little trails at home. I want to stay on 27.5 when I ride as I don’t want to cross over between the two, so I’ve gone for the 27.5-inch Remedy.
BIKERUMOR: You’ve been riding 27.5-inch wheels all season, is that right?
Rachel: Yeah, it is good I like it. Obviously, the Downhill Bike is the bike I ride the most [210mm Session 27.5]. I tried the 29er, but I didn’t feel very comfortable on it. I broke my collarbone last year and only started riding again in January. And I didn’t think that would be long enough to get used to the 29er, so I stayed on the 27.5. All the girls are on the 27.5. I don’t know if it really makes any difference, in the men’s it doesn’t. It’s nice that everyone is on the same size wheels, it makes it fair then.
BIKERUMOR: Katy Winton and Casey Brown, the enduro riders, have gone for the 29-inch wheels on the Slash. They obviously think it is faster, don’t they?
Rachel: Yeah, but you obviously get the extra energy saving when pedaling over an 8-hour enduro day. That is probably the biggest saving you’ll have from the energy point of view. Enduro is a different game.
BIKERUMOR: What’s your opinion on women’s specific mountain bikes?
Rachel: I think a bike is a bike, really. I think mainly it is the size and fit that is important. Getting the right size and making sure the bars are the right width for you and I don’t think any geometry stuff is really going to change, not for me personally. You ride the same speed as some of the guys, so you don’t ride differently to the guys.
BIKERUMOR: You don’t change the length of your crank arms or anything?
Rachel: No, I use the standard length.
BIKERUMOR: And of course, Trek don’t offer a women’s specific full suspension mountain bike, do they?
Rachel: No, and I’ve never really thought about it much to be honest. We do a lot of frame testing and lots of different geometry testing and different linkages. And it is probably the suspension and the linkage that makes the most difference. We have been running a custom linkage on the downhill bike, and then half way through this year I changed back to the standard linkage which is 19%; and we were running like 30%. Everyone was like ‘you’re not gonna like it, it isn’t going to work’. But I loved it, and then I won every race for the rest of the season. Maybe that was the right choice. That stuff is more important than having a women’s bike. A women’s bike isn’t necessarily going to be set up correctly. The suspension still has to be set up to suit the individual and their style of riding. I don’t think that differs from men to women really.
BIKERUMOR: Is there any new emerging bike technology that you’re interested in or excited about?
Rachel: I think the biggest thing and the most interesting thing from my point of view is 3D printing and tech like that, which is going to hopefully have a good impact on how non-environmentally friendly mountain biking is. It is awful really. If you can 3D print stuff in your own country, I think that stuff is the cutting edge of technology. And that is what is going to be the future of the sport. That’s exciting. When you start looking into it, it’s like wow, that’s stuff is pretty amazing! Yeah, I think that is probably the future, really.
BIKERUMOR: You live in a beautiful part of the country, the countryside surrounding Machynlleth and the Dyfi Valley is absolutely stunning. If you could live anywhere else in the world, where would it be?
Rachel: Everyone always asks that. I could live in Italy, definitely. It is nice, and everyone is friendly. You sometimes think you could live in Canada, but I think I would miss home too much. I do a lot of skiing in the winter. The question in your head in the winter when it has been raining for weeks on end, you’re like, ‘we should move somewhere with better weather’. But you always come back to where you are from. Yeah, it is in your blood.
BIKERUMOR: Did you grow up in Machynlleth?
Rachel: No, I didn’t actually! We were born down South, the south of England, in Somerset, but we’ve moved around loads. I’ve lived in Wales for probably about 15 years, so I like to pretend I’m Welsh.
BIKERUMOR: Where is your favorite place to ride in the UK, outside of the Dyfi Valley [Machynlleth]?
Rachel: Probably up in Scotland. The big mountains and the scenery up there is wonderful. Obviously, we go up there a lot for racing, but I wish I had more time to explore. So that is always on the bucket list – take the camper up there and take the trail bikes for a couple of weeks.
BIKERUMOR: Have you ever fancied riding an Enduro World Series? Is that on the radar?
Rachel: Yeah, I do wanna try one yeah! I think I’m probably one of the un-fittest downhill racers. Everyone says you know, you must be fit. But, honestly, I’m really not. But I do want to try one, it’s just that I’d like to do some pretty hardcore training for it. I wouldn’t want to try one now and put myself off. I want to put in some good training for it. I was in Whistler last year, and I entered and then I was like, ‘ah no I can’t do it’. And then I thought maybe I’d go out and do Finale at the end. Then this year I was like, shall I do Ainsa? Yeah, I think I’ll try a couple next year, but just for fun you know. It is not like I’m going there to win, or be taking it as seriously as a downhill race. So I’d go for a bit of fun, and to be able to ride the bike for that long is pretty cool. It would be a nice experience. So yeah, I’d love to try one. On an E-bike.
BIKERUMOR: Have you ever suffered from vibration issues, carpal tunnel, or arm pump from the continuous impacts?
Rachel: Yeah, I mean you get arm pump. I’ve got a disc herniation in my neck which is probably just from all the impact over the years. That gives me quite a lot of trouble from my neck and down my right arm.
BIKERUMOR: Is there anything specific you wear to cope with that? Or do you change your handlebar setup for it at all?
Rachel: Yeah, you get arm pump and it’s horrific. It’s something that everyone gets. I suffer with it probably worse than the other girls, probably from all my shoulder injuries and neck injuries. Really, keeping yourself loose and keeping your shoulders supple so that your nerves have space to pass through and work, that’s really important. In Andorra this year, I rode with no gloves because, not having that extra layer of the glove just reduces that tiny bit of movement you get from wearing gloves. Going gloveless, it does give you a better feeling, and you don’t get quite as much arm pump. But then you get a lot of sweat – in a full run I was like, ‘holy shit, it got slippery’. It was really good until I got half way down. Suspension is key as well, you know. It is amazing, sometimes I can do a run and I physically can’t get to the bottom because my suspension is too stiff. And then you change it up a bit, make it a bit sort of softer. But I don’t like to go all the way through my suspension and use it all – I like to have hard forks and sit up for it to hold me up. So it is a fine balance between having stiff suspension, and being able to physically ride to the bottom.
BIKERUMOR: Are you making any big changes to the bike for next year? Is there a new bike coming?
Rachel: Yeah, big changes on the horizon for us. So yeah, watch this space!
Bike Check: Rachel Atherton’s Trek Remedy
Rachel Atherton rode the Trek Remedy with 27.5 inch wheels at this year’s Red Bull Fox Hunt. The track didn’t call for the use of a full downhill rig, and almost everyone was riding an enduro/trail bike, with a few brave (crazy?) ones on hardtails.
The full carbon bike features advanced frame tech like its Active Braking Pivot (ABP) to prevent the rear suspension going stiff while braking hard. The brake caliper is attached high up the seat stay, isolating braking forces from suspension forces, resisting the brake-induced squat that prevents the shock from moving freely while braking.
Rachel’s Remedy was also rocking a Renthal Fatbar and fresh, super sticky Renthal grips.
The Trek Remedy features a mino link (flip chip) which allows riders to finely adjust geometry. It is a simple adjustment that anyone can make using a 5 mm hex wrench. Flipping the link slackens the head tube angle by 0.5 degrees for more stability at high speeds, while lowering the bottom bracket height by 6-9 mm. Interestingly, Rachel Atherton rode the Trek Remedy with the steeper head angle, with the mino link placed towards the front of the bike.