This weekend’s Red Bull Foxhunt went off with a bang in Rostrevor with 400 hounds being chased hard by the fox, World Cup Downhill legend Gee Atherton.
The race charged down a slippy sliddy trail that had a bit of everything thrown in. Open mountain side gave way to rocky shally loose terrain with some step bermy corners before the riders dove into the woods and down the excellent tracks of Rostrevors DH1 and 2 with steep bermed corners, technical steps and chutes and giant jumps at the bottom.
Keen riders were quick to spot the sneaky inside lines and steep chutes which would save them valuable time in the helter skelter race to the bottom that saw them trying to stay ahead of the wily fox. Of course Gee Atherton had the worst of it nipping in and out of the pack with big leaps to overtake the slower riders. A trip over the bars didn’t slow him too much and he was making short work of the chutes and drops.
Last year only one rider managed it but this year 30 out foxed the Fox. First place went to Colin Ross who thundered into the finish line arena with a good lead ahead of last years winner Greg Callaghan of Dirt Norco with Joe Barnes of the Dudes of Hazzard in third.
The day had started in the worst possible way weather wise with thunderous looking clouds and rain. Sitting at breakfast just before nine in Warrenpoint the view was none existent but over the course of a proper full Irish gradually the clouds lifted to give a view up the inlet with Rostrevor on the left and Carlinford on the right. By the time I was guzzling my coffee the day had an all-together different view and I was packing the raincoat and thinking about sunscreen!
The course had been drying out on Saturday evening as a glorious afternoon settled into dusk. By the time of Sundays race, conditions were beginning to improve again as the multitude of riders practicing dried out the lines. The pros loved the course.
The course had something for everyone and a real mix of riders lined out from full on pros to first time racers. Chatting to those in the uplift trailers revealed a real mix of riding styles too with everything from Cross country to Downhill and inevitably Enduro riders occupying the middle ground. Some riders mentioned that they had been practicing on downhill bikes but had shifted to Enduro steeds due to the long pedally sections. Fit riders had advantages too with opportunities for passing in several sections.
As the race started 400 riders charged across the heather in a fantastic mass start that rivals the MegaAvalanche in France. As the helicopter circled racers were elbows out trying desperately to get into the climbing (!) singletrack ahead of the pack. This was crucial given the speedy descent ahead and many were red lining before they even got into the technical trails.
The hounds all rode in red foxhunting jerseys making for an interesting spectacle at the finish line as the lone yellow jersey of Gee was swarmed by riders looking to have their photo taken with one of the top riders in the world. Gentleman Gee spent lots of time with his public signing jerseys left right and center and facebook will be alive with selfies featuring him. Speaking afterwards Gee was buzzing, saying that it was the best Foxhunt yet! Roll on 2014!
“The course was incredible, much more technical than in previous years and really leant itself well to the whole Foxhunt concept. It definitely challenged the riders, a lot more interesting”.
The traffic was tough “It was really difficult, I set off late actually, it was definitely a battle. I passed a lot on the first open section before the bridge and the bottleneck. I got passed a few and then after that it completely locked down and there were just bodies everywhere, I was really rough and man handling a bit. We started moving and I could start to pass people, I would throw out an elbow and put someone into the bank. That was the only way to get past. It started to speed up then and it started to be a bit free’er and that was where I did the majority of the overtaking”.
Gee now heads into the off season with an operation scheduled for his ankle this week. The injury dates back to last years Red Bull Rampage and shows the measure of the man who raced a whole season at the absolute top of the Downhill World Cup finishing a narrow second place overall and several wins under his belt.
Words: Red Bull Media House | Photos: Predrag Vuckovic/Red Bull Media House