The forecast was for heavy rain, the sky was grey, the umbrellas were on standby…but that didn’t stop more than 60 women lining up on the start line for the first of Stilettos On Wheels mountain bike race of this year. With almost double the number of riders in the event this year the competition was certainly fiercer but with super friendly marshals, supporters and sponsors in the arena, and a mix of expert and novice racers on the course, Stilettos On Wheels managed to maintain the fun, supportive atmosphere which sustains its popularity.
The race was held at Rother Valley Country Park, in South Yorkshire, on Saturday and featured two- and four-hour solo competitions and a four-hour pairs race. The venue is new for 2013 but has strong roots in the Sheffield mountain bike scene – it was the first place legendary rider Steve Peat raced!
Especially designed for the event to include something challenging for all levels of rider, the course was 3.5miles long. It began with a hill start out of the arena up a rocky road, to spread the riders out, and then followed a route up and down a hillocky, grassy field. A field of enormous, shaggy Highland cattle watched disinterestedly (from across a hedge, of course) as riders pelted downhill towards them. Then followed some fast singletrack through the woods with a few technical challenges thrown in for good measure, jumps and rollers and the like (all were avoidable for less confident riders). But what goes down, must get back up, so a fun series of super-slippy- in-the-mud switchbacks came next. More swoopy singletrack through the trees and then the course turned a sharp left out into the open and into the basin of an old quarry, which (obviously) led to a short sharp climb up to the top. The track at the top was a complete mudfest, featuring a fun (!) mix of both claggy and sloppy mud and then it was on to a fireroad for a chance to put the pedal to the metal before another climb back into the woods and yet more singletrack, hurrah! Before you knew it, you were back at the hillocky field and climbing up the other side towards the event arena. Another hillocky descent followed by a hairpin bend and another burn up a fireroad came next, before the final descent. The rest of the course was fun and challenging in equal measures, but really the course designer (good job Emma Peasland) saved the best for last with this short speedy downhill – berms, jumps, swoops, whoops, a little bit of mud, some motivational on-course graffiti – it was brilliant. All credit to Nick Howarth, Park Ranger, and Rother Valley Riders who do volunteer trail work at the park to maintain the bike trails and keep them interesting.
So, on to the results. Hannah Saville, riding for Norton Wheelers, completed four laps 6 minutes faster than the next rider to take victory in the two hour solo category. At 15 Hannah was the event’s youngest competitor and is in the British Cycling North Midlands Youth Squad. The battle for the next two steps on the podium was closely fought, but Jessica Connor, riding for Kenilworth Wheelers, completed four laps in 1.45.06 to finish second and last year’s winner Kali Taylor, riding for Craven Energy, completed her four laps just under two minutes behind for third place. Just 6 of the 34 riders in the 2 hour category managed to complete 4 laps, showing just how challenging the course and conditions were.
fastest lap overall of 22.30, and won with a comfortable 11 minutes to spare. Helen MacGregor, riding for VC Lincoln, also completed 9 laps to take second. Helen is currently ranked number one veteran female mtb xc racer in the UK. Last year’s northern round winner Amelia Cambridge, for Velo Club Rutland, completed 8 laps for third place.
The most senior racer in the event Ann Robinson, Lichfield City Zipvit Sport, completed 6 laps for 5th position in the four-hour solo race. Ann usually races in the Grand Veterans category and is currently ranked 9th in the country for her age-group. Local cycling clubs were also well represented, with an amazing 11 women from Bolsover and District Cycling Club taking part in the three races.
The four-hour pairs category was probably the most closely fought in the event, but the victorious Team MazNEm managed to complete 9 laps just in the nick of time to clinch first position. Two of the Formidable Five, also known as last year’s pairs winners Theresa and Sheila, completed 8 laps to finish second, and Team Kazuth also did 8 laps to place third.
But everyone’s a winner in the eyes of the Stilettos On Wheels team, so every finisher received a bespoke sprocket medal at the end of their race. The top three in each category also received special leather medals, designed and made by Katie Bebbington of Dormouse Inc, a professional leather and metal-worker (and keen cyclist). After the prize-giving, an impressive array of spot prizes for Stilettos On Wheels’ generous sponsors were doled out, including shiny Lezyne track pumps, funky AnaNichoola and Morvelo clothing, bike parts from Mt Zoom, custom-painted Stilettos On Wheels OdPod bike stands from Od Designs, cycling jewellery from Fine Fettle, discount vouchers from Bamboo Bikes, and a £100 voucher from Sheffield bike shop Over-Ride Cycleworks. JE James Cycles were at the event again, providing bike maintenance and a very-popular bike wash service. Over-Ride Cycles, Od Designs, and Bike Rehab also displayed in the arena. First laps for some were powered by Torq Energy, who provided a free Raspberry Ripple energy gel for every racer, and riders and pit crews were able to keep up to date with lap times and positions through the efficient technology of Race Timing Solutions.
The rain held off all day and feedback in the arena was of a positive racing experience, with many requests to come back again next year. Launched last year, Stilettos On Wheels is a XC mountain bike race for women only, aimed at creating a greater focus on women in the sport and encouraging more women to try mountain bike racing. It is for both beginners and experienced riders, with fun at the heart of the track design. The southern round of Stilettos On Wheels will be held at Stanmer Park, Brighton, on Saturday 7th September. Entry is now open on the website www.stilettosonwheels.com.