The Red Bull Hardline is said to be the most difficult downhill mountain bike track built. Dan Atherton and his crew spent months crafting the technical and fast flowing course in mid-Wales to create a single track that would scare and entice even the most daring of riders. Natural rock garden, doubles, hip jumps and road gaps, this course has a bit of everything to push any rider to the limit of their ability, and beyond. Sadly, Dan Atherton injured himself a week before the event resulting in shoulder surgery, so he wouldn't be racing the event himself. I wondered how this would affect the morale of the riders when the Hardline Godfather hospitalizes himself on his own track! Samantha and I spent the weekend absorbing the buzzing atmosphere, and the welsh rain, of the Hardline event!
Saturday September 12th: Qualifiers
I'm really not a fan of early mornings, especially when it's raining outside. However, I was pumped to get up at 06:45 on a Saturday morning and get ready to drive up to the Dyfi Valley in Mid Wales to watch the highly anticipated Red Bull Hardline event. Sam and I flew down the Welsh country roads and arrived at the site just as the practice session was kicking off. Much to our disappointment the heavy rains had churned up the fields into a boggy suction pit, and the rains continued to flow. Note to self, tie boots on tight! Not to let this bum us out, we kitted up in waterproofs and set off into the arena where the atmosphere was buzzing. After we received our media passes from the Jeep tent, we decided to climb the track walk so Sam could find some good photography spots to camp at.
Oh dear God. Describing the track walk is difficult because all that comes to mind are curse words and gentle sobbing! The rain had done a fab job of creating a muddy slip n' slide for the spectators to clamber up, and fall down over the course of the weekend, and I give a massive thumbs up to anyone who didn't fall on their butt at some point. Yep, I did fall on my butt. It was so bad in some places that Red Bull had nailed ropes into the ground so you could hoist yourself up a near vertical wet muddy wall, I didn't sign up for a Toughmudder, did I? On one of my descents down the track, a pushy child actually used my leg to pull himself up a muddy bank. Thanks for the muddy hand prints, kid!
So the wet forest muddy scene has been set. Now for the action. The media passes we had for the event were awesome as we were allowed just inside the taped areas next to the track for Sam to get her shots. And boy did we feel close to the riders when they flew by on their practise runs. Saturday morning practise started with riders sessioning some of the jumps near the top of the course, and these were huge! We had heard from the marshals that Friday's practise session had seen some epic falls and crashes, so the riders were keen to pin these features before qualifiers later in the day.
I managed to steal some time with the lovely Gethin Evans whilst he was carrying out some track maintenance. Gethin, who's besties with Dan and Olly, helped with the Hardline construction from the start. He told me that over the 3 months of building there was a solid crew of 6 men, with additional builders lending a day here and there. I asked him what the hardest part of the build was: "Mentally, the planning of the course was the hardest part. Physically, carrying all the logs up to the Renegade jump as it was so demanding". Gethin thought that the riders needed a more positive-mental-attitude as some where requesting more practise times and easier features. But this is the hardline! Thanks Gethin, and big shout-out to #teambont!
The day ended with the qualifying race between the hopeful and brave (or stupid) 8 riders. Gee Atherton who had be dominating the track in practice, secured himself 1st in qualies, followed by Joe Smith and Bernard Kerr. The day ended with the sun shining and the riders sessioning the final 2 jumps in a whip-off competition.
Sunday September 13th: Finals
Yay! Clearer skies greeted Sam and I when we headed into the arena on day 2. The atmosphere was intense as the crowd had really filled out for the Finals and the anticipation of the day's riding was on everyone's minds. We climbed once more up the boggy track walk of doom and popped ourselves under the colossus road gap. It wasn't the distance of it that freaked me out. It was the height that these riders would land from, and the speed! I know my chicken wing arms would snap off completely if they had to withstand that impact. Something Rachel Atherton agreed with when I asked if she would ride the road gap: "I can ride the feature and the distance, but it's the height and impact of landing that is too big for me".
The day kicks off with a couple hours of practicing for the riders, which was one of the drawbacks of the event only having 8 riders. You found yourself waiting around... a lot. Unlike other races and events where riders are constantly on the track, at the Hardline, Sam and I would be waiting a good 40mins+ before seeing any action. The original rider list was approximately 15 riders, whittled down to the final 8 although it's not clear why riders pulled out of the event. Perhaps Dan's injury, or the delightful Welsh weather put them off! I wonder if Red Bull would open the event to a wider rider list in future (beyond the UK and EU). Even more so, I would love to see some ladies take on the Hardline! Riders like 4X World Champion, Katy Curd could surely have some fun with these jumps and drops.
Later in the day, Dan Atherton showed up in the arena with his arm secured to his chest. What a trooper to attend, fresh out of surgery, to see the riders take on his challenging track. I managed to catch up with Dan to see how he was doing and thankfully, he said there wouldn't be any long term damage to the shoulder. Hurray, Affy will ride again! What a lovely guy as well, the Atherton clan were so welcoming and friendly! They say to never meet your idols, but I couldn't have been happier,.. I just wish I was a little less awkward and fangirly.
The riders made their final ascent to the top of the mountain in Jeep vehicles, preparing for their final run. I wish I could have read their minds at that point. If it were me, it would be curse words, prayers and thoughts of Gomez. First to ride was Alex Bond who suffered a rear puncture in the early stages of the track and had to roll himself down to the finish. Poor dude, to have trained and practised so hard for that to happen in your final run! The riders descended in their qualifying order with Gee Atherton coming down last. Having thought Gee would secure the win, we were all gob-smacked when it was announced in his final race run that Gee's rear tyre had come off early into the track. Mechanical issues can happen to anyone, at any time but the final of a Hardline run that you were sure to win is the WORST time for a mechanical fail. Gee dragged his bike through the finish where the extent of the damage was clear: the rear tyre had completely come off and tangled itself up, locking out the wheel altogether. He was not a happy bunny, which is totally understandable.
Against all odds, the unexpected winner of the Red Bull Hardline was Scottish rider Ruaridh Cunningham, who qualified 4th on Saturday and who hadn't even ridden all the course features until his final run. He was followed by Joe Smith taking 2nd place, and Bernard Kerr taking 3rd.
Hardline 2015 Race Results
- Ruaridh Cunningham 3:53.785
- Joe Smith 3:57.402
- Bernard Kerr 4:01.035
- Adam Brayton 4:11.028
- Reece Wilson 4:15.335
- Craig Evans 4:20.701
- Alex Bond 7:47.398
- Gee Atherton 10:47.941
I love watching race events and I'm always on YouTube checking out tricks, rider diaries and trying to study rider technique. Watching the Red Bull Hardline event is a whole new level of riding and I have so much respect for all the riders who participated in the event. It's hard to describe the epic scale of some of these features, but to throw yourself off a wooden bridge, or down a near vertical rock face, you need some guts and skill! You could see every rider really knuckled down and gave everything they had to this course, skill, speed and the determination to conquer the track in one piece.
Thank you to everyone at Red Bull, Atherton Racing, Jeep and the riders for making the event what it is. Good luck and well wishes to Dan Atherton for a speedy recovery as well, see you next year Red Bull Hardline! And last but definitely not least, thank you Sam for the amazing photos and keeping me company on the drive! Please check out Sam's photography skills, not only is she great at capturing super action shots, but she's an ace rider herself. All the photos for this article have been taken by herself, and there's more in the gallery below. Enjoy!