Hardline is pitched as the world's toughest and most progressive downhill MTB race and it has all the technical features and huge jumps you would expect, up until last year something has been missing from the competition though.
The eighth edition of Hardline was the first time a women competitor dropped into the course with Jess Blewit taking on what was arguably the gnarliest edition of Hardline to date. Hardline is an invitational downhill mountain bike event, however, Jess approached Red Bull and made Hardline history by lining up alongside the male competitors on the rider roster.
Red Bull had previously approached Tahnee Seagrave with the offer of competing although her Hardline debut was unfortunately shelved after suffering a run of injuries while racing World Cup downhill.
Seeing Jess ride Hardline last year inspired the hunt for other women to make the Progression Camp happen. A crew of three downhillers and three freeriders were amassed including World Cup downhillers Tahnee Seagrave, Jess Blewitt, and Louise Ferguson alongside Freeriders Cami Nogueira, Hannah Bergemann, and Vinny Armstrong.
While all these riders are superbly talented in their own rights, the combination of freeriders and downhillers was key to the make up of the group. Bringing different riders with different experiences together to learn of each other and help feed the progression. Most importantly they shared the same goal, to see a women complete a top-to-bottom run of the track
“As racers, we are so used to competitive environments as well and that was all stripped back. When you're that scared when you're in that much fear of things, I think all that gets stripped back and you just help each other”, said Tahnee.
Progression makes perfect
Despite Hardline’s new summer dates, the weather was very unkind. Rain and high winds on Monday meant they could only safely manage a track walk. Come Tuesday it was still raining which made the already high-consequence track even more intimidating but it didn't put anyone off from getting kitted up and out on the course to ride. The weather dried up on Wednesday for the women's second day of riding where they would be practicing alongside the men who would be riding the course for the first time this year.
Tahneee kicked the day off, being the first rider to drop into the course and get the session started. As riders progressed they ticked off some of the gnarliest features on the course including the Cannon Jump, the on/off, and the huge jumps into the finish too.
The Cannon Jump was one of the group's favorite features, the high-speed entry and huge airtime was a real rush for all the riders. The iconic road gap still remains as a feature on the top of their bucket list and while they eyed it up, the high winds and huge exposure of the feature meant they weren't able to tick it off.
Unfortunately, Jess hurt her ankle when landing one of the bigger drops on the course, making the Progression camp another bittersweet experience as she also had to bow out of last year's event after breaking her collarbone.
Red Bull has put on similar events in the past, the most notable being Formation which was first held in 2019. The event brought the best women riders together in Utah for an invitational progression session. Although the Formation event has been canceled for 2023, the last three editions have been pivotal for women's freeride and wider MTB scene.
Although there are certainly many similarities between Formation and the Hardline Progression Session, particularly as many of the riders took part in both events, Hardline was challenging in its own way for many of the riders, and it wasn’t just because of the Welsh weather.
At Red Bull Formation you dig and ride your own line to pick and choose based on your strengths, whereas at Hardline the course is set, making it a lot more daunting. Preparing yourself to take on such an intimidating course is a challenge in itself, which is why hosting progression camps like this is so important. “No one really came in with the expectation that we have got to do a full run or set a good time. We will just see how it goes and there is no pressure and that was a recipe for success”, said Hannah.
The intensity of the track was a completely new experience for the freeriders and downhillers alike, but piercing together the track became a team effort as they helped each other tackle sections. With every feature they ticked off, it opened up the possibility of unlocking more features as expectations of what was possible changed.
We are already seeing the benefits of nurturing women's freeride in competition and breaking down the barriers of what is possible. From the hotly contested speed and style events of Crankworxs to being officially invited to compete in the Darkfest Series, women's freeride is seeing exponential levels of progression.
High winds plagued the final day of practice and forced the course to close, which in turn closed the door on the women's opportunity to complete a full run and have the opportunity to line up for qualifying. Not content with causing havoc in the run up to the event, the weather was unrelenting and the organizers were forced to make make the difficult decision of canceling finals too.
While the 2023 Hardline will go down as the edition that never happened, there are still huge positives to be taken from the Progression Camp. Like the other girls, Tahnee was stoked with what they achieved, saying, “I can't believe that I have left Hardline thinking that next year I'm going to come back and tick off more features, to me that's just insane”. With new frontiers broken and elevated confidence, it's surely only a matter of time before we see women dropping in for a Hardline finals run.