The best race I’ve never done
Rides with Women.
I should probably start by saying I am not a lady. I am not a girl, nor a woman. I am not female at all. And, as a middle-aged white man, this has never really been a problem for me. I have never really had the desire to walk in the other’s shoes, or heels. Not until I hung out at the Dirt de Femme.
You can probably see from all the reports on this site that I’ve done a few mountain biking events over the years – and those are just the ones I write about. And I’m inclined to say, the Dirt de Femme is probably the best race I’ve never done. (Though, it could well be argued that that’s easy to say when I didn’t actually have to ride in it!)
The Dirt de Femme has been running for six years, and is the brain child of Raynie McNee of Cycle Education fame (and, you know just about anything to do with mountain biking in Canberra). As the name suggests, it is a female-only event; and while there are some very nice prizes on offer, it is much more about fun and participation than anything else – and this certainly shines through in the event.
Riders have a choice of the long course (4 laps of a 10.5km course) or a short course (4 x 5.2km) at Mt Stromlo. Both courses provided just enough challenge for the sort of rider you would expect to take them on – that is, the short course is probably less technical (though, still with enough to keep it interesting) with some nice little nuggets of pain just to make sure you know you’re still racing. The long course had more climbing, and some slightly more technical trails, but well within the bounds of most riders.
And, if you really weren’t sure of your skills, they were running training leading up to the event!
Doc Runaway, being the only female mountain biking TriHard, took one for the team and entered the Dirt de Femme in 2017. She took on the short course, which took in some of the nicer tracks around lower Stromlo. With Stromlo as my usual Sunday stomping ground, I thought I’d head out and try my hand at supporting.
There were a few intersections of both courses, with the lower ones – such as the crit track and the firetrail near Dusty Critter, being areas where riders would probably be going quite fast, and plenty of people about to cheer them on anyway. So I headed up to the fire road leading to Slant-Six. This was probably the hardest climb of the short course – and the top of the fire road intersected with the long course as they exited the Luge and entered Slant Six. Seeing how the long course competitors would be going fast, and probably didn’t need a distraction as they shot into Slant Six, I figured I might as well cheer from where it was most needed and headed down to about half-way up the climb.
It wasn’t long at all before the first riders on the short course came flying up that hill (and, yes, I mean that – some of them had wings!) They were just powering up the hill. And behind them came the punters. And I clapped for them all – because it would just be weird to stand there and only clap for the Doc – besides, the happy atmosphere was contagious.
But it’s not the first lap that tells you the character of a race, or the people in it. It’s the last. As the day gets hotter, time drags on, and they have to ride up that bloody hill for the fourth and final time. Young girls, older ladies, mothers with daughters and everyone in-between; I saw them all riding up that hill on their last lap, exhausted, eating the snakes proffered by the volunteer who seemed to spend her time riding up and down that hill a thousand times. And they were all happy. They were all smiling, and friendly, encouraging each other up that hill, for that one last effort before they finish. Some even had enough energy to dodge the orange-bellied orange snake making its way across the fire trail.
It’s a pretty weird thing to say, given I spent the day watching people riding up a fairly steep firetrail, but that race looks like a lot of fun; and for once, I’m actually quite envious of people who aren’t middle-aged white men… The Dirt de Femme is a really fun (and achievable) event, with a fantastic atmosphere. I – as someone who didn’t have to ride up that fire trail four times - would highly recommend it!
But – be wary dear rider – there be dragons out there!