Location Cardrona, New Zealand
Words Jonny Richards
Photo Henry Jaine
From the World’s Most Incredible Action Shots And How They Were Captured series, photographer (and athlete) interviews…
Artier than most of the frames we run here on Fall Line, there’s something inherently pleasing about this flowing mass of mountain bikes, as 100-plus riders (all clad in crimson) are chased down the hill at the inaugural New Zealand Red Bull Fox Hunt in Cardrona.
And for those of you who have not followed previous editions of the mass start mayhem in Wales and Northern Ireland, the usual countryside roles are inverted. So the masses (hounds) get released a little ahead of a trio of pros (foxes) that are assigned to hunt everyone down, with the idea to pedal like crazy in the hope of reaching the finish before you are gobbled up!
For a taste of what it takes to out-fox (oh come, on, you knew it was going to happen!) the chasers, dial-up a YouTube Gee Atherton or Loic Bruni POV special, with the former showing crazy commitment and speeds of up to 60km/h, while the latter’s clip is a barrage of take-outs, apologies and bat-shit-crazy passes as the reigning World Champion carves his way through the field.
In the case of the NZ Cardrona edition, Remy Morton, Brook Macdonald and Jess Blewitt provided the stardust, with all but two hounds gobbled up by Morton as he won the battle of the pros, blitzing the 9.5km-long course in 13.33 (just 25 seconds behind first hound home Sean McCarroll, despite all the traffic and potential strife).
“Hectic, but safe hectic,” says the Aussie, whose Insta bio refers to him as RemDawg (no giggling at the back please, it’s spelt differently to the Bad Education BBC Three character). Before admitting that he only boosted past Brook ‘The Bulldog’ after the Kiwi lost his chain in the bottom section.
Brook was far from the only rider to face a mechanical, or get wiped out, as the hordes descended the 1,200m vertical Fox Hunt Cardrona course. “Exhilarating, spectacular, carnage,” confirms Henry Jaine (whose image is featured here) when we caught up over email, asking him for three words to describe the event. And those adjectives were generated a good distance back, from behind a 70-200mm lens to avoid the worst of the dust and disarray. So being in the thick of it must really have been… something.
“It was chaos!” confirms pro Jess who rides for GT (as well as Red Bull) and finished second overall in the women’s category. “I couldn’t see a thing at times… There was one spill right in front of me, they ate it in the corner that I luckily missed. Then another guy tried to take a short cut and almost T-boned me!”
All a bit worrying for the former ski racer from New Zealand’s North Island, who despite only riding seriously since 2019, has already broken her femur, collarbone (x2), wrist, various ribs, and endured multiple fractures of the spine via high-speed slams on the World Cup circuit and beyond. But just like downhill racing on skis, those are the risks of push-push-push…
Speaking of which, “I definitely saw some people get taken out,” says Remi, laughing like Muttley (while not quite admitting to giving them the nudge personally). While Brook, from the fox trio, appears equally supportive of fleeing hounds. “You’re just trying to get past, screaming abuse,” he says with a big smile.
Photographer Jaine, who took getting on for 2,000 images on the day, describes the feel, especially at the start, near where this image was taken as full of “suspense and excitement”. Because, well, who doesn’t like being cut-up and cursed at while some of the best riders in the world thunder past?
It’s all a bit nuts, in the best possible way.