Malvern's finest took home 3(!) DH and XC national titles between themselves
Evie Richards and Hattie Harnden both sharpened their mountain bike skills in the beautiful hills around Malvern, England. This past weekend, the pair of humble Malvernians stood atop all of British cycling.
Richards swept both cross country titles on offer to her, winning the short track title by 38 seconds over Annie Last, and the XCO title by more than five minutes over Isla Short. Harnden, making her DH national championships debut, bested Tahnee Seagrave and Phoebe Gale by five and seven seconds, respectively.
Richards has been riding atop the XC world for a long time now. The 2021 World Champion shouldn’t need much introduction. But in her three seasons racing as an elite, the national title has eluded her, in part due to factors out of her control including the pandemic (2020), an Olympic year (2021) and injury (2022, when she finished second in her first race after recovering from back problems).
This past weekend in Tong, she left no doubt in both races, escaping away from her competition from the start and never looking back, even in dodgy conditions.
“It was super muddy, which is always my favorite conditions,” Richards said. “We just had a really great time. There were no mechanicals, no crashes, and the weekend just went perfectly smooth for me. It was crazy how bad the conditions actually were, and very different to the hot races we’ve been in. But I just tried to stay cool on the technical descents and just really concentrate on really pushing on the hard bits of the course.”
Richards is in the midst of a strong racing season. She already has two World Cup podium finishes, taking third in short track in Leogang and fourth in XCO in Nové Mesto. Coming off a jam-packed block of racing, however, she was excited to take some time off before Nationals. Judging by her performance in Tong, the rest was exactly what she needed.
“After the last World Cups, I felt quite tired, so I had a couple of days off the bike,” Richards said. “I was really excited that I felt much stronger and more myself in these races.”
Harnden had won a U23 or Elite British title four times before the weekend, but in many ways her victory this weekend was more shocking than Richards’. The former XC and cyclocross rider, now full-time gravity racer, is taking on big-time DH events for the first time in her career. But despite her relative lack of experience, Harnden has looked like a natural on her Trek Session.
“I’m still absolutely buzzing from the weekend,” Harnden said. “It’s a bit of a surprise to be honest. It was one of those real moments where I got to the bottom of my run and was like, ‘Oh, how did I even get here.’ I was just in a real, almost perfect flow state.”
Over the last three seasons, Harnden has established herself as one of the very best enduro riders in the world, finishing third on the Enduro World Series women’s overall standings last year. She has struggled to nail down the consistency she expects of herself at times this season, which made her impressive winning margins in Rhy-y-Felin all the more satisfying.
“I was really comfortable on my bike and rode like myself,” Harnden said. “It was how I’ve been wanting to ride all year, but just haven’t quite found it. Sunday was that day where I found my riding.”
Like Richards, Harnden battled very muddy conditions. And like Richards, she thrived in the slop. (If you haven’t guessed, Malvern isn’t known for its sunny weather.) With low pressure on her shoulders, going up against an elite World Cup winner in Seagrave and a junior World Cup winner in Gale, Harnden laid down the top qualifying time by roughly 10 seconds on Saturday, setting the stage for her big performance Sunday.
“I really wasn’t expecting to beat Tahnee and Phoebe,” Harnden said. “So I was just kind of like, ‘Yeah, I’m just gonna have a good weekend, and ride the best I can.’ Those girls are some of the best in the world.”
Harnden has now won British national titles in U23 XCO (2021 and 2022), elite cyclocross (2020 and 2022) and elite DH (2023). She is an absolute sponge for new cycling disciplines, as evidenced by the way she went to Lenzerheide in June and took ninth in her first ever elite DH World Cup start.
“I’m loving riding the downhill bike at the moment,” Harnden says. “It just feels very natural, and I’m having a good time. It’s nice to do something a little bit different in between my enduro races.”
Both Harnden and Richards will be heading up to Scotland during the first two weeks of August to take on MTB World Championships. Both appear primed for big performances. Richards is racing with the same gusto that helped her win the rainbow stripes just two years ago. Harnden is simply having a blast as she hones her craft at yet another discipline. There’s no limit to what either could accomplish. And no matter what happens, Malvern will be beaming.