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Interview: Georgia Astle’s path to Red Bull Formation

How the Whistler rider went from downhill to Enduro World Series and now the biggest women's freeride event

2022 Red Bull Formation Photo by: Photo: Re Wikstrom / Red Bull Content Pool

Georgia Astle is a born-and-raised Whistler local but, despite having the iconic bike park in her backyard, the 24-year-old arrived in mountain biking late. When Astle, who now races for Devinci Global Racing, did start riding, she immediately excelled. National downhill podiums lead to international appearances, all while largely-self funding her racing.

This year, Astle sailed to new heights as a rider at Red Bull Formation, an invite-only women’s freeride event modelled on the iconic Red Bull Rampage.

I reached Atle at home in Whistler to talk about her experience as a first-year rider at Formation. We also cover how she balances training to huck off huge cliffs with the all-day pedalling of an Enduro World Series race, how she’s self-funded racing for years, and how support for women’s freeride is starting to improve.  There’s a lot to dig into with the impressively talented Whistler local that seems to be able to do just about anything on a bike,  so settle in.

Georgia Astle gets elevated at Formation. Photo: Robin O’Neill / Red Bull Content Pool
Canadian MTB: This year was your first Formation on a bike. What was this year’s experience like?

Georgia Astle: I went last year just as a digger. That was my first time in Utah and first time to Formation. It was amazing. I was super grateful that I was able to go to see Formation, to see the terrain and see what it took to build those lines so that I knew what I was in for this year. It’s a ton of work, a big week of digging in the heat. The dirt is like nowhere else I’ve ever ridden. It’s so dry and so demanding to build in. So it was good to have that experience plus going a week early this year.

I teamed up with a few other girls to make our line come to life. I’m stoked with the line I chose, too. It was scary but manageable. So we were all pretty pumped to get the whole top-to-bottom done on it. There was a pretty exposed drop-in, big drops in the middle, then some free ride stuff in the middle too. So yeah, overall the Formation experience was pretty rad!

Who were you sharing your line with?

The drop-in, I shared with Vaea Verbeeck and Vero Sandler. Then Vaea went off onto the ridge while Vero and I continued the line together. Just after the drop in, we shared the rest of the line with Hanna Bergemann and Casey Brown.

You were part of the dig team last year. Was there anything from that that you weren’t expecting that helped you this year?

Oh yeah. The hardest part is the water situation in Utah. All the dirt, if you’re going to sculpt a jump, berm, whatever, it uses so much water. All the water that you use, you have to bring up yoruself from the bottom. It’s pretty exposed ridges, and hiking up something where it’s two steps up, five sliding down with this 15 L jug of water. So it’s insane getting the water out there.

You just get so much appreciation for the builds when you know what it takes. So I learned a lot, starting from basically nothing. I have trail experience from the local Whistler WORCA volunteer days, and some other volunteer trail days, but not nearly to that extent of what it takes to be a digger at Formation and Rampage. So I learned so much that I took with me this year.

Casey brought me last year to dig. She’s dug at Rampage before so she has lots of experience on her own. But with only one year of digging experience, this year I decided to bring someone who’d also dug at Rampage before who could teach me. I thought that was a really good decision. My digger, Phil, ended up teaching a lot of the girls how to pack a jump and how to properly build in Utah. As much as I wanted to bring someone who’d never been there, I’m happy that I brought someone who already knew how to dig and who could teach us as well.

Georgia Astle working the dry Utah dirt during Formation 2022. Photo: Robin O’Neill / Red Bull Content Pool
Formation makes a point of not being a competition. For someone that’s come from a racing background, how did that kind of event feel different? Where there any advantages (or disadvantages)?

I really loved the format. At first, being a racer, you’re like “well why isn’t it a competition?” Then you go and there are 30+ girls all staying in one house together and working together.

There’s no denying that, the way Rampage is a competition, it just makes every day so much harder. You don’t want to join teams if you don’t have to. You don’t want to cross over someone else’s like. That’s when the competition comes out. Friendships aren’t made there.

Whereas Formation is the best platform, and the best environment to meet new people, team up and push each other in the most fun way possible. I think that the format is absolutely spot on. I really like how Katie [Holden] has put an emphasis on that. And I think there’s room for a competition for women – like, girls being allowed in Rampage and having competition – but the way Formation is now is so valuable.

Watching from the outside, it can be hard to judge. But it looks like there’s been a huge change in the level of riding over the last few years. Is that accurate, and do you think that the format contributes to that?

I think that the format helps because now there’s more girls coming out here, and more opportunity for them to be supported for freeriding. So the format helps.

Ultimately, it’s just the fact that we have this opportunity. We see other girls pushing themselves so it is a way more inviting space to go in and say, “oh yeah, I can ride that, these other three girls have.” That’s just how progression happens: when the opportunity is there, you take it and you run with it.

For you, was there anything you rode during the week that you weren’t expecting to? Or that you left on the table that you want to go back for?

For myself, going into it, I had a long winter off with an injury. So I took a lot of pressure off of myself. Which, I think was really nice because I knew that no matter what I rode, I would be stoked and stoked on ticking things off.

I ended up riding things – like the biggest drop I’ve ever hit and the most exposed terrain – and it wasn’t like I was crazy nervous. I was just ready to tackle it. I had this newfound confidence just because of how much pressure I took off of myself – if that makes sense.

You joined Devinci Global Racing in 2021, so you’re starting your second year with the team?

Yeah, this is my second year on the full DGR program but I’ve ridden for Devinci before. This is my fourth season riding Devinci.

Georgia Astle during Crankworx Summer Series at Sun Peaks. Photo: Chris Pilling / Crankworx
In some other interviews, you’ve mentioned working all winter to support your racing. How much of that racing before this was self-funded, and what were you doing for work in the winter?

Even this past winter I was working all winter. That’s partially because I was injured, but also because it’s pretty impossible to fund a full race season without adding your own financing. Even being on a full factory program, it’s not a full-time job, yet.

I’ve always worked cafes because it’s a great place to work, it’s a fun environment, and my bosses have been really flexible. So cafes, I also do a lot of bike coaching. Basically, anything where you find that manager or boss that gets it and is flexible, that’s where I want to be. It would be way too stressful if I had to take time off work and risk getting fired every time I go to a race!

So you’ve already had several years of good results – national podiums and international races. Do you think it’s harder for women – or women in Canada that are more separated from the European race scene – to get supported to race full time?

I think it’s changing. As a 16-year-old, I was new to the scene and had a couple good results but just had no idea about the industry. Looking back, I wish I had had someone take me under their wing and have support back then. I think it would have been pretty amazing to have that support available to me the whole time. But I also think that it’s changing and that’s more readily available.

But it’s still not the same. I would love to be a full-time free rider and do video parts. Those are jobs that are in abundance for men, but that doesn’t exist for me yet. I still have to prove myself as a racer and have those results in order to do these results that I truly love and am passionate about, just because that side of the industry isn’t fully there for women.

Good to hear that’s starting to change. You do mix quite a bit of racing in different disciplines – between Crankworx, downhill, enduro and now more freeride events – is there one that you really like, or do you like having that mix?

I love having that mix. I started racing primarily downhill and World Cups. But that was really hard for me as a privateer, coming out and only riding the one track. When you’re self-funding your whole season and all of your money goes into one event, say you spend five grand to get to Fort William – and then have a flat tire or break components and you only get to do three runs in a weekend then crash in qualifying… so downhill was hard for me as a privateer, as much as I love it.

Whereas – and it’s funny talking about it like this – but it’s way more cost-effective as a racer when you’re funding it yourself. You get to see way more, you have more chances if something goes wrong with your bike. So in that sense, Crankworx and Enduro for me, made the most sense – if I was going to spend my own money. But I’m also watching the Fort William World Cup right now and there’s just so much passion. Downhill is, I think, the be-all-end-all for racing.

Now that you have factory support from Devinci, do you want to narrow that down a bit? Or do you want to keep mixing all the different disciplines?

For right now, I still see myself mixing it up a bit. I really like how Crankworx is still uncharted territory. Dual Speed & Style and Dual Slalom are still fairly new disciplines. I get to learn a log and take a lot from those events. But after being in Formation I’m pretty buzzy on getting into events like Proving Grounds and the Natural Selection Tour, now that that door’s open. But I do think there’ll always be a little bit of a racer inside of me, that part will never go away.

Crankworx Summer Series Kicking Horse enduro
Georgia Astle and Andréane Lanthier Nadeau at Kicking Horse. Photo: Chris Pilling / Crankworx
Enduro, downhill and freeride are all somewhat similar, all being gravity disciplines, but at the level you are riding at they’re so different. How do you balance training all of that over a year.

Yeah, that’s a tough one. This whole off-season I was nursing an injury and re-habing. I had my whole sights set on the first few EWS’ events before I had the Formation invite. So I did a lot of training and I spent a lot of time on the indoor bike. Then as soon as I got the Formation invite everything changed. I felt strong, I was confident on the bike but I just need to get super-comfy on the downhill bike. The style aspect and the absolute strength and confidence on the downhill bike only comes when you’re riding your downhill bike. Whereas fitness in the EWS is really important. One of my best friends, Andréane [Lanthier-Nadeau], I spend my whole winter with her and I see how hard she trains. That amount of fitness doesn’t come from just riding your bike – there’s so much that goes into it. So I’m for sure missing out on all the behind-the-scenes stuff, but I’m doing my best to try balance it all.

On that note, Formation is three dig days and three riding days. From your description, the dig days sound super physical, too. Do you have to do any training for the digging half of that?

Not as much. And it’s hard in the winter to focus on digging. But there was probably three weekends in a row where my partner and I spent a lot of time in Kamloops and brought the shovels and rakes just so I could remember what it was like and to try get my calluses tough again. Like, as soon as your hands get soft, that’s when digging becomes not so fun anymore.

What’s up for the rest of your summer? I feel like for most racers, that’s a pretty clear path – World Cup or EWS. But it could be anything for you.

I know – it honestly could be anything! For now, my plan is Innsbruck Crankworks then probably do the Val di Fassa EWS. Then come home for national downhill championships. I always love to do those when I’m free, that’s my grassroots race – the Dunbar Summer Series. Then Whistler Crankworx is full-on. That’ll have the EWS then every other event I can fit in that week. Then another EWS after that, some freeride events in between – Casey Brown’s Darkhorse, Hannah Bergemann’s Hangtime – and what else? Basically the rest of the Crankworx tour and any other EWS’ that I can sprinkle in. Whatever the schedule holds, as long as there’s time, I’ll be there.

You’re born and raised in Whistler. Is it exciting to see Crankworx coming back this year?

Big time! Even before I rode bikes, and I started a bit later in life, you’d still go to Crankworx and you’d still watch. It was a foreign world to me then. But it’ll never change that Crankworx Whistler is home. That’s just the best feeling ever, having friends and family in the crowd when you finish every race.