No race is ever easy up at Fort William. The World Cup downhill track tumbles down Aonach Mor, destroying wheels and bodies with rocks and roots. Add in gale force winds and biblical rain-fall and you’ve got a real challenge for racers, mechanics and race organisers alike. And bloody hell did Big Bill put on a particularly good show for us this weekend!
This weekend’s race was for many a chance to dial in some lines for the UCI Mountain bike World Cup in two weeks. With the races so close together it meant that a huge international field was in town, rubbing shoulders with the UK riders and getting in some sneaky practice.
For most people, Fort William demands some series time behind the wheel before they can even take on the track. Our weekend started in Cornwall for photographer Ian, then on to Exeter to get mechanic Ryan, then up to Bristol to meet me and then on for another 8 hours to the ‘Bill.
The annual Fort Bill road trip is always a great chance to chat shit, argue about who’s music is the worst and put the world to rights for a few hours! It’s a long drive, but it’s become a much-loved part of our racing-rituals. It has to be when you do it twice a year for the BDS and then again for the World Cup!
The weekend came laced with a warning of heavy-weather. Racers made the most of the clear skies and sunshine to practice the track on Friday … but conditions changed big time for Saturday and the gondola was closed, making access to the top impossible without a serious hike.
With a few big gusts of the wind we went from a mini-World Cup to a push-up race. Si and the crew made a decision to run a smaller track and that racers would have to push to the start line. Some people moaned, some people went home, lots of people got stuck in and made the most of it. At the end of the day, you could either moan or suck it up and put a time in.
The mini, mini Fort Bill track started from just above the Silverline wall-ride. It was just over to minutes with a filthy-wet top section, the Hazards Hoofer jump, a few turns in the woods and the classic motorway section. It wasn’t quite the World Cup warm up that the stacked elite field were after … but it was something.
It was strange to see the likes of Brendan Fairclough, Troy Brosnan, Myriam Nicole, Loic Bruni and other top World Cup racers shoving their bikes up for a two minute mini-downhill!
Ed Masters sending the newly-shaped Motorway jumps and hammering out the push-ups! Ed and co drove all the way from Morzine to race the BDS. In his words “if you’re not here, you’re losing time at the World Cup”. Eddie for the World Cup win? We hope so!
Trek World Racing‘s Greg Williamson was just one of the big-time World Cup riders on the hill. Greg and the team had brought their full World Cup pits, all carried in a massive lorry and bigger than most people’s houses! In the end, Greg scored 8th. Team mate Laurie Greenland sat out of racing after a crash in practice.
Berny Kerr was raising a few eye brows with his moto-hand guards over the weekend! It turns out Bernard has a medical problem with circulation to his hands and feet and struggles with keeping warm. “I’ll go on a road ride in 25d heat and still have blocks of ice for feet” he told us. The guards keep the breeze-off and help get him down the track. He looked pinned all weekend so they must be working! New trend maybe?
Brendan Fairclough. It’s always a treat to see him ride. Like a few riders, Bren left his DH bike in the pits and rode his Scott Genius LT Tuned 170mm enduro bike. He pedaled up, had a blast and looked insanely good on the jumps. 22nd place for Bren.
The changes to the track and the wild weather caught a few people out. Myriam Nicole (above) seemed to have just got the jumps dialled when she took the gnarly over the bars on the Motorway. You can check out the full sequence of her crash here, as photo’d by Keith Valentine.
No photo-story is complete without Scotty Mears! Scotty wasn’t hiding from the rain, he was out punching out runs like he KO’s fools in the ring!
It’s these guys and the small army of others that make the British Downhill Series happen. Here’s Mrs B. and Krien Dawson, just two of the BDS team, that work flat out, in all weathers, from dawn till dusk to put on the races we take for granted. These guys are the backbone of British mountain biking. Buy them a coffee and a cake next time you see them eh?
Loic Bruni wasn’t phased by the new knuckle on the Tissot jump. He was smashing out runs all weekend and bringing the big-time World Cup vibe to the push-up race. It’s amazing what a difference it makes to a UK race having big, international riders on course. 6th place for Loic.
We were stoked to meet this guy, Piyush Chavan. Piyush is one of India’s top downhill racers and flew 6,000 miles to race his first World Cup track! Read more about him here
“It’s been like a dream come true to ride this track where all the World Cup racers have ridden. It’s an awesome experience.”
Joe Smith on the brand new Nukeproof Pulse and the first time the bike has been raced with its team colours rather than a stealth black prototype vibe. 11th for Joe on a track that it’s fair to say rarely clicks for him.
“It was a shame not to race the full track but sometimes shit happens” Joe Smith
Tahnee Seagrave is going meteoric. Last year she was 5th at the British Downhill Series and 12th at the World Cup. In 2015 she was less than 0.078s off Rachel Atherton. Big things are coming!
“I can’t say that I didn’t complain about the pushing this weekend but at the end of the day there is nothing you can do and you just have to deal with it!
I love the jumps at the bottom and I needed to practice properly sprinting so there are positives to everything! Being so close to Rach who is at such a high fitness level has given me a hige confidence boost for the World cup!” Tahnee Seagrave
And it’s big Sam Dale from Madison Saracen rocking the rain coat. Sam has gone from strength to strength since joining the team and scored 2nd place, less than a second behind 1st. On Saturday he said he couldn’t wait to hit the M6 home, I reckon he had cheered up a bit by Sunday afternoon!
Who says girls aren’t well represented in downhill? There were 25 women on track and hammering out runs. That’s more than the Juvenile mens and Masters fields! Here’s Vitus Factory rider Sacha Bickerstaff looking factory and on her way to a solid win in the Junior women’s field. Look out for her, she’s got speed, style, talent and a great team behind her. The complete package.
Local Knowledge! It’s local coach, guide and top-chap Alastair Maclennan from MTBRideGuide Fort William. Alastair gave us a guided tour of the Fort William secret trails on Friday and showed us some absolute gold, all whilst tearing our young, weak legs off! He teaches mountain biking by day at the local college and races at the weekend. Living the dream! First place for Alastair in Grand Vets!
And Manon, 3rd place behind Rach and Tahnee and just 0.876 off the lead.
“I actually had quite a lot of fun considering we only got to race on the last minute and half of track. It was intense, even if it did feel line we had gone back ten years!
I was lucky enough to get to ride on the Friday so that made the trip up a bit more worthwhile, I can imagine if you were only there for the weekend it would have sucked pretty bad.” Manon Carpenter
Tahnee was fast, but just not quite fast enough to beat Rachel Atherton. Rach got a DSQ at Fort William World Cup in 2014… an Atherton double BDS will no doubt give her the boost she needs for this year’s race!
Gee Atherton. With a weekend of pushing and a short, hard, pedally track was there ever any doubt?! With the exception of a DNS back in ’02 Gee has never come less than 12th at Fort William and was won there 7 times in his career. Another weekend, another win for Gee.
Last but not least, don’t miss out Trackside video from Saturday’s practice session …
And that’s it! With two wins for Gee he sits firmly ahead of the pack and will go into Llangollen ready to make it a hat-trick. With one win for Manon at Ae and one win for Rach at Fort Bill, the girls pack is (excuse the pun!) Wideopen.
Masssive thanks to Ian Lean for braving the elements and editing like a maniac all the way home in the van to bring you the goods!
Thanks for reading, see you at Llangollen for round 3!