This weekend is the Leogang World Cup – Team Wideopenmag’s Charlie Hatton is on track and raging for his first World Cup podium after a near miss last weekend.
His race at Fort William only fueled the fire … Jamie spent some time with him at the Fort to see what happens behind the scenes on race weekend.
Images by Ian Lean and Callum Philpott / words by Jamie Edwards
This is Charlie Hatton. He’s a fast, talented World Cup junior that races for Team Wideopenmag. He’s from the Forest of Dean in the UK and has been supported from day zero by his parents Les and Sharon, brother Sam and the rest of the Hatton clan. He’s in his second year of Junior World Cup racing and has a very real shot at a World Cup podium and a very, very good overall position. No pressure!
I spent a bit of time with Charlie on race day at the 2016 Fort William Downhill World Cup to see the rituals and the routines, the nerves and the emotions that he goes through as he counts down to leave the gate.
Welcome to World Cup week
We hit Fort William a couple of days after the rest of the team. They’d been up since Wednesday to get an early start. We found out pretty quickly that the week since I’d last seen Charlie at the British Downhill Series hadn’t been the easiest one.
WO: Charlie, how did the warm up to your week go?
Charlie: After the British Downhill Series I got home Sunday night and then Monday morning I felt real ill and real sick, it was horrible! I didn’t sleep all of Monday night and was pretty much wiped out. On Tuesday I got a bit better and then had to work every day to get back up to normal. I started to feel right on Friday and was eating normally again, just in time for the first day of practice.
For practice I just tried not to overdo it. I did 4 runs with one timed run at the end, where I was 3rd. I was quite surprised actually! I was riding a lot better than I thought – we tried a few different things with bike set up which really helped. We changed up my stem height and we took a Mud King tire and cut it right down the middle about 4mm, which worked great.
Build it up slowly
Despite the rough start to the week, Charlie seemed positive. He’d ridden smart in training and put in a really solid 3rd place in timed practice. That was a good start. Next stop was the all important qualifier, which decides if he gets to race the main event on Sunday.
WO: And how did your qualification run on Saturday go?
Charlie: Pretty good to be fair! I got to the top and there was a bloke playing the bagpipes flat out as I was getting ready to leave the start hut!
I didn’t make too many mistakes. It was a good 90%, chilled run, which is what I wanted. Because it’s such a big, physical track you can’t blow your load too early. You’ve got to go 80% up top and slowly build up right at the bottom. If you just spring out the gate and sprint out of every corner you’re not going to have anything for the bottom which isn’t what you want.
I was first at the last few splits and I had a little mistake at some point and lost some time. I crossed the line in 2nd place, just 0.9 behind Fin Illes.
The goggles go on, you take a few deep breaths … and you just sprint.
A 2nd place in qualifiers meant Charlie was absolutely guaranteed a place in the finals on Sunday. The relief among the team and the boost of a great result was amazing – he’d won the previous weekend’s race at the British Downhill Series and scored a top result at World Cup. All he had to do was put together one more run of the weekend …
WO: And we joined you at the top of the hill as you warmed up for your race run. Can you talk us through the count down to your final run?
Yeah. So I said bye to the family at the bottom of the hill and headed up in the gondola with Dave and Ben. We found a great spot for the turbo at the top of the hill (my mum had been saving the spot we’d used for the seeding warm up!) and got set up with about 45 minutes to go.
Ben (MTB Strength Factory) looks after my warm ups and makes sure I’ve got my race head on. I sat and spun on the turbo for a bit, thinking about my lines and what I wanted to achieve. I did some dynamic warm ups which is when I start to really feel fired up and ready to race. We have some secret warm up stuff that we did around that point – which is when I though “yeah, it’s happening now!”.
After that I got in the queue for the start hut. You know you’ve done the hard work and you’ve just got to race. You’ve done the work, the preparation in the winter, all the training … it’s just about riding your bike from then on.
The queue is where the nerves kick in – and before you know it you’re in the start hut and you get your two minute count down, which is the longest two minutes of your life! The goggles go on, you take a few deep breaths … and you just sprint.
It’s a relief to set off down the track. You know by then that all you’ve got to do is ride.
Over to you Charlie …
If you’re smart at Fort William you can hop back on the gondola and watch your rider come down the track. The trick seems to be to jump on 1 minute before their start time, meaning you’ll see them for about 2 minutes as they charge the loose berms, board walks and rocks of the top section.
It’s a rare chance to see them on track and let’s you know exactly what’s happening, rather than the blind “will he? won’t he?” of the live timing or the TV feed at the bottom of the hill.
We watched Charlie blow the top section to pieces. We could see him picking corners apart one by one until we lost sight of him at the Deer Fence. It’s at that point you know you’ve done everything you can and it’s just up to him.
The view from the gondola
Bumping down the gondola with Charlie out of sight we had no idea what the result what hold. He had done absolutely everything he could do in order to do well and just had to make it across the line in one piece. I asked Team Manager Dave how he felt.
WO: How do you feel mate? Is it a relief to see him on track?
Dave: I think I’m more nervous than him at this stage to be honest! We had a sick day yesterday and we’ve been working flat out to keep him happy and going fast. I’ve just been trying to keep calm around him, keep my nerves inside myself and triple check everything that needs to be done. We’ve done everything we need to do – it’s just up to him now! It feels a bit strange at this stage, we’ve spent so many hours together over the week that to see him out of sight and not be able to do anything to help out … it’s weird. You’re almost riding the run with him in your head!”
Shit luck had kicked in
As the gondola lurched round the corner and the Motorway Section came into view our hearts sank. We knew the race was over. Charlie was sat down, bumping over rocks and massaging his bike along, clearly with a puncture. He’d hit something hard in the woods and shit luck had kicked in.
WO: Mate, how did your run go?
Charlie: The run was going really well. I was going real fast and getting real loose and then just before the woods section I felt my tire go. It must have burped because it went real squirrely and then it went completely flat. I tried to finish my run and get down as fast as I could but it just didn’t happen. It got wedged in my disk and spokes. I pulled over and some bloke pulled out a knife and cut my tire off the rim for me!
I rolled down on the rim and everyone was going mad! I reckon I got more of a cheer with no tire than I would have with a tire! The commentators were shouting “he’s Britain’s answer to Aaron Gwin!” and thousands of people were shouting “Charlie! Charlie! Charlie!”. It was amazing.
A puncture, a rim without a tire and a DNF wasn’t what Charlie or the team wanted for the weekend but to hear ten thousand people shouting your name is probably a decent consolation prize.
We watched the finals and saw Gee Atherton, Mike Jones, Ed Masters and many more crash or puncture and have to settle for a cheer for the crowd rather than a result, just as our boy had to. They all proved that punctures, crashes and shit luck really do happen to the best of us …