Pete had a chat with Mike Jardine, one half of Rare Management, about what goes into making the second longest running World Cup happen.
While we all get caught up in the pre-race hype and the live feed, there is plenty more going on that we don’t see that makes a World Cup downhill at Nevis Range happen year-on-year.
So Mike, 16 World Cups and one World Champs in, does it get any easier?
It should do – but in reality it doesn’t and it’s amazing how many of the same mistakes we can still make. However we have a great team of very experienced volunteers and contractors who have an amazing handle on the event and they keep us right. In reality a lot of the issues come from external factors, some of which you can’t control. Like the weather, traffic problems, economic downturn, Brexit, public planning etc. The whole thing is still a pretty dynamic exercise.
Many people might not realise that the 2002 event happened at the last minute, what’s the story behind that first event?
The whole thing is Crawford Carrick Anderson’s fault! Crawfie was competing on the DH World Cup back in 2001. We knew him through skiing and at the opening of the original Nevis Range DH he said it would be good enough for a World Cup. Lesley Beck and I were involved in ski events, so we did some investigations and submitted a bid to the UCI.
Our bid was initially rejected but then in November, the venue for the Japanese World Cup (Arai Mountain) pulled out and we were asked if we wanted to step in. It was a tough 7 months but we pulled it off… and the rest is history.
The track saw a major overhaul for the 2007 World Champs, how much involvement did you have in how that track changed?
We were instrumental in pushing for all the changes and negotiating most of the funding. We got Chris Ball involved in the design, working closely with the Nevis Range Team.
The UCI’s rule of tracks needing 30% new sections year on year, how much of a challenge is that to put into practice at Fort William?
It’s not an actual rule that I’m aware of to be honest. But we’ve always tried to introduce new features or sections to the track, because it is pretty important for riders, TV and the fans to have regular innovation. In reality the costs associated with major works on a mountain in the Highlands are pretty limiting. What we’d like to do and what we can do are sometimes quite far apart.
There’s a big push for natural sections these days but natural sections in Scotland rely on a period of stable weather – which is difficult to organise.
Last year’s rain… Do you think anyone realised how much of a logistical nightmare changing the track on Sunday would have involved?
That was a classic example of the problems with a natural section. In training and even qualification it was running OK, with no demand for change at the Team Manager’s meeting. We were then hit with very heavy overnight rain for the Finals, which resulted in a total mud-fest amongst the tree roots and some horrible deep pockets of gloop. Not the sort of images anyone wants. Amazingly, a few top riders (such as Greg Minnaar) made it through but it highlighted the challenge of a pure natural section in those conditions.
In reality we could have changed the track to the old line but the UCI decided to go with it. Changing the course before a race is not really an option when all the training is finished.
What can fans and riders expect from this year’s event that they might not have experienced in previous years?
Who knows? It’s a bit early as we’ve only just heard about the 2019 dates. We’d like to get some changes to the course – Dave Biggin, in charge of the Nevis Range tracks has already got some ideas. Apart from that it’s all about trying to enhance the experience for everyone who attends. Come along and find out!
How has the Rare team changed over the years? Have you seen plenty of people come and go, or is the core still there?
The Rare Management core is unchanged – myself and Lesley. We usually have someone else in for about 6 months, looking after the 120 or so volunteers that make the World Cup happen.
Some of the volunteers, especially our Heads of Department, have been coming for years so we’ve got an amazingly knowledgeable and able team to help, plus Nevis Range and all the various contractors who turn a car park in the Highlands into a fully functioning small town of 12,000 people.
How do your and Lesley’s roles at the World Cup differ?
Our roles are pretty interchangeable, we’re both control freaks, but Lesley mainly looks after the Village – Teams, Tech, Expo etc – and ceremonies, whereas I’m more on the competition side and overall direction.
It’s been 11 years since the World Championships. Have you considered hosting another?
Yes, it’s occasionally considered – but then we remember the pain (mental and financial) and get back to reality. But never say never…
Mont Ste Anne is hosting its 3rd World Championships in 2019. That’s hardcore.
How has the televising of World Cup downhill changed the way your organise the World Cup?
It’s great to have such a high quality production from Red Bull Media House but live TV puts a lot more pressure on everyone and keeping to the schedule tends to dominate everything we do.
Their operation is pretty huge – more than 60 staff, kilometres of cables, camera towers and a full Outside Broadcast set up, so the other big implication is the demand on space and resources.
So, some logistical challenges but no major changes to our operation.
From an organiser’s perspective, what’s the biggest thing or things you’ve seen change in World Cup downhill?
Since we’ve been involved the quality of event on the circuit has improved dramatically – and I’d like to think we’ve done our bit to help push the standards higher.
The arrival of the Red Bull Media House TV production was a big step forward. It delivers live coverage with consistent production values and that’s crucial to breaking out of the niche sports category.
Courses seem to get ever more demanding and riders seem to get ever more superhuman in terms of technical ability, fitness – and ability to bounce back after injury.
The Elite Team’s trucks seem to get bigger and their setup more and more professional.
What’s the one thing you always get asked for by teams/riders/spectators that you wish you could click your fingers and magic out of the ether?
Extermination of the midge, more space and continuous sunshine.
What do you carry with you at all times during the event?
Radio, cable ties, knife, pen, notepad and sunglasses (always the optimist).
Do you have any pre-event rituals?
Remind myself of all the things I said I would do differently the previous year, but haven’t, and study the weather.
What would be your advice to anyone looking to host an event with a view to the same longevity as the Fort William World Cup?
Find something that people like and want to be a part of. Gather a great team of like-minded people and organisations. Work your ass off to make it happen. And keep looking to improve and change.
What do you think makes the Fort William World Cup so special year-on-year?
In part it’s become an annual pilgrimage for gravity fans from all over the UK as well as a meeting point for the whole UK mountain bike scene. Throw in a great atmosphere, unique location and a bunch of world class UK competitors and it’s a pretty potent brew.