Fort William conjures up two very different images with the mountain bike crowd. One is a sun-drenched mountainside with carnivorous midges, whilst the other is of a cold, wet and windy place that at times feels like the very definition of isolation when sat atop the hillside.
Photography: Laurence Crossman-Emms // www.laurence-ce.com
Round 2 of the Saracen British Downhill series was to be the latter, with the exposed tops of the Nevis Range giving nowhere to hide from the elements. Snow-capped mountains are a very prominent reminder that its still early in the season and whilst those in England are basking in Spring, up in Scotland it’s a very different story.
The British Downhill Series has a reputation of being one of the best domestic races series in the world and with the turnout and rider list on offer this weekend, you can see why. Practice was extremely busy with a number of teams opting to come early in the week to get some serious practice in. Fort Bill always brings in a good crowd from over the UK and even afar with this weekend seeing the likes of Greg Minnaar, Cedric Gracia, Sam Blenkinsop and the whole of the Gstaad Scott team attending. No doubt many teams are looking to the opening round of the World Cup and are using this as a dress-rehearsal for one of the most anticipated races on the calendar,
On the whole the Madison Saracen team were all in good spirits. With Combe Sydenham being a great start to the season, each rider was looking for an improvement on their last results, with the new-look team now starting to come together and looking like a team that really work well in each others company.
Weather in the Nevis range is unpredictable at the best of times and the ever-changing forecast meant for an ever-changing race schedule which fluctuated from standard race weekend, to Cancelled, to race runs Saturday, to practice being cancelled to eventually the final decision of Seeding Runs on Saturday and early Race Runs on Sunday. Not the best situation for getting your race head together
Waking up Saturday to the sound of rain against your window isn't the best of starts and we all knew we were in for a soggy one. Damp and sodden within a few hours it sure did make being out on the hill far from enjoyable. With the team being at the venue from Friday and having already got some solid runs in, practice on Saturday morning was more of a refresher and a chance to spin those legs out . Into seeding’s on the Saturday and the intermittent rain and the odd time delaying red flags made it difficult to keep warm and motivated for seeding, especially being 45mins behind schedule on an already late start. But considering that the seeding run could have counted as race runs if the weather turned bad, there was a lot of pressure riding on putting in a solid time.
Manon was first down the hill and with a healthy top section she manages to flat out half way down just before the wooded section.
Phil up next and after a few on-course troubles with tear offs, he managed to lay down a solid 3rd place seeding time which put him in great stead for race runs.
Rolling in next, Harry managed a very fair seeding run time, which considering if made a few mistakes and a spin off on a corner he seemed pleased and gave him some solid areas to improve on comer race day.
Sam, having the same fate as Manon also managed to flat out on his seeding run, Fort Bill can be a bully to your wheels and tyres, it eats them for breakfast!
Team test-rider, Jack (AKA The Stig), managed to really have an eventful practice run which culminated with a concussion and a bruised ego that didn't put him in the frame of mind to lay down a seeding run but was still able to break the beam to put him in the running for race day (if he was healthy enough to ride)
A late end to the day and the team headed back to the house for feed and sleep, fingers-crossed for a dry day of racing.
And all I can say is crossing fingers paid off well! Overcast, high clouds but dry was the forecast for the morning with the bad weather closing in to the afternoon.
A few morning practice runs put the team into good pace and over all the team were feeling fit and fast. The track had dried up nicely over night and was had left a nice tacky riding surface to play on.
Race runs came pretty quick, starting them at 11 to try and avoid the horrible forecast weather.
Manon Carpenter was first out the gate, her flat in seeding meaning she was the first of the Elite Women down the hill, giving enough space in front to lay down a quick time. And quick she was. Coming down with a solid time and straight into the hot seat, Manon was in good contentions for the win, as well as being the only girl to successfully clear the river gap during the race. She sat in the hot seat up until Pugin came speeding through, putting 3 seconds into Manon’s time. Sitting on the second spot come podium time was a good result and great preparation for the World Cup season.
Phil Atwill was looking to stamp his claim on the Junior category, but it as not to be. A flat at the top of the wooded section put him way back and out of contention for a podium place.
With a renewed focus on reaching his full potential this season, Harry Molloy was stoked to make it down the hill in a sub 5 minute time, walking away with 16th place in a stacked Elite field.
Sam, Dale although finishing a place behind Harry, wasn't happy with his race run and felt it hadn’t all fallen into place when it really mattered. With an 8th place at the fort William World Cup last year, a top-ten finish was the goal, but it was not to be.
Jack Geoghegan, after knocking himself out and then having a concussion-riddled wasn’t expecting to put down a quick time. Dropping in he seemed to be fast in the top section with an almost “I don't care attitude”. He was looking good, until the woods claimed another victim : A big OTB and Jack thought he was out, but he jumped back on and steamed ahead. Cruising into the finish line he didn't even care to look at his time. But as it turned out he went straight into the hot seat. With everyone in his category still to come down after his DNF yesterday he didn't think he would be there long. But rider, after rider after rider attempted to beat his time, all unsuccessful, and in the end Jack took the win against the odds.
Overall, the team had a good weekend of riding with a host of ups and downs to make the weekend nice and eventful. Some great results mixed with some disappointment only gives the team more fuel as the World Cup season looms on the horizon.Overall BDS Rd 2 Results
Manon Carpenter: 5:30.2 // 2nd
Phil Atwill: 5:51.8 (PUNCTURE) // 23rd
Harry Molloy: 4:55.6 // 16th
Sam Dale: 4:56.1 // 17th
Jack: 5:10.7 // 1st
A special mention must go to the marshals at the round, having to suffer an extremely grim Saturday ,they did their very best and were truly the unsung heroes of this round.Madison.ccSaracen.co.ukPhotography: Laurence Crossman-Emms // www.laurence-ce.com