It has come to this. All the preparation, all the off season training, hard grafting, and logistical puzzles have all boiled down to this moment. The moment you are in the gate, looking down the start ramp, hands clenched to your grips, feet clipped in and you hear the beeps...your mind goes blank...beep...nothing else can be done...beep...but all that matters is that you are fastest down the maze that lies in front of you and there is no getting out of this...silence...a pause the breathe...Beeep! UCI World Cup Fort William here we go!
Photography & Words: Laurence Crossman-Emms // www.laurence-ce.com
So you're packing your bags to head up to Fort William for the World Cup and immediately you think of the important essentials you will need; midge spray, warm clothes, and plenty of waterproofs but you never would have expected to be told to bring along sun screen and shorts because this one was booked for stunning weather. However, optimistic as ever, the wellys and windproofs were donned for the ever unpredictable Scottish weather. Trucking right over from the British National in Innerleithen, which, bearing in mind was also amazing weather, we figured it just wouldn't last but much to our amazement it did. Rolling into Fort William on Monday afternoon with the rays blazing down on us we knew we were in for a storming week.
Two relaxing days to recover from Innerleithen went by far too fast and we found ourselves waking up Wednesday morning bright an early for the beginning of the first round of the World Cup circuit. Today was a day to get the pits set up, become reacquainted with the already familiar sights of Fort William and rustle a few rider’s feathers with some friendly banter. Wednesday is also a good chance to spend some serious spanner time on the bikes. Nationals come and go so fast there is so little time to spend tinkering and changing the bikes, but World Cups let you really dial the bikes for a track and ensure they are running tip top, along with the opportunity to showcase them to the public. Alex and second World Cup team mechanic, Martin Hoyle, spent the afternoon stripping and rebuild the steeds for the weekend.
Josh Bryceland and SPS former mechanic, Martin Hoyle, joined the Madison Saracen team this season and will be on board for all World Cup action. With a series of titles and a cycle shop, The Bicycle Company, to his name Martin is a real asset to the team and with his knowledge and competitive mind he will be eager to prove himself to the team. Stop by and say hey if you see this fella!
Thursday and track walk day for the riders. A chance to get up close and personal with the track here at Fort William. The Nevis Range team have been flat out making the track perfect for this round. Apart from the Dudes of Hazzard Hoofer in the middle of the wooded section there haven't really been any huge additions to the track just a bunch of maintenance and buffing on the top section and bottom table tops have improved the flow of the track. Along with track walk, Thursday is also a key day for the crews to put the final touches on the finishing area, erect the expo stalls and set up the timing equipment ready for the weekend.
Another early start for the team on Friday morning with the gondola opening at 8.30 for practice day. Happy to be back out on the bikes the team were feeling confident and motivated...all except one! After eating some dodgy fish the night before Manon picked up a slight case of food poisoning. Not what you want on a race weekend. But with Manon tucked up in bed ill for the day, missing out, the show went on. Phil was up first for Group 1 practice with Sam and Harry to follow in Group 2. Breaking up the two practice sessions, along with introducing the new Junior World Cup, is the UCI’s bid to encourage new young hopefuls to have a go at racing on the international stage. This new format is perfect for the junior sprinter of the team, Phil Atwill, who now has the huge opportunity to win a World Cup right at his finger tips.
A successful practice morning and with Sam Dale snapping himself a 6th place in the timed practice session the 3 were becoming familiar with the new lines and really starting to dial it in. A day which Manon was unlucky to miss out on. Just had to hope that she could get up to speed on a whole World Cup track, top to bottom, in the morning of Qualifying.
Saturday morning, the day of Qualifying, and the crowds were starting to pour in to get a slice of the action. A key day for the riders as today determines whether they were actually going to race on Sunday. Fortunately for Phil Atwill the pressure was off along with the other Junior riders as they did not need to qualify and would all go through to racing on Sunday. However seeding was still a good chance to see if the other riders were up to speed and who was looking hopeful for the win.
Manon Carpenter back on the hill after her fate-tempting sickness and looking like she wants this. With no time at all to the learn the track and only getting three practice runs in her qualifying run came up very fast! Determination secured her a very respectable 3rd place qualifying run, making her confident that with another days rest she could have a shot at the win. Sam Dale and Harry Molloy to come down for their qualifying runs and with new motivation and excitement to be here at the first World Cup they were both looking strong. With Fort William claiming several unlucky riders and their steeds this weekend it was only time until one swung by our way, with Harry getting the full of it. Unfortunately after having a wheel mechanical towards the bottom of the track he was able to nurse it through to the last straight where his wheel finally gave up and Harry had to run across the finish line with his bike. Falling sort of qualifying a disappointed Harry retired for the weekend, leaving the mechanics to repair any damage that had been done. If there is any consolation to be had for Harry, he did manage to put in an 11th place at the splits, which if he had been able to finish would have put him in a very tidy position. Sam Dale managing to bring it back for the team putting down a very impressive 15th place qualifying run, with still room to improve and putting himself in great stead for Sunday.
Topping off the day for the team, they were able to give something back to the fans! Gamut hosted a Madison Saracen signing session where the team were able to meet fans, talk to them, sign posters, hats and alike. Within no time of starting there was a flock around the tent with a large line up forming to get involved with signing. Great to see how many people turned up...thanks to you all for the support!
The day we have all been waiting for, Race day, and boy what stunning weather we were blessed with! As for the whole week, glorious sunshine basked the hillside of the Nevis Range. Things were heating up for the Fort William World Cup. The crowds were piling in from far and wide dressed in all crazy costumes and fans were ready to scream their favorites across the line. With plenty to do at Fort William, including the Shimano Saint test track, a pump track to race your buddies on, air bag sessions and water bottle bobbing with great Shimano prizes there was definitely a vibe of excitement in the air.
Excitement also surrounded the pit area with the three riders all ready for the big Bill! Harry, feeling sorry for himself, spent his morning catching up with team fitness coach Alan Milway and also getting over his wheel mishaps, already looking forward to Val di Sole.
A short session of morning practice which was more of a get your legs spinning and check the track out one last time, it was no time before racing started. Phil up first today with all the Juniors coming down the hill before the women and elites. With the win at the national the week before Phil knew he was up to speed. Coming down the hill putting in a storming run with no real issues and hitting all his lines he went straight into the hot seat with almost 3 seconds up on Innes Graham, but with several riders still to come he struggled to hold onto it. He finished 5th overall, just being pipped to the post. Gutted to have not got the win but still stoked on 5th place, Phil can go away knowing he has the speed to win it, just needs to fine tweak a few bits for the next round.
Manon up next, and feeling another improvement on Saturday, but still not 100%. Crowd was starting to get rather large and the pressure was building. She knew she had to put down a winning run, one of which was up by at least 5 seconds to stand any chance of beating Rachel. A quick top section, but coming into the motorway section she lost a little bit of time, out of sheer exhaustion. But crossing the line she has it, 5.3seconds up on Myriam Nicole and into the hot seat with only Ragot and Rachel to come down. Emmeline Ragot failing to beat Manon, but Rachel Atherton putting down a smashing lap and snapping the 1st place position off Manon slipping her back to 2nd. Still, an amazing result for young Manon, and to be sitting behind Rachel is a huge achievement.
Dale to drop and with qualifying so high the pressure was doubled. With all eyes on the top twenty riders the crowds were ready to welcome them down the hill and into the packed finishing area. Dropping in and with a little wobble out the gate he made it onward. Feeling as if he was having a slower top section he tried to press on for the middle section and made few silly mistakes, pushing too hard, into the motorway and looking stylish and quick over the table tops he enters the arena, crossing the line doing a 4:45, a similar time to his qualifying run. Not quick enough for the win but a well deserved place of 18th overall.
There we have it. A hugely successful weekend for the team, with a few downers and again plenty to improve on for the next round the team pack up, wait for Manon’s extended visit to anti-doping (she couldn't wee!) and hit the road, Italy bound for the second round a week later in sunny Val di Sol! And just when you think the celebrating is over, there is always time for an engagement. This lucky lady’s man got down on one knee for her, in the middle of the finishing circle and in front of the whole crowd. She said yes!
Photography & Words: Laurence Crossman-Emms // www.laurence-ce.comMadison.cc Saracen.co.uk