For many of us, as soon as you exit the town of Dunbarton something changes. The scenery just gets epic and you embark on the final 90 miles accompanied by some of the finest roads in the UK winding up into the Highlands. With each road sign, you know you're closer as the unmistakable mark of mountain bikers (stickers on road signs from pilgrims past) increases as you wind along Loch Lomand and into the mountains of Glencoe. In early June there is only one destination, of course, Aonach Mòr, Fort William, the home to the only UK round of the UCI World Downhill Championship. For each year for the past 18 years, the mountain bike travelling circus along with 20,000 other die-hard fans descend on the town en masse, with every hotel is booked out months in advance and each night you make your annual visit to China Place, Grog & Gruel or Ben Nevis Pub, rubbing shoulders with the worlds elite downhill racers.
With racing taking a back seat to humanitarian issues in 2020 we asked some of our athletes their favourite memories from the past events.
Sam Hill, CRC-Nukeproof
Fort William has always been a special and memorable place for me. The first year I raced there in 2003 I was still a junior racing against the elite men and I scored my first ever World Cup podium there in 5th place. I remember being so nervous about it that I wanted another rider to come down and beat my time so I didn’t have to go onto the podium.
2007 world champs also stand out a lot, defending my title there was an amazing feeling. You can’t beat the crowds and atmosphere at that place.
Adam Brayton, Hope Tech / Nukeproof Athlete (and Pro angler)
Fort William has a lot of memorable experiences, good and bad, it’s safe to say I’ve had my share! I guess everyone would have expected me to write about my podium in 2016 but now being a part of the Nukeproof family I’d like to write about that crash in 2019!
To be fair since that podium I’ve not had much luck there, 2017 was the dreaded mud fest in the woods and after going over that 2016 run in my head I was pretty convinced I had the speed to win there. However that year I just got through qualifying, picked up a rib injury and basically had a weekend I’d rather forget. 2018 things picked up a little bit. A steady qualifying put me in 13th which then gave me the confidence in finals. However, a blown fork mid-run put end to any good result that day and when I say blown I mean blown. Turns out the bottom of my stanchion had snapped off. How those lowers didn’t come off is beyond me. Too much #GastoFlat.
So that brings us to 2019... The BDS a couple of weekends before the event and a stacked field is always a good indication to see where you’re at. Fort William is probably one of my favourites. It’s pretty much like home on the fells, exposed, gnarly and fast af, maybe that’s why I love it. World Cups are a test of your Kaunas, but this one really does test them. You crash… You’re dead, or so I thought. Anyway, that weekend I boshed a 3rd with only Gee and Danny ahead of me, things looked good for the World Cup.
It soon whipped round and me and Meg headed further North, this was our first World Cup together so it was nice having an extra set of hands on deck and have someone who knows how you’re wired up.
The forecast was a stinker and I mean a stinker but being from the wettest place in England no amount of rain can surprise you. Practice went well, 3 runs I was actually ready to race! Saturday morning came and I was keen to get up the hill. Fort William for anyone hasn’t been is fast straight out the gate and when it’s wet the grip is insane. What I’m trying to say is you get carried away quick. I came off the last boardwalk into the iconic Marshall point 6 where things came abruptly to a halt. I set up for a wide line where a hole was developing but every run prior I’d just bulldozed it basically. This run it bulldozed me. That 6-inch hole was now at least 27.5 inches and it chewed me up and spewed me out. I actually had deja vu as I went out the front door. I also had time to realise the weekend was over.
As you lay on the floor post aftermath you go through the checks. Eyes open, wiggle fingers, toes legs etc it’s a good feeling when you realise you’re ‘ok’ the other main thing was that the bike was ok. The Nukeproof lived up to its name that’s for sure. I made it down the hill and back to the pits and the rehabilitation begun... we had about two hours before qualifying and I was seizing up fast. Queue Gregg and Meg to fix me. It was a team effort and with everyone there you don’t want to let anyone down. I think a lot of guys would have thrown in the white towel but we got up there and I rolled down. 35th in qualifying. Race day and I was in bad nick. Meg had to dress me as it felt like the rigor mortis had set in slowly, that’s how bad I was. But it's Fort William, so one practice run, instead of my usual two and put a brave face on. It sucked so bad knowing I couldn't put the run I wanted to and capable of down, feeling like it was over before it had even started, but that’s how it goes.
Finals came round and I was ready to try my best, that’s all I could do. There wasn’t much to say about my run, Just I got down… 33rd and some points it could have definitely been worse.
We will be back to Fort William but not till 2021. I can’t wait!
Chris Hutchens, Team Wideopen-Nukeproof
Fort William has left me with so many amazing memories. Racing at the World Champs as a Junior, World Cups, Endurance DH and the countless Scottish and National Races but one story which will stand its time has to be from 2008. Racing for Mojo Suspension the team was entirely focused about thinking outside of the box. Chris Porter, co-owner of Mojo Suspension at the time, has always been known for his forward-thinking ways and I did and still have a huge amount of respect for this.
Downhill is a time trial sport; you, your bike, the track and a clock. The team developed some rather tight and shiny black skin suits with the help of ThecycleJersey.com based in Scotland. The team unveiled them at the Fort William World Cup and wow did this cause an upset. We practiced as normal apart from a couple of runs. We didn't want to give our game away. Obviously, this wasn't popular with everyone but I was being well supported by Mojo and also was happy to see how fast I could go. I squeezed myself into the skinsuit. The skinsuits were definitely quicker in places, they were also airtight. It was a hot race and I can safely say it wasn't comfortable to ride in. It wasn't long before the UCI rule book was revised after discussions between team managers and the UCI over the season. The new rules came in and while riders kit might not be a one-piece skin suit they're certainly tight and minimise any drag forces to this day. It's cool to think I played my part in MTB history that year.
Elliott Heap, Team CRC-Nukeproof Athlete
I’ve had a few awesome memories in fort William the earliest one for me was in 2015 my first season racing world cups, it was the second race of the year. I had just competed in my first World Cup a couple of weeks before so I thought I’d find it less intimidating but then, Fort William happened any racer will tell you when you come over the last jump on the motorway section and come down to towards the line there is no feeling like it, the atmosphere is ridiculous. The whole run there’s a wave of cheering then you land the last jump before dropping into the finish arena and all hell breaks loose!!! I’ve never had the best of results at fort William but I’ve never come away from a race run without smiling!
My most recent memory at fort William was taking part in my first ever 4X event. Which all came about whilst walking the DH track, Rob Sherratt came up with the idea of me racing 4X on my 165mm travel Nukeproof Mega. The words were “ you enter me rob and I’ll race” so practise started on the 4x track my bike was very large and quite floppy compared to everyone else’s. So before qualifying, I headed over to big Tim at SRAM where he did some fork adjustment and put a shorter stroke shock on which made a huge difference.
Nigel Page finished his holiday early to come up to watch the DH World Cup and gave me a few tips on how to go about this 4X stuff. Before this, I’d never been in a gate before and I was going up against some of the best in the world. I don’t know if you know who Ronnie MAC is but in that start gate that’s exactly what I looked like next to the full-timers. So with a couple of gates done and qualifying out the way I got through my first heat doing a couple of insides, I realised this is awesome taking me back to my motocross days racing against people was so good, I continued to finish somewhere in the top ten. About a month later I got an email from British Cycling saying that I’ve qualified for the British World's 4x team, which was a shock. World Champ's was on the awesome track in Val Di Sole, Italy. Again it was just fun to race others and I surprised myself to made the final and finished 4th after a crash trying to make a pass. A year later I did the same race at Fort William qualified for the Worlds team again! This time I came away with a Silver medal at World Champs, which is a bit mental really. If I hadn’t of tried this new discipline of mountain biking at Fort William I wouldn’t have got my silver medal now! Can’t wait to get back there hopefully in 2021 to race the DH and 4X and make even more great memories
Sandra Rubesam, Nukeproof:
My most remarkable memory of racing in Fort William was 2017.
It began in qualification which I almost missed as I caught up on the girl that started in front of me. I had no chances to pass and she won’t let me go through. I was stuck behind her for the complete wood section until the left hand kinda hip jump. She took the outside line to approach the jump and I took the inside line to finally get past her. I qualified 12th and was super happy that I still made it despite the loss of time.
Came finals I had a very good run. I’ve been 6th through the last split and if I would have kept the pace even a podium finish could have been possible. As I jumped into the finish area after the steep descent, I hit the landing too far to the right, my suspension bottomed out, my front tire blew off and I crashed. Surprisingly I didn’t hurt, I jumped immediately back on my bike and finished 10th. Which was my best World Cup finish back then. The weekend before I raced my first EWS in Wicklow and finished also 10th.
Alex Fayolle, Nukeproof:
In 2017 I had the plate number one et the leader Jersey for racing, I was pretty proud but mostly stressed.
Nigel Page, Team CRC-Nukeproof Team Manager
For me, it was the 2002 WC which was the first time Fort William held the UCI World Cup. I was racing for the Intense Factory team with my teammate Chris Kovarik and track was really tough that week. It had a lot of new sections back then and it was muddy and hard to ride and keep speed in some places. In qualifying, you could only see a few bike lengths ahead of you as the fog was so thick up on the higher parts of the track. I think I qualified 17th and made it through to the finals and I will always remember the atmosphere of the home crowd all the way down the motorway section to the finish line screaming for you as we were racing a World Cup in the UK, it was amazing. I ended up finishing 10th which I was super happy about and ended up being the highest placed UK rider that day (Steve Peat did crash though! )
Also what happened that weekend was Chris Kovarik’s iconic win of nearly 15 seconds. I was still sat on my bike in the finish area waiting for the race to conclude and I knew Chris was easily fast enough to put a winning run together. Everyone was looking up to the Tissot Arch (as it was then) and Dan Jarvis announced Chris was on track and had 15 seconds to appear at the arch to be in with a chance of taking the fastest time. As we started to count and will Chris to appear, he came flying over the arch jump and the crowd exploded in applause and screaming at him down the final stretch which is the same as the track is today. It was an amazing thing to see and be apart of.
Rob Sherratt, Nukeproof Marketing Manager
I first went to Fort William for a mate's riding stag do a few years ago. I was left with a broken Scaphoid, weird popeye elbow and a huge deal of respect to any racer that can hold on to a full run, let alone post the times they do. Since then "working" with Fox and Nukeproof I've enjoyed many a sight on and off the track. For the "industry" the race is a huge event, Lesley and the team put on an amazing event, but it's made by the fans. As a brand, it's an awesome place to catch up with friends, media, colleges and most importantly our customers, for us it's all about giving a little something back for their support. From massive freebie sessions to incredible athlete signings, it's great that mountain biking is still at a level where it's accessible. Sunday at 4 pm is almost like standing in the Kop end, the noise and atmosphere created by the crowd just seem to push athletes to their limits (and beyond). Probably one of the most powerful memories of the event though came on track walk day when a train of athletes dropped in for one run to support their friend Steve Smith.
Beyond the track, the legal and "locals" trails are always amazing to explore. We can usually rope in a friendly local guide to show us around some rad trails, before some of the weirdest and strangest nights in the town (unfortunately can't be spoken about on these pages, but the Sunday nights used to be something special!). Fort William is a truly special place in all our hearts for these reasons. All our thoughts and best wishes to all the hotels, B&B's and restaurants, pubs and effected services from the whole of the Nukeproof team, we look forward to more antics and seeing you again in 2021.
P.s. please can someone remember to feed the midges?http://nukeproof.com