With rocks, rain and classic tracks there were lots of similarities between the first two World Cups but when it comes to the numbers, the two rounds couldn't be more different. Times at Maribor were under 3 minutes whereas in Fort William, likely to be the longest World Cup track of the year, riders were aiming for the 4:30 mark. Maribor was also one of the closest races in years, with the top ten split by about 3 seconds in the men's race and 12 in the women's, but Fort William saw both fields blown apart with those gaps roughly tripling to 9 seconds for the men and 32 for the women.
Let's take a look through the splits to see where and how those huge gaps were opened:The Track
Fort William bit back this year and took a number of high profile casualties throughout the weekend. Tahnee Seagrave, Gee Atherton, Aaron Gwin, Reece Wilson, Emilie Siegenthaler and Loic Bruni all tasted some Scottish granite at some point throughout the weekend as poor visibility and high winds threw riders off their rhythms.
Yes, it was wet too, but often that's a blessing at Fort William as the white surface binds together and offers much greater grip. The course may only have an average gradient of 11% but Pierron's average speed of 23mph (36km/h) shows that it can be a super-fast course when you pick up momentum. On a largely identical track, his winning time was 6 seconds faster than last year's in the baking heat, there aren't many tracks where race times would decrease in the wild weather that whips across Aonach Mor. The Splits
The splits come unevenly at Fort William with the longest at over two minutes and the last three all around 30 seconds. Sector 1
From the start gate, through the top turns and over the wooden boardwalks.Sector 2
From the first rock garden, down past the deer gate and through the woods to just above the road gapSector 3
Over the road gap, past the first wallride and into the first half of the pedally cross country section to just before the Hazzard Hoofer.Sector 4
Over the Hazzard Hoofer, past the second wallride, along the flat section and down over the first motorway tabletop.Sector 5
Over the rest of the motorway jumps and dropping into the finish arena.Men
The splits tell pretty much the entire story for this race, Amaury Pierron was dominant. The reigning World Cup Champion came into Fort William with fire in his belly and something to prove... and prove it he did.
No rider has ever won more than three sectors since we moved from 3 to 5 splits in 2016. His winning margin of 3.582 is also the biggest in the men's field since Aaron Gwin dismantled the field by 4 seconds in Lourdes at the start of 2015. This wasn't death by 1,000 paper cuts but by blunt force trauma as he took chunks of time out of the field at every turn. Lets dig in to his phenomenal performance.
Pierron gets off to a flyer and already has a 0.5 second lead by the end of the boardwalks with only Troy Brosnan and Loris Vergier within a second of him. Brosnan and Vergier are glued together within 0.1 and they would remain almost inseparable for the next four minutes of racing. Finn Iles gets off to a good start in fourth and Danny Hart rounds out the podium spots that will stay intact until the finish.
53rd qualifier Lutz Weber makes a great start into sixth but he would ultimately not be able to keep it up and will finish 45th. A lot of fast riders dropped significant time on this split, for example Sam Blenkinsop in 59th and Laurie Greenland in 40th, but they would both end up in the top 20 by the end of the race. Were they saving themselves for the motorway sprint or did they simply make some small mistakes that would get punished on a relatively simple and fast section of track?Sector 2
So much could have happened in the two minutes between split 1 and split 2 that it's hard to dig into it with too much detail. At 2 minutes long this will be the longest split of the year and could almost be an entire World Cup race track in its own right. Pierron takes top honours again by over a second but this time Vergier and Brosnan are much closer comparatively. This time Vergier takes it from Brosnan by more than half a second. As in split one, the top five from this split will go on to form the podium.
Further down the sheet, Bruni, Kerr, Greenland and MacDonald start to recover from tough first sectors.
The top five are all in place now although Brosnan and Vergier trade places for the first time of many. Pierron has already hustled out a lead of a second but it's about to get pushed even wider as he motors into another gear. Sector 3
Pierron finds another 0.5 in less than 30 seconds of track. This time it's only Brosnan who can come close to him while his rival Vergier loses 0.8 in eighth. There's a great split for David Trummer in third, his best ever sector. Laurie Greenland also puts in a great ride in fourth and Bruni has his best split of the race in fifth.
Hart has a weaker split, falling into a big clump of riders more than 1.5 seconds back.
Pierron extends his lead to over 2 seconds now with Brosnan and Vergier split by less than 0.2 in the battle for second. Danny Hart is now trailing Finn Iles by more than a second and will have a lot to do in the last minute of racing for any chance of catching him. Just behind Hart is his team mate Matt Walker who's holding steady in sixth for now. Bruni takes his highest position of the afternoon in seventh but will start to slip back as he loses pressure in his rear tyre. Sector 4
Another split, another win for Pierron, although by just 0.3 this time. The Bulldog, who usually finishes World Cup runs faster than anyone, begins to wind up for his late race charge, as does Blenkinsop, who has his eyes set on the top 20 after a tough start. Local lad Greg Williamson has a strong sector here and Dakotah Norton, who won this split in qualifying, also goes well.
In the Loris/Troy battle, the Frenchman pulls back 0.2 on the Aussie but the two are split by Minnaar who puts down another consistent split. Finn Iles starts to slow down here and won't feature in the top 20 for the final two sectors.
Vergier pulls back in front of Brosnan but the lead is only 0.04 so it will be a sudden death sprint to the line. Pierron is simply uncatchable at this point as his near-disaster just in front of the finish line would prove.
Minnaar and MacDonald are the big winners as they start to creep up the standings while Bruni, Masters, Kerr and Greenland all slip back.Sector 5
Brook MacDonald lays down the horsepower on the motorway and pulls out half a second over the jumps from a charging Blenki. Pierron may not complete the clean sweep of sectors but third isn't a bad way to finish after a near-death experience.
The rest of the podium finishers all seem to struggle here. Brosnan performs the best with an 18th but Vergier (23rd), Iles (37th) and Hart (27th) are all way back. Greg Minnaar has another great split while Matt Walker, racing with broken ribs, has his worst of the day which will see him surrender 6th place to the GOAT.
On the finish line, Pierron has extended his lead to 3.5 seconds, a huge winning margin and a clear statement of intent from last year's World Cup overall winner. Only five hundredths separate Brosnan and Vergier but the Aussie takes it and will earn himself the leader's jersey for Leogang. Iles and Hart round out the podium while Minnaar makes a great return to form in sixth.
Rachel put right her bad luck from last year in Fort William and claimed the first win for Atherton bikes on home soil. She didn't have it her own way though and a hard charging Tracey Hannah pushed her all the way to the line.
Nina Hoffmann earned her first podium with a great ride. She only started riding World Cups last year and is already challenging the best women in the world. Watch out for her to develop into a contender for wins over the next few years.
Rachel Atherton gets off to a flying start and already has a lead of more than 2 seconds after a minute of racing over Tracey Hannah. Third is Katy Curd, who unfortunately crashes out before the next split, it would have been great to see what the Brit could have delivered on a full run.
Nina Hoffmann is already well up in contention and Mariana Salazar has her joint best split of the day in fifth to push Marine Cabirou into sixth.Sector 2
Tracey wins the longest sector of the race and hauls in the lead Rachel built up in the first sector with a 3 second gap. Curd crashes here which puts her out of contention. Emilie Siegnethlar also crashes but she was a DNF so we don't have any of her times to include.
Hannah leapfrogs Atherton and takes the race lead but there's just a second in it as the riders head into the bottom half of the track. Salazar gets overtaken by Cabirou, Widmann and Cappellari as she falls back to seventh.Sector 3
In her first ever World Cup at Fort William, Nina Hoffmann takes sector 3 and in some style, pulling out nearly a second on even Atherton. Rachel beats Tracey this time but only by 0.5, which won't be enough to put her back into the lead. The battle for fourth is fierce with Balanche, Cabirou, Widmann and Hubscher separated by less than 0.4.
Less than half a second now separates Hannah and Atherton so it's all to play for as the riders head into the motorway. The podium spots all seem pretty secured now but Widmann and Cabirou will still have to battle it out for fourth and fifth.Sector 4
Atherton absolutely smashes split 4 and pulls out more than 2 seconds in 40 seconds worth of track. Hoffmann gets closest to her but Hannah is nearly three seconds back. Mariana Salazar's mixed afternoon continues as she gets another fifth place split.
Rachel fires herself back into the lead with a healthy 2.3 second margin. With most riders separated by a few seconds, the standings are pretty settled at this point.Sector 5
Tracey finishes strong with the fastest final split with Kate Weatherly in hot pursuit and falling less than two hundredths of a second back. Rachel tucked the entire motorway and loses only 0.75 in this final sector, securing the win.
Marine Cabirou doesn't have the strongest split but has done more than enough to secure fourth at this point.
Rachel ends with a winning margin of 1.6 over Tracey Hannah in the second super-tight race for the women this year. Nina Hoffmann takes third place in only her sixth World Cup and marks herself out as the privateer to watch for 2019. Weatherly's great performance in the final sector sees her slip in front of Camille Balanche, one spot off the podium.