Nerding Out - Fort William DH World Cup 2019

Jun 3, 2019
by James Smurthwaite  
It looked like Matt Walker might take his second podium in a row but he was pushed back to 7th in the end. I m sure he ll be quietly content with that given a crash on this very track a few weeks prior left him in hospital.

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
Classic weather at a classic venue

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
13th and finding some consistency for Dakotah Norton who is still coming back to form after off-season shoulder surgery.

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 gap

Sector 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.

Amaury Pierron took his first ever World Cup win here last year and wanted to remind everyone that he s still king of the Fort. Message sent and received.

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.
The Perfect Lap

Sector 1 Amaury Pierron - 53.171
Sector 2 Amaury Pierron - 2:05.327
Sector 3 Amaury Pierron - 27.912
Sector 4 Amaury Pierron - 35.447
Sector 5 Brook MacDonald - 26.078

Total 4:27.935

Winning time 4:28.578

Sector 1

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.

The Perfect Lap

Sector 1 Rachel Atherton - 58.648
Sector 2 Tracey Hannah - 2:28.570
Sector 3 Nina Hoffmann - 33.427
Sector 4 Rachel Atherton - 39.572
Sector 5 Tracey Hannah - 30.288

Total 5:10.505

Winning time 5:17.171

Sector 1

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.


  • + 89
 That endo save from Pierron at the end was the stuff of legends. My butthole is still puckered from watching
  • + 38
 Suppose Pierron went OTB across the finish line, do they measure his time by his bike or body crossing the finish line? Would he be disqualified? Any racing experts want to chime in?
  • + 30
 @trailbike: timing chips on the bike
  • + 4
 @trailbike: most definitely would like to know the answer to this
  • + 14
 @HardtailZero: With that speed, both bike and rider would have crossed the line :d
  • + 13
 @trailbike: they both have to cross the line but at that speed and with that lead it wouldn't matter and he would have still won, though I think he would have absolutely wrecked himself if he hadn't saved it haha
  • - 14
flag stikmanglaspell (Jun 3, 2019 at 12:33) (Below Threshold)
 That just overtook Sam Hill's Val Di Sole slide out, for epic moments.
  • + 8
 @trailbike: the timing device is on the bike - He would need also to be with it - tangled in it or carrying it, but he has have contact with it - he'd be good. I believe he would have won anyway with a horrific crash and burn had he gone over. So glad he didn't.
  • + 6
 @neimbc: I was thinking it would have been even better if we wadded it up as he crossed the line. No injuries obviously but if he ate shit over the line to clinch 1st that would be magical imo.
  • + 5
 @stikmanglaspell: was thinking of that, and also ratboy shattering his foot but still getting second
  • + 1
 @trailbike: UCI rules say that the finish is when the front wheel crosses the line, no need for a rider.

"1.2.100 The finish occurs at the instant that the tyre of the front wheel meets the vertical plane
rising from the starting edge of the finishing line. To this end, the verdict of the photofinish shall be final."
  • + 2
 @c1c51: That is in the case of a photofinish in which it is assumed both riders are on the bike.
  • + 0
 @neimbc: Both riders? what kind of races are you watching?
And it looks like they are stating that's the rule for finishing, the photofinish is just used to confirm the crossing i'm guessing. but I doubt they have two separate rule sets for a "standard finish" vs a "photofinish"
  • + 1
 @trailbike: I don't think he will be disqualified. Remi Thirion still got his qualifying time recorded even though he crashed really badly on Leogang back in 2017.
  • + 32
 Love that stuff, dear Pinkbike staff! Keep it coming! (and thanks for the effort you're putting into it!)
  • + 4
 Agreed. This is fantastic, loving the high-effort content. Really adds so much to these race weekends.
  • + 20
 Best race in a long time, and theyre all amazing. Tell the kids this sh1t is more worth watching than youtubers!
  • + 29
 Smash corners not Like buttons.
  • + 1
 Fort William had become my least favourite race recently. I know the tracks awesome I’m just not a fan of where they put the camera but red bull absolutely nailed this one. Best race I’ve seen in ages.
  • + 13
 Any idea how Brook MacDonald could make up that much time in the last Sector? Is it really possible that he as making that much more power with his legs? Seems like aerodynamics or some other factor (wind direction, or something else) would have to come into play in order to create that much of a spread.

In the technical sections, a big spread seems more likely (less braking, line choice, carrying more speed, etc). But in the last sector, it seems like the times should be more consistent between riders.....and they were, except for Brook.

Some kind of Animal, apparently.
  • + 7
 It seems he saved his energy at the top for the bottom ? he was very good in the two last sectors.

Also, seems that being a kiwi helps to go fast in the last sector
  • + 5
 I've not watched the replay yet but the riders have different approaches to the motorway in terms of where they aero tuck and where they pedal, and there are quite a few jumps that the riders have to squash perfectly to keep their speed up so there's definitely some good time to be made on the motorway and riders often make or loose decent chunks of time there. The wind would make a lot more difference at the top I would think, it's pretty sheltered where the jumps are and it wasn't bad yesterday. Brook also said on WynTV that he was a bit reserved at the top so maybe he had a bit more energy to burn off at the end.
  • + 4
 @ gooded He has power but also has bulk - the wind is less likely to have a negative effect on him whereas, lighter riders are more easily pushed on and slowed by the wind. Also, who knows how the wind was exactly blowing . Would love to see him win.
  • + 2
 @neimbc: This is what I'm thinking. The fastest riders on the motorway had various combinations of high body mass, tight clothes, and/or known to always finish races with the ability to sprint. MacDonald and Minnaar are all these things, Blenkinsop and Brosnan are tremendously strong on the pedals for their lighter builds, and Pierron and Thirion were wearing skinsuits Wink .

Blenkinsop, Brosnan, and Ropelato often have particularly high speed trap readings, suggesting they're exceptionally smooth (definitely true for Brosnan and Ropelato) and/or run very soft suspension (true for Blenkinsop; unknown for the others).
  • + 4
 If you see him in person, he has to squeeze his legs into baggys, makes them look like lycra. I would say it was just pure horsepower that got that sector for him.
  • + 14
 Blenkinsop also won the speed gun contest with a the fastest speed of 57.9kmph. Fast and steezy.
  • + 7
 Best race in awhile. Women's and men. Truly amazing racing. You could definitely tell that the wind eased up for the last set of riders as times up top where way faster and track conditions improved drastically with the sun out. 8 seconds is a MASSIVE difference for just 5 or 6 dudes. Stoked to see Minnaar back up there. Syndicate dudes dropped their plate numbers. Gwin pissed off the DH gods or something. Dude needs to go see a guru. Get rid of the bad juju.
  • + 5
 Love the graphs but one bit of feedback (since we are nerding out)/

The graphs shows time ascending from right to left rather than from left to right which is the strong and intuitive convention.

I.e. the graphs from left to right show 50s, 49s, 48s and so on where you'd expect it to show 48s, 49s, 50s and so on. The graphs should be a mirror image of themselves with the winners listed in the SW quadrant with the slowest times in the NE quadrant.
  • + 14
 Good point, but this way it reads slowest to fastest, which is also intuitive.
  • + 2
 I agree it’s unintuitive. Would rather flip the y-axis and have 12th place on the bottom. Then it would have placement ascending as one would expect while still reading slowest to fastest from left to right.
  • + 1
 agreed - looked at the first and thought "why is Amuary all the way down there?"..and then realised it was backwards
  • + 2
 @rmemry: I would respectfully disagree. The start order is in reverse, with the fastest qualifier going last (ergo, the bottom of the startlist). The graph follows this same order. Also, having a downhill slope on the chart makes sense for a downhill race.
  • + 5
 In Wolf's words: Wind is a factor.
Not take away anything from Amoury or Brook's motorway watts.
Anyway, couldn't ask for more entertainment in a DH race!
  • + 3
 Would it be possible to combine all the footage of Vergier and Brosnan? They must have been right on top of each other the whole time! Did they wear cameras? The two helmet cams side by side, or overlaid would be fascinating.
  • + 2
 Brilliant article. Can we have more of these, every race. The pure racing nerd is watching the TB Bruni battle, and just seeing where exactly a race is won or lost, split on split. Another way of demonstrating this analysis using XL is having the overall position on X axis 1, 2, 3 positions etc, then split by collate same data as you have done (which is excellent showing the actual split differential btw) every split time. (You can even cumulatively sum these if want). Pivot this and by running over the split times on the graph you see them jostling for position as they race down the hill. More of this analysis please.
  • + 2
 Hang on a second, Kate Weatherly loses BIG time on tech sectors where skill is primary yet is near on equal quickest on the sector that is straight power.
Surely this exposes the out and out advantage of being a male in a female sport?
  • + 6
 What is Brook McD exposed as
  • + 4
 @strongah: being part bull
  • + 2
 @strongah: A bulldog.
  • + 5
 Fastest Sektor for Nina Hoffmann!! First time on that track for her and up there with the big dogs !! Awesome stuff!!
  • + 1
 Any stats experts our there that can help explain to me the distribution pattern of the splits?
Take the men, it seems that once we get down to 10 th fastest split or so, that the time differences between riders are really small. But the time difference between the fastest riders seems bigger. Is this normal distribution for elite sports?
I suppose there's higher likelihood of someone being really good than being really, really good, so there's more of them?
  • + 1
 Good stuff. Tiny suggestion--repeat the sector description ("Over the rest of the motorway jumps and dropping into the finish arena") at the start of each new sector in the main text.
  • + 1
 We think , also the sun appearing factor and wind ..... helped to dry a bit the soil and make track faster to last riders, because among riders there are very high time differences in the segments
  • + 0
 If this is being broken down by splits, do each split time, not the cumulative race time. One good or bad split buries can dominate the cumulative position, making a split by split breakdown with cumulative times fairly pointless in my eyes.
  • + 1
 There are two graphics for each split, one of the split alone, one of the cumulative time (except for the 1st split of course), if I get what you mean.
  • + 1
 In the bump charts (line chart summary of top n finishers) - it would be cool to have n starters and n finishers - the holes in the start side leave me wondering who DNF'd or had a crappy sector/split time?
  • + 3
 I just freaking love this data, mmmmm!
  • + 3
 Classic Bulldog muscle on sector 5!
  • + 1
 Beast mode.
  • + 2
 Those gaps for positions 1-4 are just huge! So glad the last three down were 1,2,3 in this race, made it very fun to watch
  • + 3
 This was one of the best WC races in a long time.
  • + 1
 I thought Eliot Jackson was in charge of all “Nerding Out” content now.
  • + 1
 Lutz Weber build your consistency for next sectors and it will be fire!
  • + 0
 You can post all the stats you like, but the only one that counts is the #1
  • + 1
 aaah very nice analysis!
  • + 1
 Nerd indeed
  • + 1
  • + 0
 Just noticed Thirion is nowhere to be found, injured?
  • + 1
 Around 30 I think.
  • + 1
 @Will-narayan: 30th indeed, thx
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