It's pretty safe to say most seasoned World Cup racers, mechanics, team managers, photographers, and officials have a love hate relationship with Fort William, Scotland. There is no debating that it is an iconic venue, a staple on the circuit, and a venue that has played host to some of truly historical moments. If you are a race fan you can't help but get goosebumps when you think of the roaring crowd as Steve Peat crossed the line for the win in 2005, or the tributes paid to the late Steve Smith in 2016. The raw emotion seen on race day in Fort William combined with the tens of thousands of fans year in and year out make it an event that is truly hard to beat. Behind all this however is one of the roughest and toughest venues ion the circuit.
It's not just the unrelenting rocks that challenge racers here, everything about the venue itself posses a challenge. It rains... A LOT. It is often cold and windy. If the sun does show itself, with it come the unrelenting midges. The entire hillside is essentially a peat bog as well so spectators, team managers and coaches often find themselves ankles deep in mud for hours a day as they try to work. There is no cover when weather rolls in on the open slopes there and everyone is at the mercy of Mother Nature when things go sideways. In 2015 a day of practice was cancelled. In 2016 all riders were sent to the top for qualifying at 10am so the gondolas could be shut down the rest of the day for wind (fine if you had a top 30 plate, but those in the 100's waited up in the cold for hours). The track absolutely trashes equipment and mechanics work harder at Fort William than any other venue. It is a mental battle through and through for all involved, and for that reason, it is still considered THE race to win. It is the crown jewel every rider is chasing, and while a select few have succeeded it forever remains a thorn in the side for many others. In the chance for championship points, Fort William is the round many racers point to as the place they look less at winning, and more with hopes to manage the race and minimize their losses.
Surely more than a few breathed a temporary sigh of relief when the 2020 round was cancelled, simply because of how difficult a race weekend Fort William always proves to be. But that relief would have quickly been followed by a bit of sadness once the realization that despite its challenges, Fort William is still without a doubt one of the most electric and exciting races of the year. Love it or hate it, it is a race that is terrific for the sport with an atmosphere that is second to none. Both on the ground and in the skies above.
Long Live Fort William