If there's one question that could be asked of the first two World Cup DH rounds this season, it would be "where's the dirt?". With the opening round in Croatia being contested almost entirely on a surface of boulders, the racers find themselves facing similar conditions once again in Fort William. Though there seems to be a lot more speed and flow on offer on the slopes surrounding Ben Nevis, the surface is still composed overwhelmingly of rock. The tried and true track, well in its teenage years at this point, has been relatively unchanged for the 2018 rendition though as always it seems the rocks have gotten bigger and the dirt between them more scarce. Really, the only change of note would be to last year's controversial wooded section. What was a messy rutted bog that ruined many a race run and angered a large mob on the internet, has been changed into, you guessed it, one giant rock garden. Where there once was proper brown dirt in Fort William, there is now rock arranged in a fashion that would make the road builders on Roman times envious. Are we seeing a new trend in DH tracks perhaps?
With nothing drastically new there would be little reason to assume the favorites from last year are sure to be the favorites once again in 2018. No one more so than Greg Minnaar who has won here the past three years in a row. That theory held true of course until about 24 hours ago when it was revealed that Minnaar would be sidelined this week with a fractured elbow. Of course, behind Greg and ready to take advantage of his absence will be a familiar cast that includes Aaron Gwin, Troy Brosnan, Danny Hart and so on. As well as some motivated riders who showed promise at the opening round such as Luca Shaw and of course Brook Macdonald, who is back from the broken collarbone he suffered in Croatia. For the ladies, it would usually be Rachel Atherton as almost a guarantee, but her injury here last year opened the door for her rivals to taste victory. The current form of the top ladies has elevated the game to make it anyone's race. Tracey Hannah took top honors last year and will be looking for redemption after crashing in Croatia, and Myriam Nicole will want to carry on with the momentum of her opening round win. Then there's Rachel Atherton and Tahnee Seagrave who will have the home crowd pushing then down the hill all weekend long. Regardless of who you put your money on, it's sure to be a nail bitter of a race in all categories.
Right now conditions look dry and loose and if the weather holds we will be in for an amazing weekend of racing in the Scottish Highlands. However, if years past are an indication, anything can and likely will happen, and the riders who can adapt to rapid changes in conditions will always fare best at the Fort.
Crank up those compression settings and prepare to hold on for a wild ride. The Fort William World Cup is about to get underway.