The high octane spectacle of World Cup downhill racing delivers mountain bikers of all walks the ultimate platform to follow and enjoy, regardless of any affinity to the discipline in question. After all, it couldn't be any simpler. Take an absurdly difficult trail on a picturesque mountain, a bunch of riders with insane skills, point each rider down the trail against the clock, which we all know, doesn't lie, and the fastest person wins. This concoction of complex and not-so complex elements and variables and the immediate parallels to the fundamental building blocks of mountain biking - a rider, a trail and the great outdoors - has ultimately kept this discipline in the hearts and minds of everyone who enjoys riding bicycles off-road.
And thanks to the colorful personalities who have graced this sport from its heyday to today and now with Red Bull TV streaming the action live via the magic of the internet, World Cup downhill racing has never touched as many real mountain bikers as it does right now. Yet even with all the live coverage, the countless videos and photo galleries, which spring up over the course of a race weekend, you still only see a small portion of what goes on behind the scenes at a World Cup. With a view to taking a closer look at the inner workings of a top-tier factory race team, we were granted unique access to the Chain Reaction Cycles PayPal team at round three of the 2016 World Cup series from the hallowed slopes of Aanoch Mor and the iconic location of Fort William, Scotland.
DAY 01: THURSDAY - PIT PREP, TRACK WALKAND STEVIE SMITH TRIBUTE TRAIN
|Fort William is an iconic race for everyone and it's the crowds that really make the race here. I raced the first World Cup here back in 2002 and I will never forget the feeling of dropping into the finish arena on my race run... It was like riding through a tunnel of screaming fans. Absolutely amazing! As a team, we don't treat it any differently to any of the other World Cups, but it is a track which is long and brutal and everyone likes to do well here. - Nigel Page, CRC Paypal Team Manager.|
|Fort William is just amazing, it's always one of the tracks you look forward to every year but you also know it's going to be one of the toughest. I got my very first World Cup podium here back in 2003 when I was still a Junior and I also won the 2007 world championships here as well so it's got a lot of great memories for me. - Sam Hill.|
|I'd say I really like the environment of Fort William. The weather, the crowds of people that show up and the opportunity to be in Scotland. I have started to feel that the track is a bit old. I've been going to the event since 2005 and the track has kinda been the same. They've made good changes in the past and this year they made some really good ones so hopefully in the future, there will be more of the same. - Jacy Shumilak, Sam Hill's Mechanic.|
|It was emotional for me. I've known Stevie since he was just a cheeky little kid riding a Cove. I think it was a nice thing for everyone to do. It's amazing to see all the love and respect everyone has for such a great legend of our sport. - Sam Hill.|
|The train run on Thursday afternoon, just after track walk, was pretty emotional... Everyone knew Stevie was such a nice guy and had time for anyone in the biking industry and also outside of it too. It was a pretty big train and I think everyone had a blast doing it. We all giggled and laughed pretty much the whole way down, and after that, we all went to Peaty's bar for a drink in memory of Stevie. - Mike Jones.|
|It was emotional but at the same time, a great feeling to be riding in the memorial train for Stevie. It's amazing to see how loved he was by all the fans and everyone involved in the sport. Coming into the finish with all the other guys... It was a really special feeling. - Joe Smith.|
DAY 02: FRIDAY - PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT
| The first day of practice at Fort William is always a funny one, especially this year as we hadn't been to the BDS race and missing some track time before the World Cup. Most of the track was the same as always, just much more eroded and rougher which meant that there were fewer lines so you just had to concentrate on going fast on the main line for the most part. There was a new wooded section which was cutting up fast throughout the day and making things interesting. All in all, I was feeling good on the bike and starting to get up to speed. - Joe Smith.|
|The first day of practice was good and getting my head into Fort William... It always takes a couple of runs to get used to the high speeds. The track is really dry and loose at the moment and it's deteriorating worse than in previous years. But yeah, just trying to get my lines figured out and get in the flow. - Sam Hill.|
|The first day of practice here went pretty good. Me and my mechanic, Brooks have been playing around with settings on the bike for the first few races and at Fort William, we were finally getting somewhere with the bike and I was feeling really good. The track was changing with every run and we were also changing the bike set up as well. The track was super rough, to begin with, and with the dry weather, it just got rougher as the weekend went on. The woods were playing heck with everyone and with the big roots coming out there were a lot of top riders struggling with that section. The top section of the track got super rough by the time timed runs came along, with big holes and loose rocks coming out and it started to get super gnarly, but I was loving the track and also loving the changes that we did to the bike... - Mike Jones.|
|Well, my first day of practice was a good one. The track was dry and I was loving how fast it was running with the bike feeling awesome. The new wood section was a tricky one and I think I'd be one of many to say I struggled... The number of roots there to catch you out is just ridiculous! I spent a lot of time trying to work out a line through the carnage. Once I found the line I was most comfortable with, I stuck with it and got ready for a timed run. The timed run was smooth not much pedaling going on with lots of speed tucking and trying to carry good speed from top to bottom. I was happy with how the run went and had the fastest time in the Junior category. - Elliot Heap.|
DAY 03: SATURDAY - QUALIFICATION TIME!
|We make very little changes on a Saturday at World Cups and any changes we are making to the bike or setup will be made before or on the first day of practice. After track walk, Mike and myself will decide on any changes or tweaks needed to suit the track, for example, tyres, sag, head-angle, but mostly only minor changes as we have a good base setup as far as suspension and setup acquired from our pre-season testing. So coming into Fort Bill this year we made some minor alterations from our base setting, firming up the suspension both front and rear so the bike holds up more in turns and has less suspension bob under pedaling to suit this type of track and without sacrificing small bump sensitivity or bike feel. - Brooks Cardwell, Mike Jones' Mechanic.|
|The run was good and the track was quite a lot rougher with only a few minor mistakes up top. I then came into the woods where I got caught out by a newly exposed root which ended with me hitting a tree. I lost a bit of time but got going again and carried on with my run. I was happy with 4th despite the encounter with a tree... - Elliot Heap.|
|My qualifying run was going really well. I made sure I was smooth up top and then went through the tough woods section cleanly, but unfortunately, I came off line towards the end of the woods and ended up the wrong side of a tree at a dead stop. I ended up 20th and wasn't too far off the pace considering my little incident so was looking forward to finals. - Joe Smith.|
|Qualifying didn't really go to plan for me. I started off with a reasonable top section which I am never strong on here and then just after the first split, I got kicked off line by a loose rock which sent me off track. I tried to get back on track as quickly as possible but the course tape was all wrapped around my bike so it took me a while to get my bike free and then get back on course. When I finally got going I pushed hard to try and make some time back up, but on one of the loose turns I washed the front wheel out and went down again and by this point, I was over it... But I got back on my bike and got going again, pushing on regardless of what happened. As a protected rider I was in the main event regardless, but if I wasn't, I would not have made finals on Sunday... Track conditions today were a lot different compared to yesterday and it was a lot rougher and the holes where a lot bigger too. - Mike Jones.|
|Qualifying went pretty good and I felt like I had a good run today but I did tighten up a bit halfway through my run and slow down a little because of that. The track was pretty blown out in places with a lot of boggy holes in the corners. - Sam Hill.|
DAY 04: SUNDAY - LET'S GO RACING!
|For finals we don't change too much. We strive to have the setup ready by race day morning but we did change the fork pressure by 2.5 PSI and cut the center knobs down on the rear Schwalbe Magic Mary tire. - Jacy Shumilak.|
|At the top of the track I felt good and carried good speed through the long turns where I hit all my lines well. I then came to those woods which caught me out in qualifying... Well, it turns out that lightning can strike twice. I ended up hitting the same tree but this time going down. I was so frustrated with myself but still ended with a 5th place which was my best result so far. - Elliot Heap.|
|My Race run started well. I felt strong and aggressive up top and was carrying good speed. After the Deer Gate, about halfway down the track, I got a little off line and blew my foot off the pedal. This in itself wasn't too big an issue, but I seemed to tense up and start making more mistakes. Unfortunately from there on out my run wasn't great and I finished a little off where I should have been... - Joe Smith.|
|Today was just another day of bad luck for me... Practice went well in the morning and I felt super fast on track, and the bike was working absolutely amazing as well. Me and my mechanic, Brooks, were talking at the top and we both knew that I had the speed to do well on this track and I felt really good going into my race run. I went out of the gate and was pushing hard and felt really good. I then came into a long left-hand turn and as I turned onto some wood that joined the track, my front wheel pushed and went over the top of the wood. I went down hard, face planting into a big rock and bouncing off the track in the process... It took me a while to come around and realize what had happened and where I was... At this point, the pain of the crash started to kick in and I knew my race run was already over. I'd lost way too much time to get a good result, so I just jumped back on my bike and cruised down... With my hand cut wide-open and my bars bent from the crash, it wasn't easy to finish my run. I got down in the end and just headed straight back to the pits disappointed with what had happened and also disappointed that I'd lost valuable points. - Mike Jones.|
|Yeah, I feel like I rode good in my race, I tried to attack the course and stay as loose as possible. I'm not happy with my result but I'm happy with the way I rode. I just need to keep building my speed. - Sam Hill.|#LONGLIVECHAINSAW
|This year, unfortunately, the Fort William World Cup didn't go as well as it had in previous years for us. But that is just how racing goes sometimes. You have to learn from what went wrong and try to improve for the next race. That's what we always do. Elliot is learning a lot in the Junior category, improving every week and his fifth place here was a great result. Sam is chipping away and building both his speed and his confidence back in DH and his time and result really weren't that bad. However, being who he is, everyone expects him to be right up there in the results like he was two years ago at Fort Bill. Joe has had some great results here in the past, with Fort Bill being his best World Cup result to date, placing seventh in 2012. This year he was a little disappointed. Sometimes you can try too hard and your run just doesn't come together. Mike Jones has the pace to be on the podium most weekends but just has to find that balance between speed and backing it off that little bit not to crash and make mistakes... Mike pushed hard all weekend as always but crashed big in the finals. On the whole, we didn't get the results we wanted or are capable of this time around, but it could have been far worse and thankfully no one was badly hurt. Overall, it was an amazing race, though, but then the riders always make it that way. It was really cool to see Adam Brayton get his first World Cup podium, Greg Minnaar's amazing winning run, Steve Peat's final Fort William World Cup race and all the respect shown for the late Stevie Smith. Long Live Chainsaw. - Nigel Page.|