Fort William World Cup drivetrain carnage and the why the motorway needs changes

May 27, 2022 at 18:11
by DC A  
Still the roughest and toughest on the circuit. Some things never change.

The 2022 Fort William World Cup DH track was tougher and brutal than ever, with slick conditions and changes to the track which meant more exposed rocks and boulders. Not surprisingly, it took quite a toll on racers and bikes while also affecting the results. It was an undeniable display of drivetrain failure during the Fort William elite men's race, with the difficult conditions taking a toll on several top competitors bikes. Red Bull announcers Claudio Calouri and Rob Warner even mentioned that the repeated drivetrain disasters reminded them of racing downhill decades ago when the bikes were notorious for drivetrain failures. 3 different brands of drivetrains were disabled in the elite men's field, which might be unprecedented in World Cup racing. Drivetrains from Shimano, SRAM, and TRP were disabled beyond the point of pedaling during Sunday's final.

The exact statistics for all riders participating are not known, but of the 39 men seen on Red Bull TV coverage, 6 were not able to pedal through the final motorway section on the Fort William track because of various drivetrain failures. All 6 racers suffered serious time losses because they were not able to accelerate on the motorway, and in the case of Loris Vergier it may have lost him the race. This represents a drivetrain failure rate of over 15%, which is a high rate in a World Cup field where racers are riding on new equipment which is meticulously planned, assembled, and maintained, along with being tuned for the priorities of every particular race course. Having your race run compromised by equipment failure not only affects the race, but also affects the overall points battle. Yet look what happened, it was drivetrain carnage:

Loris Vergier hard on the anchors in one of the most challenging parts of the track.

A breakdown of the breakdowns:

Loris Vergier
SRAM drivetrain
What a complete bummer, Vergier's mechanical arguably lost him the race since he was gaining time on the leader before damaging his chainring. Vergier appeared to be riding smooth and in control, and was within a .423 of a second of eventual second place finisher Thibaut Dapréla near the middle of the track. He was gaining time on Dapréla, but then had to resort to tucking and pumping after losing the ability to pedal and ended up in 6th place. I feel like he should have won, and his drivetrain sponsor or team should pay him the difference between 1st and 6th to hold themselves accountable. On Instagram he said: "Tucking and pumping my way into 6th for finals after a mechanical (wind pushed off line and a rock gently took off some teeth of my chain ring)."

Bernard Kerr
Shimano drivetrain
Kerr qualified 4th, and missed out on one of his best ever world cup finishes in years because of his drivetrain issues. He coasted down to 16th place chain after his chain retention system was damaged and he couldn't pedal. It seems it eventually became free again, but he didn't realize it and stayed in his tuck. He said on his YouTube channel: "Unfortunately, I snapped my whole chain device off. I don't know when it freed up, but it was jammed for awhile."

Antoine Vidal
SRAM drivetrain
Vidal's chain was slack at the finish, because of a broken chainring. He finished in 46th place. After the race he said on Instagram "Everything does not go as planned, a mistake by me makes me land on a rock so I break my chainring."

Oisin O'Callighan
TRP drivetrain
O'Callighan's chain was still attached at the finish, but he could not pedal for most of his run and coasted to 58th place. He was running a TRP derailleur drivetrain, not sure if it was the same prototype some Commencal riders were using. On Instagram the YT racer commented: "Unfortunately had a mechanical today just after the first split, but it happens."

Taylor Vernan
SRAM drivetrain
The Sorted sponsored rider suffered from a jammed chain near the top of the track and coasted to 26th place. "I nailed my bike at the top and jammed the chain up."

Antoine Pierron
SRAM drivetrain
Pierron had one of the early fast times, despite the fact that he also lost his chain. He finished in 42nd place and said on Instagram: "I broke my chainring in the first 15 seconds of the track, I struggled a bit with the chain stuck in to the crank."

1% too much?

After one of the chain failures in yesterday's race, Rob and Claudio had a conversation about the subject and how riders need to be a little more careful and aware of their lines:

Claudio: "We cannot be precise up there with all that slip and slide, it's really easy to hit the derailleur onto a rock or something."

Rob: "It is, that's right..If you catch your chainring anywhere wrong, it's hard to take care of your bike but perhaps you need to a little bit."

Claudio: "On a long race like this it is definitely a good idea to maybe not ride 120, only 119 percent."

Perhaps Fort William didn t like it when we said Croatia was the rockiest World Cup of the season.

Kye A Hern down the motorway finish straight

The Fort William track clearly deserves blame

Some of the blame the drivetrain failures affecting the race outcome can be directed towards parts the design of the relatively flat Fort William track, the lower parts in particular. If it did not have the short climbing section and such a long flat pedaling section at the end, riders who had mechanical issues wouldn't face such heavy time losses. The brutal rock sections on the upper parts of the track make it more likely racers drivetrains will be damaged, and then they are left to coast the entire bottom motorway section where they would usually be sprinting between jumps.

Full tuck and carrying speed without a chain. Gwin went full beast on this track.

There is no chance on the Fort William track of defeating the drivetrain Gods like Aaron Gwin did on the Leogang track in 2015, when he lost his chain at the top of the track and effectively pumped and tucked his way to victory in one of the most memorable World Cup races ever. Racers who have a drivetrain mechanical at Fort William are only left with heartbreak and serious time losses.

Could there be a solution that would help the drivetrain dilemma of the Fort William track? If they added more jumps and spaced them more closely together in more of a rhythm section, it would reduce pedaling and give riders without a chain more ability to pump the landings and stay in contention. It seems like there is something they could do to make it more about jumping, pumping, and scrubbing instead of being mostly about pedal power to the finish.

USA junior Anna Newkirk crushing it out in the slop to take her first ever WC victory.

Fort Bill needs a new finish for the 2023 World Championships

With Fort William recently being chosen as the site of the 2023 World Championship, it will be interesting to see what might change with the track to make it less brutal or less dependent upon pedaling, and what teams might do to better prepare the bikes chainrings. This year's track featured more rock sections than ever, could it be tamed down for World's? Could the bottom jumps be redesigned in a way to make the motorway not primarily a pedal power race, but instead more of a competition of jumping, scrubbing, and pumping skill? Something needs to change, the track should not be denying racers race wins or season overall points because they get a mechanical.


  • 17 1
 Sorry? Revising a brilliant track to be less about pedaling?

Um, this *is* mountain biking, no?

How about making drivetrain components more durable -- more capable of handling the abuse that mountain biking dishes out.

Perhaps (please) start by removing derailleurs from the equation.
  • 7 0
 Agree with not changing the track (much). Pedal power is a part of mountain biking, and getting down in one piece is something that should be rewarded - we're only talking about 15% failure rate so the vast majority of guys are doing just fine. It's nice that different tracks have different characteristics. If they were all the same it would be more boring and we'd also be more likely to have the same guys winning every week.
  • 9 0
 No bash guards mentioned. Would this not solve the chainring grounding issue?
  • 1 1
 Good observation. I included this point in a more recent blog about DH drivetrains...
  • 8 0
 Yeahhhh no. Let's leave the track alone. All tracks are different and Fort William requires a bit of pedalling.
  • 6 0
 Never blame the track, we need better components that can stand abuse instead of the expensive plastic crap they sell nowadays we need more shimano linkglide level parts
  • 3 0
 Good insight on revising bottom of track to minimize impact of mechanicals. Minnaar might not approve though: events of the last race just highlight how remarkable it has been for the Goat to strategically save both bike and legs and sprint for victory at the bottom 7 times.

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