It seems to have been an age since our eyes were glued to a very sunny start to the 2018 DH World Cup season over in Lošinj, Croatia. In fact it’s been five whole weeks; how cruel for us downhill-loving sports fans?!
Despite the drought, our thirst for action can finally be quenched when we see us return to an old favourite this weekend, the Fort William DH World Cup.
Goodbye sunbleached tourists traps. Hello windswept, driech (that’s Scottish for a combination of dull, overcast, drizzly, cold, misty and miserable weather) and rugged mountainside. Despite its being one of the most remote venues on the calendar, Brits in the thousands turn up and giver’; kilts, bagpipes, an appreciation for Scottish whiskey… As Robert Louis Stevenson's poem about the Scottish Highlands describes, this place has something heart-stirring about it.
Dear Fort William, we can’t wait to see what you have in store for us this weekend.
New World Cup woods section. Credit: Ben Cathro
The Fort William race track is one of the oldest on the current racing calendar. It’s had a few changes over the years to continue to make it challenging for the riders, and other improvements that have catered to spectators and TV cameras alike. The track is on Aonach Mor, the ninth highest mountain in the UK, and is approximately 2.8km long. Expect the weather to play a factor too. Being so close to the sea and on the exposed Grampian mountain range, the weather here can change as fast as you can say “Dà ghloinne uisge-beatha mas e do thoil e” (that’s “Two whiskeys please” in Gaelic).
Bar a few sections, the Fort William track can be ridden by Joe Public outside of the World Cup week when it is closed off for the world’s elite.
From the top of the gondola station you can see the UK’s tallest peak, Ben Nevis, and the sea lochs of Loch Linnhe and Loch Eil, but with the weather often being what it can be at that altitude, you’ll be lucky to see the start hut. From the get-go, spectators have a great vantage point of 555 metres of racing as the track winds itself down the exposed hillside, over big rock slabs, boardwalks, and twists and turns.
Further down the track, riders get into the treeline, and dart in and out of the pines that scatter the hillside. Here, there's a slight change for 2018 where once the track shot down in between tightly packed trees. Last year, due to the rainwater washing through it, that part of the track became a nightmare, even for the some of the top elites. This year, to make the track more sustainable and not to mention less of a roulette wheel of fortune, the builders have diverted the route and added in a new rock garden. The British National was held at Fort William a few weekends ago, and ex-World Cup racer turned YouTuber Ben Cathro gave us a taste of what is in store for riders this weekend.
No doubt the majority of the 22,000 expected spectators this weekend will be lining the track towards the bottom section which is known as the Motorway. Here riders are really getting their Gs in when they take the last few remaining bends before the big jumps that bring riders down to the finish line. Legs will be aching by then but speed and flow are essential to enable riders to gain as much advantage as possible, having perhaps lost a few tenths of a second in the flat wood section prior to this one.
Once riders have the finish line in their sights, it’s a couple more seconds of flying time over the 4X race track, and if their ears haven’t been blown away by the noise of the spectators in the finish corral (think as much shouting as humanly possible, mixed with rattles, drums, trumpets, airhorns, and the occasional bagpipe), they will have completed one of the most physically demanding races of the season.
What Happened At The Last Round
Some brutal-looking crashes aside (Brook Macdonald was one of those riders who reminded us all how tough this sport is), our first visit to Losinj was a spectacle for race fans. Despite being a short track, one can’t imagine the riders wanting to endure the pain for any longer than they had to. All in all, it was a fantastic venue to kick off the 2018 season.
In the Elite Women’s field, Myriam Nicole made a good first impression, securing a 3.5 second lead ahead of the woman-to-beat, Rachel Atherton. Tahnée Seagrave secured the third podium step, while Marine Cabirou and Cécile Ravanel made it a French fourth and fifth respectively.
Meanwhile, in the Elite Men’s race, Aaron Gwin showed us yet again how he can dominate not only on the oldest but also the newest of tracks. He even pulled a few fellow Americans in his tow; Luca Shaw (finished second), and Dakota Norton (finished fifth). Australia and New Zealand didn’t do too badly either, with Dean Lucas finishing up in third place, and Sam Blenkinsop taking fourth spot.
1st // Aaron GWIN // USA // 230
2nd // Luca SHAW // USA // 180 // -50
3rd // Dean LUCAS // AUS // 180 // -50
4th // Samuel BLENKINSOP // NZL // 147 // -83
5th // Dakotah NORTON // USA // 120 // -110
6th // Jack MOIR // AUS // 110 // -120
7th // Laurie GREENLAND // GBR // 106 // -124
8th // Troy BROSNAN // AUS // 105 // -125
9th // Danny HART // GBR // 86 // -144
10th // Loris VERGIER // FRA // 85 // -145
1st // Myriam NICOLE // FRA // 230
2nd // Rachel ATHERTON // GBR // 210 // -20
3rd // Tahnée SEAGRAVE // GBR // 156 // -74
4th // Marine CABIROU // FRA // 150 // -80
5th // Cécile RAVANEL // FRA // 130 // -100
6th // Monika HRASTNIK // SLO // 107 // -134
7th // Tracey HANNAH // AUS // 95 // -135
8th // Emilie SIEGENTHALER // SUI // 94 // -136
9th // Katy CURD // GBR // 80 // -150
10th // Mariana SALAZAR // ESA // 65 // -165
What Happened Here Last Year
Fort William threw us a blinder last year. Full of drama and a few mishaps for some of the top riders along the way, we experienced a nail-biting race.
It was at this point last year where we saw Rachel Atherton’s 2017 season become undone. Before the finals had even started, she had limped back to the pits after suffering a dislocated shoulder while out on a training run. Carpenter and Seagrave couldn’t find their usual fire at the Bill, and it was the racer from the other side of the world, Tracey Hannah who took the win with ten seconds to spare. Now that’s what you call blind determination and sheer grit.
In the Elite Men’s race, the 29ers were out in force and it was a test to see whether the new school could face down the old(ish) school. Things were running like you’d expect until just before the last riders were due to come down...the heavens began to open and everyone was wondering whether we would see another ‘Lourdes’ where the final riders wobbled their way down in the pouring rain. Luckily, the track held up, but that didn’t mean that some of the riders didn’t escape without an error here or there. Gwin had a slide on one of the easier sections of the track towards the bottom, losing much needed time.
Gwin's slip gave some of the younger-guns a bit of a target, and first up was Jack Moir who charged his way to the top spot with just two riders left to go. The rain started to pelt down some more, and Vergier made his way down but he wasn’t able to click it together. Last but not least was Minnaar; he had won at the Bill several times already - whether that was on 26, 27.5, gearboxed bikes or single pivots - it was his to take on his 29er. Crossing the line he made it his third consecutive Fort William win in a row, his seventh victory there in total, and his twentieth career World Cup win.
2017 // Greg MINNAAR // RSA
2016 // Greg MINNAAR // RSA
2015 // Greg MINNAAR // RSA
2014 // Troy BROSNAN // AUS
2013 // Gee ATHERTON // GBR
2012 // Aaron GWIN // USA
2011 // Greg MINNAAR // RSA
2010 // Gee ATHERTON // GBR
2009 // Greg MINNAAR // RSA
2008 // Greg MINNAAR // RSA
2007 // Sam HILL // AUS *
2006 // Sam HILL // AUS
2005 // Steve PEAT // GBR
2004 // Greg MINNAAR // RSA
2003 // Cedric GRACIA // FRA
2002 // Chris KOVARIK // AUS
2017 // Tracey HANNAH // AUS
2016 // Rachel ATHERTON // GBR
2015 // Rachel ATHERTON // GBR
2014 // Emmeline RAGOT // FRA
2013 // Rachel ATHERTON // GBR
2012 // Emmeline RAGOT // FRA
2011 // Tracy MOSELEY // GBR
2010 // Sabrina JONNIER // FRA
2009 // Sabrina JONNIER // FRA
2008 // Tracy MOSELEY // GBR
2007 // Sabrina JONNIER // FRA *
2006 // Tracy MOSELEY // GBR
2005 // Tracy MOSELEY // GBR
2004 // Anne-Caroline CHAUSSON // FRA
2003 // Céline GROS // FRA
2002 // Tracy MOSELEY // GBR
Note, * denotes a race which was a World Championship.
The Weather Forecast
Watching It In Person
If you haven’t already purchased the slightly discounted advanced tickets (deadline for those were yesterday Monday 27th), then as long as there’s still availability, you can rock up and buy tickets on the day. An Adult ‘World Cup Pass’ will set you back £64 which includes access on Friday through to Sunday, as well as multiple gondola trips. A ‘Weekend Pass’ for just £51 will give one adult access on Saturday and Sunday, including multiple gondola trips. If you’re only heading there for a single day, then tickets per adult are either £28 (with multiple gondola trips), or £18 (without gondola access). Kids under 6 years old go free, and there are other concessions available.
For those preferring to watch without any gondola access, it’s worth bearing in mind that most of the track is accessible by foot bar a few middle sections where there are some restrictions. It’s a heck of a walk up the mountain and down again so remember to take appropriate clothes and supplies in case the weather closes in. For more information on tickets can be found here
Must Know, Must See, Must Do
Fort William is the largest town in the Scottish Highlands, and is nestled on the banks of Loch Linnhe in the West of Scotland. It’s the main tourist and outdoor enthusiast centre for those exploring the biggest mountain in the UK, Ben Nevis, as well as the other Munro mountains - Aonoach Mor where the World Cup is being held on is one of them.
Fort William began as a settlement, rising to prominence during the 17th Century when the English built a wooden fort to keep the local Clan Cameron ‘in check’. After the Glorious Revolution a few decades later, the fort was named ‘Fort William’ in honour of the new English King William of Orange (he was from what is now the Netherlands). The fort grew in strength to protect English troops from the local clans. A few name changes here and there followed but the town reverted to keeping ‘Fort William’, at least for the foreseeable future.
In the 18th Century during the Jacobite Rebellion, Fort William faced a relentless assault for two weeks, as the Jacobite army attempted to take this strategically important gateway to the Highlands. They failed in doing so and since that time Fort William has had a relatively peaceful history.
Whilst you’re in the area there’s plenty to do, including climbing Ben Nevis. At 4406ft high, including some dangerous technical sections, this trip isn’t for the faint-hearted or the inexperienced. There are other ranges that are more suited to those with less experience, and the Fort William Tourist office is happy to provide free advice and literature.
Alternatively, you can let the boat take the strain. Regular sea tours are on offer for those who prefer messing about on the sea (Loch Linnhe to be precise). For 90 minutes, and costing around £10 per adult, it’s a great way to see the beautiful Scottish landscape, and if you’re lucky, some of the water-dwelling wildlife.
For the history buffs, a short distance up the road from the town centre is the Commando Memorial. Dedicated to the men of the original British Commando Forces formed by Winston Churchill and others in World War II, the monument overlooks the training areas of the Command Training Depot which was established in secrecy in 1942. It’s also a great spot to see both Ben Nevis and Aonach Mor on a clear day.
If you quite literally fancy getting into the spirits of the Scottish Highlands then you can go sample some whiskey delights at the Ben Nevis Distillery. Don’t forget people; don’t drink and drive.
“It’s been six years since Gwin won at the Bill. 2012 were the early days of his domination and it was an uncharacteristic slip that likely gave Minnaar his win last year; he won’t be making the same mistake again. Minnaar will be pushing his limits on his favourite place to podium, and Luca Shaw will continue his great form from this year, but that third place is wide open for a whole bunch of hungry and capable riders. Rachel Atherton will have anger in her veins after that 3.5 second slap in the face in Losinj; she will power down to another gold. Nicole is in the form of her life and will be pushing hard for second. Seagrave is also at her best ever, but her previous form shows that the Fort is not her forté, and I think she’ll settle for third.”
Pinkbike's World Cup Predictionator
1 // Aaron GWIN
2 // Greg MINNAAR
3 // Luca SHAW
1 // Rachel ATHERTON
2 // Myriam NICOLE
3 // Tahnée SEAGRAVE
The ScheduleWednesday 30 May
• 15:00-16:00 Downhill Course Walk by BroadcasterThursday 31 May
• 08:30-11:00 // Downhill Course Inspection by UCI
• 11:00-12:00 // Downhill On Board Course Preview
• 13:00-14:00 // On Foot Downhill Course Inspection - Elite Teams
• 14:00-16:00 // On Foot Downhill Course Inspection - All RidersFriday 01 June
• 08:00-11:30 // Official Downhill Training - Group B
• 11:45-15:15 // Official Downhill Training - Group A
• 15:30-17:00 // Downhill Timed Training Session
• 17:00-17:45 // On Foot Downhill Course Inspection - Riders and TeamsSaturday 02 June
• 08:00-09:45 // Official Downhill Training - Group B
• 10:00-11:45 // Official Downhill Training - Group A
• 12:15 // Seeding Run - Junior Women
• 12:30 // Qualifying Round - Junior Men
• 13:30 // Qualifying Round - Elite Women
• 14:00 // Qualifying Round - Elite Men
• Followed by // 30 minutes On Foot Downhill Course Inspection - Riders and TeamsSunday 03 June
• 08:00-09:00 // Official Downhill Training - Junior Women, Junior Men, Elite Women
• 09:45 // Final - Junior Women
• 10:15 // Final - Junior Men
• 11:00-12:00 // Official Downhill Training - Elite Men
• 12:30 // Final - Elite Women
• 13:30 // Final - Elite MenNote: All times are local and subject to change by the UCI/event organiser.
Pinkbike will be providing you with the best daily coverage from our team of photographers in Fort William this week. Tune in to Pinkbike to catch photo epics and results from the track walk on Thursday, timed training on Friday, qualifying on Saturday, and finals on Sunday.
For the Elite Women and Elite Men finals, you can watch the action on Red Bull TV on Sunday 03 June 12:30 BST (Elite Women coverage) and 14:00 BST (Elite Men coverage).
Here’s a breakdown of what these times mean in these main locations (w = Elite Women’s coverage, m = Elite Men’s coverage):
• 04:30 (w) // 06:00 (m) // Sunday // Vancouver, Canada (PDT)
• 07:30 (w) // 09:00 (m) // Sunday // Washington DC, USA (EDT)
• 13:30 (w) // 15:00 (m) // Sunday // Berlin, Germany (CEST)
• 21:30 (w) // 23:00 (m) // Sunday // Sydney, Australia (AEST)
• 23:30 (w) // 01:00 (m) // Monday // Auckland, New Zealand (NZST)Note: These times are subject to change. Please check with your local provider.
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/ @natedh9 / @rossbellphoto