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Interviews: Inside the Privateer Pits - Fort William World Cup DH 2024

May 6, 2024 at 14:06
by Nick Bentley  

This year at the Fort William World Cup, if you looked at the site map, you would have seen something a little bit different. Just behind the gondola bottom station, you will see the Privateer Pits. Warner Brothers Discovery and the UCI have been taking a bit of a beating when it comes to the privateers, but this year sees some positivity. The privateers have been given their own space and their own neutral pit area. This is a large covered space for the privateers to use as their pits throughout the week.

Having a place to call your own, to set up a bike stand, tools, and a warm-up bike makes privateer life just that tiny bit better. Logistics here at the oldest round of the World Cup can be tough, and space is tight, so every inch matters. For the privateers to be given as much space as they have, it is a good sign that the organization is listening to these riders. This pit space is right next to the riders' entrance to the gondola, making the trip back to the pits for food or setup changes just a little easier during some pretty short practice windows. It's also right next to the bike wash too, and the medical centre and showers.

Alongside the privateers in their pit area are the national federations which is important since many of the privateers are racing in their national federations' colors and being nearby is key for them to get support and assistance if they need it.

These riders are out here racing on a shoestring budget with minimal people helping them. While the privateers, do have a nice new privateer pit location, they can't park there which means that the privateers who do like to work out of their vans can't. But the reality of the situation here at Fort William is there just isn't enough space. If you had 20-30 privateers plus their vans, there's just not the space. Instead, the privateers are parked at the bottom of the hill and have 2 hours in the morning and at the end of the day to bring cars up to unload and load up. It's not ideal, but most of them have made it work.

I talked to some of the privateers at Fort William about what they thought of the Privateer Pits. I also managed to get some time with Ruaridh Cunningham, who is the Director of Gravity Sport at Warner Brothers Discovery and is now steering the downhill scene along with the UCI. At Fort William, WBD are organizing the event too. Cunningham was a busy man, but I felt it was important to hear from him about privateers and their future.

Ruaridh Cunningham, Director of Gravity Sport at Warner Brothers Discovery

Last year, you guys got a little bit of flack from some of the privateers not just about how they were treated, but where they were based, especially in Les Gets and Andorra. There's been a massive improvement here with the introduction of the privateer pit area. I think most of the guys find it really useful. Was that a deliberate step by the organization?

For this event, yes. I think as we're trying to grow the sport, as teams are getting bigger, we've got more riders competing and space is at a premium. At the same time, we want that pathway in for privateers, whether it's Federation or those that have enough UCI points to be able to race. You look out there and it's pretty jam packed and with the spectator numbers we're expecting today, it's going to be bigger. We need somewhere for them to be. The Scottish weather's not the kindest thing ever, so we've got a 200 square meter marquee behind the gondola station close by, where they can come in and drop their stuff and put their stuff, and just making sure that they can stay out of the elements and have the time and the space to prepare and be ready for racing.

It's probably the most premium location on the site right here, right next to the bike wash and next to the showers by the toilets. Everything's ideal. Do you think we'll see this at more venues?

Potentially, yes. I think it comes down to the venue layout and the space we have available. Going forward, if it's been successful here, which it sounds like it has, then it's something we need to look at. Making sure that we're at least providing that for everybody if possible.

I think it's good. Is this a sign that the organization is committed to the privateers, at least short to medium term, to accommodating them and making sure they've got some space?

Definitely. I can't say too much at the moment, but there's obviously rumors about where things are going and the pathway of the sport and ensuring there's a space or a way for everybody to get to the World Cup, is really important for us. I hope we continue to do that and our plans are very much to keep doing that. In the next six months that will be more clear but we're not here to shrink the sport. We're here to grow it.

I think that Dylan Maples' story shows it most of all. He's gone from privateer to having one of the best teams in the elite padock.

I think if you look historically back at riders, I remember when he was a privateer as a junior. I did a year as a privateer in 2012. The sport's professionalized a lot in the last decade and is continuing to do so. Whilst it's our responsibility to make sure that the top of the sport is as good as it can be, and we're growing that, we also need to think about the base below that, which does involve privateers, but it also involves the entire kind of like grassroots and development structure. We're not just committed to making the World Cup as good as it can be, we're trying to make the sport as good as it can be.

If you go out there now, that's a really nice little community that they've turned that little space into. You are committed to growing the community outside of just the elite teams. You've got a main responsibility to make sure the fastest guys in the world are racing, but the bits around the edges, I guess, are more difficult?

I think when you see the elite team paddocks in a separate area and then you have the privateers somewhere else, it's quite easy to feel segregated. But to me, mountain biking is one big community. Whether that's the kids here, I mean, I remember being a kid here coming and watching in 2002 and then racing it five years later. And whilst it might feel a little bit segregated due to kind of space and layout, ultimately we're one big family and we're trying to make it better for everybody. That's our plan.

Sounds good thank you for your time Ruaridh

No problem at all thanks for the opportunity to chat.

Jenna Fellows

Hi, Jenna. We're in the privateer neutral pit tent. How's it been? It's obviously a new addition this year. Has it been useful?

This is my first World Cup, so this is my first experience and I've heard different things as a privateer. So I went in with this is what it is attitude and anything better than what I thought was going to be available is a bonus. So it is quite nice to have this. We got in quite early so we've got a good spot by the door. It's better than I thought it would be.

Out of the sun, which is unusual here at Fort William, but also out the rain. So you're racing under a BC jersey?

Yeah so I'm in as a privateer at BC. I think there were only three girls but I'm not sure.

Crash your bike already?

Yeah, in the woods.

SRAM are helping you out fixing it. Have you been surprised by the support that people are willing to give?

Yeah, I got some pedals as well from Crankbrothers. So that was really nice. It's a different experience, like the nationals, it's way bigger, but everyone seems really nice, so it's chilled.


Oli Sinden

How are you finding your privateer experience?

Well, it's my first World Cup so, so far all right. We've got the little pit set up here, and I've got Josh helping me out on my mechanicing.

So for the first time this year, we've got a neutral pit zone. How much help has it been?

Well, having a shelter out of the way of the sun and the rain. It's definitely nice to come and sit somewhere.

Yeah, it gives you a little bit of respite. It's unusual for us to be talking about 20 degree heat at Fort William. So your first experience as a privateer, is it what you imagined it would be?

So far, I guess so. I mean, I thought we'd be more out the back of the van than this. To be fair, I wasn't expecting the tent thing here so far, so good. I can't complain.

Enjoying the track with it's recent changes?

Yeah, I'm loving it. I'm really enjoying the track. It feels a bit like Hot Wheels track going down.

It seems pretty fast, right?

Literally railing every corner.

What's your name?

My name is Josh. I'm Oli Sinden's mechanic.

How are you finding this new pit space?

I'm finding it really good, actually. I've always kind of had the luxury of the last two seasons working for MS, so you kind of take what they've got for granted. But I was always a bit skeptical because I was kind of expecting there to be toolboxes on the floor, hanging out the back of a van covered in mud, but no. I'm really, really happy with the space that we've got and we've been provided with. It's a bit weird because we're out of the sun, so had it been raining, it would have been great. But I kind of want to be in the sun now. I never thought I'd be saying that on a Fort William race weekend.

But otherwise, as far as we're concerned and the two riders that I've got here, we're more than happy with the setup that we've got that UCI or Fort William have provided us. It's a massive help, especially with first year juniors, first World Cup. It's pretty overwhelming, I'd say, and the least worry I can take away from them in regards to the bikes and the setup, the better they're going to do on track for them and us.

Coming from MS to this is a bit of a culture shock difference right? Do you feel this is as important as those elite teams?

Absolutely, because sooner or later, the guys that are in here helping each other out, side by side, are soon to be those ones that may even be on the elite team. So, yeah, as far as grassroots go, it's a great starting point.


Isaac Batty

It's your first World Cup racing under the GB Jersey in the privateer area, how have you found the experience so far?

Well, you have to come and drop all your stuff off at seven in the morning, and then you're only allowed to stay in here for not very long. Some security guards let you in and some don't. It depends who you get. You got to go and park miles away and then somehow get back here.

Do you feel like this setup helps?

Definitely, helps a lot because we couldn't all fit in there, under the BC tent.

And this very unusual Scottish sunshine would have baked you all by now. What about as a place to work in? Is it nice to kind of have a place to stay?

To be honest, it's a lot better than I thought it would be. I mean, it was getting up early, which obviously kids don't like to do, but to be honest, other than that, I actually think it's pretty good to be fair. We've got as much room as we need. Whether it's busier tomorrow, I don't know, but it's tough. Everybody can't park up here, so they've got to do something. So to be fair I don't think it's too bad at all.

I'd say arguably you're the closest to the lift.

Yeah, yeah. I'm quite happy. We haven't done anything like this before. We did the European Champs last year. Other than that we've raced more enduro than downhill. But we got the opportunity to do this, so we've got to give it a go.

Have you got much support?

We're supported by Orange, they supply the bikes. Hope help us out a little bit. Michelin are helping us out a lot. They sent us some tires for the event. So generally Michelin, Silverfish and Orange. They're the main helps, which have been a big help.

Still kind of feeling like the privateers are well supported with products?

Well, I mean getting free bikes is a big thing. So Orange have been really good actually, to be fair. We've been with Orange for like four years now, mainly through enduro.


We saw a junior privateer, Daniel Parfitt, on the podium in the men's junior race, so privateers are still smashing it at the World Cup.

A big thank you to the privateers who stopped to talk to me during their busy practice day, and to Ruaridh for speaking to me on an equally busy qualifying and semi-finals day.

Author Info:
Mandownmedia avatar

Member since Nov 28, 2019
291 articles

  • 34 0
 FWIW like many other parents of youth racers i'm looking at different options should my boy make the grade and there's lots of talk in the paddock and teams about the Privateers being forced out of racing. This clearly is a MASSIVE step and incentive to any of the guys looking for National jerseys, so i think it's honestly fantastic to see. It may not be perfect with the haul to the top/bottom etc, but you know what, i bet it made a lot of peoples races a lot easier than it could have been.
  • 14 0
 If privateers are concerned about being forced out they should ask the King for a Letter of Marque. Then, if Warner Bros/Discovery tries to get rid of them they could commandeer a Commencal from a French rider and race that instead.
  • 23 2
 They didnt want to interview Tibault Daprela?
  • 6 0
 Sssshhhhh. He doesn't exist.
  • 2 0
 Can you explain that please? I don’t keep up to speed with all the happenings these days.
  • 17 1
 Having been involved with the event this year (6 days volunteering in 2 different teams), there is a good emphasis from internal to make the racing better for everyone and provide the best product possible. The privateer pits was just part of this effort.
They implemented things like separated the parking passes, media accreditation etc and the rider accreditation. This meant that the team reps could pick up the passes to get on site in Fort William and the riders, big trucks etc could all get on site easily to pick up the on site accreditations.
Its great that they are listening to feedback from all parties and trying to implement solutions to problems, its such a massive thing to organise and pull off that some improvements will work, others may not be as successful.
From the inside and the outside as a spectator after doing the forerunner/sweeper job it was a pleasure to be part of and see that there is a real effort being done to grow the sport, not just for the big teams, but for the privateers and support staff also.
  • 5 0
 Thanks for what you and other volunteers do to keep things ticking over in the sport. You are an example to those at the top who couldn't really care less about anything but the bottom line and frankly take the piss out of those who actually love and support gravity bike racing.
  • 1 0
 How is this any different to before Warner took over? The passes were always separated at all the Fort Bill races I went to & races (2016-2022, excluding those years cancelled due to covid)
  • 10 0
 We've had a lot to justifiably moan about recently. This is not one of those things. Great news...I hope we see more positive changes like this!
  • 9 3
 In before they remove the semis as this is about as much a privateer can currently hope for. To race the semi final. Now that it's no longer televised, you'd be stupid not to expect semis to get the axe next season. Thus we get the F1 format where sponsors and the factory teams get all the exposure and the sport as we knew it dies..
  • 3 0
 Its good of the UCI to do this for some of the Privateers.

They do (?) listen, would be nice if they actually acknowledged some of the criticisms before revealing what they are doing.

Is it only me, but i have a feeling a Support class is in the offing, where if you don't get into the finals, at least you get to race.
  • 11 5
 Surely some credit is due to Wyn for this
  • 7 2
 20 degree “heat”?!?
What part of the world are you guys living i… oh, I see.
  • 2 0
 That is a heatwave in Scotland!!!
  • 3 1
 @pinkbike, it's Isaac Batty .... I was proper confused for a minute but i was next to him at Rheola and a few bits of the story then fell into place when reading it and i realised you'd got the name wrong.
  • 2 0
 Fixed that!
  • 4 1
 Fair play to Nick for keeping the questions on point, something I couldn't have done if interviewing the "Director of Gravity Sport at Warner Brothers Discovery'!
  • 6 0
 UCI isnt helping anyone.
  • 5 0
  • 2 2
 The size of the pits for the factory teams are way out of hand. Cut the size available to the factory and big teams in half. That includes the number of people the max should be like 20 people. I would also put a limit of two riders per category. Each year we see more and more of a gap between the factory teams and the privateer. This has been a problem in every form of racing and for the success of the sport it needs to be reined in.
  • 2 0
 Good news
  • 2 1
 Put a cherry red boxxer on that Giant Glory !!!!!
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