The track looked immaculate. Duncan Ferris spent a week here ahead of the race and together with the team at Fort William had done an amazing job of getting it ready and it looked better than ever.
The weather was up and down all week which helped the track keeping the dust down and binding the new jumps and corners together nicely. We had rain for practice on Thursday, sunshine for qualifying and mixed conditions on Saturday for the race with a huge downpour just before racing!
Practice started on Thursday with riders getting used to the new track layout. The rock section was now gone and two extra corners were included making the track longer and giving riders more passing options. The biggest obstacle to conquer was a new option to go inside on the penultimate corner and then triple into the last turn. A technical move that required precision and speed! On Friday, there was a second practice session followed by qualifying. Going in reverse order of world rankings and starting with the women, qualifying got underway...
It was great to see Romana Labounkova racing in Scotland again. The BMX Olympian has always split her time with BMX and 4X and now looks to be focusing on 4X races in the future. She was certainly the favourite for this event, but her competition would come from Helene Fruhwirth, the 2015 4X ProTour Champion who looked great and Natasha Bradley, the British rider who has finished 2nd twice already in 2017. Would this be her event? Natasha set a great time on her run stopping the clock at 45.951. It was faster than Helene who was next on track by a second. The final rider was Labounkova who in turn went a second faster than Natasha crossing the finish line with a time of 44.840 and would head into the finals on Saturday with the all-important gate pick.
1st – Romana Labounkova - 44.840
2nd – Natasha Bradley – 45.951
3rd – Helene Fruhwirth – 46.993
4th – Deborah Primrose – 48.188
Next up were the men. Duncan Ferris got the home crowd shouting as he took the hot seat early on and it looked like being a solid time until former 4X World Champion Joost Wichman laid down an amazing time of 40.692. Next up, Felix Beckeman was on a flier crossing the finish line, setting the fastest time. Tomas Slavik then went even quicker taking a second off Felix time. Luke Cryer then slipped into 2nd with a good run, penultimate rider World Champion Mitja Ergaver could only place 8th and the final rider on course, Scott Beaumont, looked on it but a slip before the final triple lost him valuable time, crossing the line in 5th.
1st - Tomas Slavik – 39.106
2nd – Luke Cryer – 40.178
3rd – Felix Beckeman – 40.353
4th – Joost Wichman – 40.692
On Saturday, huge crowds lined the track and the scene was set for a great night of 4X. Fort William has never failed to deliver and in 2017 it produced some of the best 4X racing ever seen in the Highlands.
In the men's race, there was an early exit for Bogdan Bondor and Euan Speirits. Will Evans made an early exit in the quarterfinals as did countrymen Alex Metcalfe, Davi Roberts and eighth seed World Champion Mitja Ergaver.
On to the semi-finals. In semi-final 1, the lineup was simply incredible. This race didn’t just represent a final at any race over the last 10 years, but also represented the guys who have helped to push 4X forwards over the last decade. Tomas Slavik with first gate pick took gate 2, Joost Wichman with second gate pick chose 4, Scott Beaumont with third pick went for gate 3 and finally Quentin Derbier took 1. The crowd were cheering and all 4 riders high fived each other before getting set up. It was a great gesture and we were set for the race of the day. The gate dropped and Slavik took the holeshot with the others close behind. On the exit of turn 1, Wichman and Derbier were close whilst Beaumont used the berms to carry speed. Passing Wichman on the exit of turn 3, Boom Boom then lined up the inside pass in turn 4. Through he went and the home crowd went crazy, but it was short lived when Wichman from 4th made an amazing pass moving ahead of both Beaumont and Derbier in one move. Beaumont stayed close and the two fought to the finish line but it was Slavik and Wichman moving into the final.
In semi-final 2, Hannes Slavik took gate 1, Felix Beckeman took 2, Luke Cryer in 3 and Duncan Ferris in 4. As the gate dropped it was Slavik and Beckeman in a drag race down the first straight. Slavik took the lead in turn 1 with Beckeman in 2 and Cryer moved into 3rd. Then in the blink of an eye, Slavik hit a rock and it threw his bike sideways. Beckeman moved into the lead with Cryer and Ferris battling for the final spot. Ferris dived inside on turn 4 but couldn’t make the pass stick and Beckeman took the win from Cryer.
In an action packed women’s small final with crashes and passes, 2016 4X ProTour Champion, Hannah Escott took the win and claimed 5th overall for the night.
In the men’s small final it was Beaumont who led the race from the start but with a great pass, Quentin Derbier won the race and claimed 5th position for the night with Beaumont in 6th, Hannes Slavik in 7th and Duncan Ferris in 8th.
So it was time for the main finals...
In the women's, it was Romana Labounkova on gate 1, Natasha Bradley on 2, Helene Fruhwirth on 3 and Deborah Primrose on 4. The gate dropped and Labounkova made the snap and led into turn 1. Bradley was in 2nd but Fruhwirth, riding her full suspension bike was starting to make a challenge. Into the new turn 4, with an inspired move Bradley made the pass of the night moving into the lead. Labounkova stayed close and battled all the way to the line but Bradley in front of her home crowd took the win from Labounkova, Fruhwirth and Primrose. It was an amazing race and got the crowd ready for the men’s final.
In the men's, Tomas Slavik took gate 2, Luke Cryer with second pick went for gate 4, Felix Beckeman took 3, then Joost Wichman chose 1. The gate dropped, and the 4 riders fired down the first straight. Slavik won the drag race to turn 1 with Beckeman battling with him all the way. Wichman was in 4th after being squeezed on the first straight and Cryer in 3rd. The two lead riders rode wide on the first turn and down the 2nd straight which allowed the race to bunch up and the others to catch them up. Through the new turns, the riders kept it clean but on the exit of turn 5 Wichman was able to move inside of Cryer to move into 3rd. Slavik held onto the finish to claim the win ahead of Beckeman and Wichman with Cryer rolling across the line with a puncture in fourth.
A fantastic night of racing that was appreciated by the thousands of fans in Fort William as well as the thousands more who watched the live broadcast over the internet. A great display of 4X racing on one of the best tracks in the world. Thank you to everyone involved in hosting such an amazing event.
Round 4 of the 4X ProTour will take place on 15th July in Jablonec, Czech Republic at Tomas Slavik’s home track. You would be a fool to bet against him, but without a doubt, the other riders will be working hard between now and then to try and win in JBC bike park.
For more information on the 4X ProTour, please visit:4xprotour.com