It's one of the longest and toughest downhill tracks on the UCI World Cup circuit, and one with arguably the best atmosphere, thanks to the immensity of spectators who despite Fort William being pretty remote, make these journey year by year to the Scottish Highlands.
Located a short drive from Fort William historic center, the downhill track starts a few metres from the Nevis Range gondola top-station on the slopes of Aonach Mòr, and descends 565m along the 2.8km course. In 2002 it played host to its first ever UCI Downhill World Cup. Soon became a classic on the calendar and this year is the 18th time that it hosts the UCI World Cup/Champs venue.
One of the conquerors who took his place on this year event was the Portuguese multinational champion Francisco Pardal riding for BlackJack Factory Racing - a Portuguese manufacturer who are specialized in high-performance wheels. Despite being his 7th time in Fort William, this place always surprises everyone in an enormous amount of variants. no matter how well we know this place, it will deliver in its own way. An example of it was last year crash that ended his campaign with a broken foot.
According to the forecast, the weather factor will play a big role. The expected scenario was only one, rain and wind all week long, but Frank admitted that he kind of enjoy more these challenging conditions.
There's an expression that perfectly illustrates how the vibes were on track walk: "The calm before the storm". Despite the forecast for the rest of the days being the classic Scottish, the day was all about smiles and excitement. Up on the top section, the track gets grippier with wet conditions and the main concern is going to be the wind as the track is super exposed to the elements. The woods section bought us some good surprises and raw loam to drawn up.Classic vibes just before the gondolas take them to the top of the resort.
Soon we realised that this day would be a tough one, for everyone. As the day went by it decimated warrior by warrior and the first big hit was Tahnée Seagrave who had a big crash on her first practice run. On the other hand, Frank was having a blast out there and this time the bad luck doesn't come for him. Was a very important day to define the lines and to see what lines would develop on the next days.
Saturday woke up with a small weather improvement which was enough for riders attack with confidence and set their qualifying run almost at race pace. With the storm away, the big crowds soon started to climb up the mountain to watch the show and cheer for their heroes.
Francisco Pardal had a consistent and solid run, enough to qualify him in 52th with 4:51.719sec.
Yeah, race day!! What more could be said about this day? Until this day, the event brought us a few good surprises and upsets, but hey.. it's part of the game.
The changeable conditions came back and during the first part of the day, the weather was really inconsistent. As the Men's Elite was happening the weather gave a small break and beside the strong wind up on the first section, the conditions of the track were reliable and consistent for everyone.
Apart from the big stoke and confidence level of Francisco Pardal, he couldn't make a clean and perfect run. A few mistakes on the top section of the track cost him precious seconds that resulted in 52nd place with the time 4:49.178sec.
Now it's time to everyone recover all the traumas from this epic one, reset and think forward because Leogang is just in a few days.
On Pardal's side, the competitive year has just begun - he will compete at the World Cup events as long as the Crankworx series. There will be time and margin to build the fine momentum and all start just now in Leogang which is a totally different track from the previous one.
Words and Photography: João Fânzeres
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