A familiar Fort William tale unfolded on the weathered slopes of Aonoch Mor today. The venue is one of the series’ all-time classics and after being on the calendar for so long patterns have long since emerged. One: Looking at the weather forecast is as useful as an ejector seat in a helicopter. Two: Broken bikes and riders are abundant. Three: Rachel Atherton and Greg Minnaar have found a secret answer to taming the beast.
The two hot topics of the weekend were the big wheel debate (which will rumble on for the season) and the fresh middle section into the woods. Both of which proved instrumental in the end results. There was a 50/50 split of 29” and 27.5” in the top ten today which looks especially ominous given the top three were all on the big wheels, although there is more to it than simply announcing a race day white wash. Having big wheels doesn’t make you immune through the woods which have become somewhat of a lottery, with one wrong wheel or weight placement having dire consequences.
The qualifying results sheet only tells half the story. Look throughout the categories and you’ll see top names further back in the pack—some with faster top splits before becoming unstuck further down the track. Finn Iles had a blistering opening minute before hitting the deck, dropping ten seconds back from the fastest junior Sylvain Cougoureaux. A similar story for Tahnee Seagrave who clearly has the pace to challenge Rachel Atherton but is just waiting for it to all fall into place, could it be tomorrow?
Greg Minnaar and Loris Vergier stretched their legs, Greg finding two seconds on Loris and Loris finding two seconds on the chasing pack. In behind them, it gets tight with a lot of guys needing to find time but crucially, with many knowing where to look. But before that you’d better keep scrolling down and get in the mood for some more red hot action that Scotland is sure to serve up tomorrow:
Specialized mechanic Kev Joly gets stuck into a wheel build this morning.
Minnaar's right-hand man and clearly the mechanic of the moment no less, Jason Marsh.
Och Aye the Mik.
What to say, what to say...
Matt Simmonds throwing the horns on the way up the gondola.
Myriam Nicole happy with her morning practice which followed through to her qualifying too.
You're at the mercy of Aonoch Mor now.
Don't let the blue sky fool you.
The last moment of calm before the storm for Rachel Atherton.
Loic Bruni smashing out a warmup outside the gondola station.
Florent Payet bursting out the start gate.
Tracey Hannah muscles down the first straight en route to 2nd place in qualifying.
Prying eyes look on as Baxter Maiwald hits the track in junior qualifying.
The crowds made it all the way to the top to cheer as Finn Iles drops into the track on his qualifying run.
After a 5th place top split, Troy Brosnan faded back to 14th.
It's great to see Jack Moir beginning to get the results his speed and talent deserves.
Remi Thirion has his sights set on the podium tomorrow.
Sam Blenkinsop is back on the gas and sitting in 6th.
Aaron Gwin might have number 68 on his number board but he wears the number one on his back for a reason.
Kade Edwards is here for the good times and as a main threat for the junior podium. 4th place today.
Fastest in qualifying for the juniors was Frenchman Sylvain Cougoureux.
Rachel is under all the pressure once again but has been dealing with it quite well this weekend. With a thirteen second lead in qualifying she heads into he finals with an added bit of confidence.
Miranda Miller on the hunt in early morning practice before opting out of her qualifying run with concerns her knee wasn't up to it.
Charlie Hatton is perhaps a name not known widely outside the UK. Take note. The first year elite smashed the woods visibly quicker than anyone else and that showed on the result sheet with a 10th.
Aaron Gwin has done more looking about than usual, and taking moist of his practice runs slow and steady rather than fully pinned. He is methodical about line choice and knows when how to turn it on once the clock starts ticking.
Not the performance Tahnee was looking for, but knowing she sets some of the fastest splits certainly adds a silver lining to a frustrating day.
A big crash in practice for World Cup leader Alex Fayolle has his riding a bit tighter and more apprehensive than he'd have liked in qualifying.
It was sunny all morning and during the qualifying sessions, but in between this happened.
Luca Shaw finding the grip limits.
Jacob Dickson has had ridiculous pace this season but couldn't show that in Lourdes with a qualifying mechanical. 11th place today for the Irish youngster.
Big wheels make the Fort William weather gods angry. Greg Minnaar doesn't care though.
Lucky for Laurie Greenland he is a protected rider and automatically gets through to the finals despite finishing 119th.
Full aggression from Tahnee Seagrave had her fastest at the first split, but a trio of crashes lower down the track would knock her back to 7th.
Brook the destroyer the only GT rider to qualify this afternoon... He now has ten seconds to smash off his time.
Brendog covering the brakes in a shock move on track today.
Matt Walker made short work of the rocks to go 2nd in the junior's.
Finn Iles was fastest at the top slit but the tell tale dirt on the jersey shows there's plenty more to come tomorrow.
Myriam Nicole used her big wheels to good effect slotting into third.
The riding through the woods was not pretty with riders focusing on simply surviving.
Adam Brayton hitting the eject button.
Tahnee Seagrave with oceans of style off the road gap.
By a whisker... Sam Hill made the cut in qualies by just two spots and a single second.
The Gwizard, leaping into fifth through the rooty horror zone that saw over 30 crashes in qualies alone.
Adam Brayton certainly took a few big hits out there today... They probably have a brutal crossfit workout just for that, so expect him back in contention tomorrow.
The G.O.A.T, looks ready to push his record on one further and claim Fort Bill win number seven.
Sick Mick hooning his way down the moor and later into a safe mid-pack qualifier. After Lourdes there was just too much at stake for some of the top riders and their hefty plate numbers.
Backing up his podium finish in Lourdes, Marcelo Gutierrez would come 4th in qualifying.
Loic Bruni was right on the pace through the top split but a big over the bars would push him back to 12th.
Minnaar and the big wheel floating above the chunder.
Loris Vergier getting after it with his newfound speed, just two seconds back on Minnaar.
New to the elites, Gaetan Vige, is still getting used to the switch onto the Gambler, which is famous for being a bit of a tank. 30th today is a good starting point to build the speed.
After missing out on the race day action in Lourdes, Phil Atwill sliced his way into the top 20. Just.
Missing the qualy by just two places was the North's great style merchant Scotty Mears on his way back from a broken elbow and femur last season.
It was only qualifying today but the crowds are already out of hand. This might as well be a photo of Danny Hart after his finals run with all the spectators packed around the finish arena.
A couple of huge rainstorms certainly put the boot in today and then the midges bit back with a vengeance.
Greg 'the groundskeeper' Williamson aka 'Gwilly' took a couple of massive hits both in training and another to match in qualifying. He'll be stiff and sore, but as a protected rider thankfully still in the fight tomorrow.
Time to get these beasts clean after a filthy day on the hill. A couple of pints should help...
At close of the play the weathergods were at it again, leaving tomorrow more uncertain than ever.