Sunday! Sunday! Sunday!
Weather wise we didn’t know what to expect – the forecast was not good!
We awoke at 6am to rain on the roof, back to sleep until 9am and the rain had finally stopped, time to get on it, bacon and lorne sausages all round!
After much dithering about, fannying around and readying ourselves to do battle with the hill on foot we arrived at the World Cup Village just after high noon. The action was well under way with a Red Bull Air Race display, Trials World Cup taking place and DH qualifying runs all sewn up, we grabbed the results of qualifying from the UCI tent (a start list would have been much better) and
joined the huge queue for the gondola.
The gondola ride is one of my favourite parts of the weekend, last year we were even lucky enough to share our ride (and a beer) with 2014 World Cup winner Josh Bryceland. Another great thing about the World Cup series is this accessibility – you can literally brush shoulders with the worlds riding elite. The gondola ride is great for getting an idea of the scale of the site, and the length of the track, you can also catch glimpses of riders making their way down the top section of track on the open moor. “Epic!” as the 5 year old on our lift trip described it.
At the summit gondola station you can fuel up (and grab a beer) before heading out onto the hill, outside you can see riders warming up on their turbo trainers, headphones on, getting their heads straight for when the timing beeps start and then charging onto the course from the start hut. The top section of track is weather worn and just looks brutal, riders must conserve energy choosing the fastest and smoothest line over the rocky descent, on this particular occasion it was also difficult for spectators trackside, I ended up on my arse at least twice as we made our way down the steep and grassy top section.
Top Tip – Get yourself a midge net for the trip, you’ll be thankful if it’s a still day on the campsite and especially grateful when you hit the woods section of the Fort Bill track. The technical wooded sections are a must see (you don’t get to see much of the woods on the TV coverage) there’s lots of action here but it also provides the perfect environment for this Scottish phenomenon to generally have you swiping madly at the air around you, screaming “arrrgh bloody Midges” as they eat you alive!
Spectators line the course with vuvuzelas, clackers, air-horns, cow-bells, megaphones and even chainsaws (with chain removed of course!) you’ll also see battered old frames and rims being beaten with old handlebars to create a racket and spur on the riders. Shouts of “PEDAL!” ring out down the course, even on the most technical of sections where pedalling would be almost impossible (and most ironically when a rider has crashed and become entangled in their bike and course tape!) and don’t forget – fancy dress!
Top Tip – visit the UCI tent and grab a start list before heading up the hill, this lists riders in order of qualification times so you’ll be able to see who is thundering towards you from the number boards on the front of bikes and the corresponding numbers and names on the sheet, this way you can give riders a personalised shout-out as they do battle with the hill “go on Stevie lad, smash it”, “whip-it Greg”, “pin-it Jack!” this way you can keep track of your favourite riders whilst making your way down the track.
After the woods the terrain starts to level out and although easier for spectators the riders have to negotiate a final section of jumps and high speed corners, particularly difficult given the amount of time they have already spent on the track at race pace. Riders are flat out at this point and really need to dig deep and maintain their momentum. It was good to see @jackreading_DH flying through the speed trap section (Jack had qualified in the top 20, getting himself and One Vision Racing onto the live Red Bull coverage).
Having taken a few photos of riders on the jumps and seeing a few fly through the speed trap we were almost at the bottom of the hill and into the spectator village, this is a great place to be at this point (top 10-20 riders) with a grandstand full of spectators, riders coming over the finish line drop at speed, the top three riders all sat in the hot seat and a huge TV screen, in fact at 100m2 the largest in the UK.
We watched the riders hit the top section and make their way down the hill on the big screen and then turned to see them cross the finish line – the crowd goes wild each time, whether the time is up or down, whether the rider is from the UK or USA, it doesn’t matter, they are all cheered equally.
Most riders will exit the finish line coral area (if they haven’t made the hot seat or have just been ejected from it) straight into the crowd to sign autographs, chat to fans and other riders and watch as competitors make their final runs.
This year it was South African Greg Minnaar who won the battle ahead of series leader Aaron Gwin. At just 33 years old Greg is already considered a Veteran of the sport with 17 UCI DH World Cup race wins to his name and 4 previous wins at Fort William. In third place was Marcelo Gutiérrez Villegas who became the first Columbian to podium at a DH World Cup event.
And that was that, in previous years we have stuck around to watch the prize giving ceremonies, chatted to riders, felt up some electric bikes, and insulted Nathan Rennie (unintentionally!) before heading back to the gondola for another ride. This time we were on the bus and back to the car heading to the motorway in record time, that was until we got to Loch Lomond where the traffic
backed-up and drivers told us to turn around and head back to Stirling, the road was block! It didn’t matter, the scenery was beautiful and before we knew it we were stood in the queue at McDonalds in Lockerbie, along with about 50 other World Cup weary travellers!
Back in Mossley just after 1am it was time to hit the sack and get ready for first day back at school after 2 weeks off. I love the World Cup at Fort William, just wish it would fall on the first or second week of half term rather than when the Mrs has to be back teaching! Despite this, it’s unmissable, if you haven’t been yet, get booked for 2016.
Peace out for now
Questions? Chat via @dirtfactory