Fort William has been on the World Cup circuit since 2002. It's the only UK destination on the World Cup MTB scene and it's developed quite the reputation for having one of the most volatile weather climates, and for having a seriously challenging track.
Early last week the world's best athletes made their way up north for Round 2 of the UCI World Cup. After a wash out event at Round 1 in Lourdes last month, riders considered Fort Bill to be the first true round of the season.
In true Scottish form, the rains had descended prior to race day, but on the whole, the weather was considerably better than in previous years. With many crashes during practice and qualifiers, our first inkling that something was wrong came on race day when we learnt of Rachel Atherton's dislocated shoulder in practice. The reigning queen of downhill took a hard hit in the wooded section where a bystander helped pop her shoulder back in place, sending her off to the hospital and forfeiting the race.
The elite women's got underway at 13:00 and it was clear that a section of the track had been so churned up from numerous rides, rain and wet roots that no rider was able to make it safely down without taking a foot or two off the pedals. A number of women and men went straight over the bars, creating a heart-in-mouth experience for us viewers.
By 15:00 when the elite men made their race runs, it was clear that although the wooded section appeared to be drying out, it was a long way off from being safe. When the world's best athletes struggle to make it down a short section, you know it's pretty bad.
One rider to has spoken out about the poor conditions of the Fort Bill track is Tahnée Seagrave.
She said: "I don't usually speak out about stuff like this because it is what it is and I don't like moaners, but when something can clearly be helped I feel the need to voice an opinion. Yesterday was awful. To see even the top 20 male riders tripod down and struggle in a small 15 meter section on a 5 minute track was frustrating. The section was clearly a mess and dangerous- not because of its difficulty but because of its maintenance. All week riders were making suggestions to improve the quality of the wood section to make a better and more exciting race.
We work so hard to be at the level we are, and for something as silly and easy as not listening to the riders was a little disappointing. I speak out for many athletes this week end- whether they were winners or back of the pack. This is racing- not an entertainment or joke for viewers. We all want the sport to move forward and progress, so why not work together?
Never the less I was blown away by some of the performances out there and history was made. Mega happy for those who owned it. Hopefully, we can all learn from this race and improve on future. Photo: @svenmartinphoto"
What do you think? Does Tahnée have a point, or do you think that's just the nature of downhill racing?
This is the second round of the world cup season and the second issue to be voiced by an athlete. Loic Bruni took to social media after Lourdes when organisers refused to postpone the men's elite race due to severe weather conditions. This resulted in the top 25 men failing to place anything better than 65th place.
Aside from the track conditions, the Fort William world cup was an incredible race to watch. With Rachel Atherton out of action to defend her title, the women's top-spot was up for grabs with Tahnée pipped to take the win.
However, a fall in the wooded section took the win away from Tahnée and it was the Austrailian rider, Tracey Hannah who took the win for the women. An incredible performance from the pocket-rocket rider who made a successful pass through the woods.
At Lourdes, we saw the first sightings of 29" wheels adorning the men's Santa Cruz V10's and this week we saw Myriam Nicole's updated Commencal kitted out with the big wheels. While 29" roll faster, which is clearly seen in the men's race, Nicole lost time in the wooded section which took her away from the top spot. It'll be interesting to see her in action again, hopefully on better track conditions.
Women's elite results:
- Tracey Hannah – 5:39.296
- Myriam Nicole – 5:49.543
- Emilie Siegenthaler – 5:53.106
- Manon Carpenter – 5:55.299
- Morgane Charre – 6:05.146