After a few weeks of recovery from some pretty extreme sunburn achieved on the Great Barrier Reef (not going to get any sympathy for that one, I know) it was time to head up to Fort William for World Cup number three.
Fort William last year was my first WC with TWR and this year, with more experience under my belt, it felt good to be heading up the A82 with less of a feeling of anxiety and more one of excitement for the week ahead.
Once the sunburn had healed to the point where I could go out in a stiff breeze without worrying about my t-shirt being blown against my back I had a great few weeks at home.
The week before Fort William the Enduro World Series rolled into Peebles and took over the Tweed Valley area, and I spent most of the week in the Valley hanging out with and helping the Trek Factory Racing enduro team who were competing. It was great to see some of the world’s best mountain bikers riding, enjoying and sanctifying the trails on which my friends and I grew up riding. The actual weekend of the enduro race saw Greg (Williamson), Laurie (Greenland) and myself heading down to Ae Forest near Dumfries to race the British Downhill Series (BDS) round there.
It was interesting to speak to people at the enduro about the DH race and vice-versa, and there were some misguided comments along the lines of ‘Rider X should be racing DH, not enduro’ but the outstanding message from most conversations was just how awesome it was that there was this much world class competition going on in our relatively tiny country. I’m positive this will be looked back on as a great time in our sport’s history, not just in Scotland, but worldwide. However I digress…
Driving up to the Nevis Range through Glencoe is a great drive in any vehicle and even better when you have a huge panoramic window and are limited to 90kmph. I’d arranged to go up the road with Sander in our European team truck, nicknamed ‘The Viking’ after it’s Scandinavian origins. I’ve now got my truck license and want to get as much experience as possible but we made an executive decision that this drive might not be the best one for me to rip the stabilisers off and become a full-blown trucker. The truck drivers heading south from Fort William seem to do so at some pace, I imagine lured by the promise of proper phone signal, a choice in fast food outlets and no midges. Whatever the reason, they aren’t shy when passing and Sander and I had a few moments where it felt like we were heading towards stingy nettles at the side of the road. Fortunately, a few hours later we rolled into the town, unscathed and full of highland views and steak pies. The first task once in the car park at Fort William was to set up our massive European pit. As a new setup last year it took four of us eight hours to assemble but it was eventually refined to an art. Now we don’t even need to communicate much, just take stock of where we are after each stage, look at each other then go and grab the next piece of the puzzle. With our helpful local support guy Kenny, we were set up within three-and-a-half hours, a new record.
The day before practice was spent getting the bikes ready, as this would be the first outing for the European Race bikes so I spent time replicating the settings on the bike to those I recorded at the BDS in Fort William a few weeks previously. We also had some new carbon chainstays for the bikes and Dylan Howes, Director of MTB Frame Technology at Trek, was on hand to explain the construction and manufacturing process of these new parts. The engineer in me loves this sort of thing and I get a great deal of satisfaction fitting a part like this. With the bikes all set up and packed away for Friday, Ely (Brook MacDonald’s mechanic), Laurie, Greg and I drove to Kinlochleven to ride some of the trails there. It’s an amazing spot and one I was proud to show to the visitors. The trails are wild there and we came down the hill lapping up the sketchiness and tempering it with some textbook views down Loch Leven. Back to the van and a steak and black pudding pie washed down with some Irn Bru completed the Scottish riding experience.
The race at Fort William is like no other. It’s the biggest downhill event in the world and the sheer number of fans is incredible. Getting work done can actually be quite difficult due to a lot of interruptions from people passing through the pits and friends that have come up to see the event. It’s of course pretty well known but if you haven’t been to it yet you should add it to your list. After a 4a.m. (!) start due to a supposed wind storm coming in potentially closing the lifts, we got through quali, Greg making us all a bit nervous after a crash, ending up in 64th. My hopes of an early finish that day were dashed when I checked his bike over, finding that the crash had resulted in a huge impact to his chain device, which had actually bent the ISCG tab of the frame as well. After trying and failing to straighten it back adequately, I made the decision to swap the front triangle of the frame out. Two of us set to work on it and within an hour and a half we had his bike ready to go for race day. It may seem a bit excessive to change a frame for a relatively small problem, but at this level nothing can be left to chance.
Race day happened to be Greg’s 22nd birthday, so I made a point of telling Toby, one of the event’s commentators about it so he could tell the crowd as Greg came down. When Martin (Trek World Racing team owner) radioed up after Greg’s run he said, “Greg’s just come down 8.5 seconds up and they’re singing happy birthday to him!” I could hear it through the radio and briefly thought I could hear it from the top of the hill too, I sat for a moment enjoying the satisfaction of my part in his clean run, not to forget Laurie’s earlier sixth place in Juniors at his second-ever World Cup. Greg ended up ninth, his career best result.
So now we’re in Leogang, Austria for World Cup number four, and it’s cool to be somewhere different again. Looking back though, that was the best two weeks of mountain bike racing and riding in Scotland I’ve experienced, and really made me appreciate the landscape and scene we have. It’s nice, however, to swap the Scotch pies and Irn Bru for some Spätzle and Weiss Bier…
…that was the best two weeks of mountain bike racing and riding in Scotland I’ve experienced…