With the fervent crowd at their backs and a patchwork of rocks as familiar as their nan’s quilts under their wheels, it’s assumed there’s a massive home advantage for the Brit riders at Fort William.
But how true is this? Certainly in recent years the Brits have dominated the top 20 – this peaked in 2014 with 10 riders making the cut. But it’s not always been the case. In 2002 Pagey was the only Brit inside the top ten, and 2003 was even worse with Gee Atherton being the highest placed Brit in 12th. Even as recently as 2009 Britain ‘only’ managed to get six riders in the magic top twenty spots. To put this in perspective there were seven from Australia and New Zealand in the top 20 in 2013. Lourdes actually seems to be a happier place for Brits in recent years.
In terms of wins, we’ve always dominated the women’s field with eight in the 15 years since the race’s inception in 2002. In particular it was a stomping ground for Tracy Moseley who won five of those alone. It’s a different story for the men. Steve Peat’s sole win in 2005 and Gee’s triumphs in 2010 and 2013 are the only trophies we can brag. By way of contrast, Greg Minnaar has six of his own and Sam Hill picked up another two (including a World Championships).
This year, that myth of domination could be challenged once again. Bryceland retired, Mr Reliable (or maybe not so with recent injuries) Gee Atherton out after the BDS and resurgent French and American packs hoping to de-throne the local boys.
So, where does this leave us coming into 2017. Is the Brit domination as strong as we think? And how does this bode for the current crop of racers?