How do the cream of the British crop line up coming into Fort William?
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 the past 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. Last year was a bit of a stinker for the Brits too. Laurie Greenland was highest placed in ninth with Reece Wilson, Bernard Kerr and Adam Brayton the only racers fast enough to join him in the top 20.
In terms of wins, we’ve always dominated the women’s field with eight in the 16 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 seven of his own and Sam Hill picked up another two (including a World Championships).
In fact, for a nation that prides ourselves on riding sloppy ruts and tech, we did best in the bike parks last year with 7 riders in the top 20 (and three on the podium) at Lenzerheide and 6 at Leogang. This year, the myth of Fort William domination could be challenged once again. Especially as a fairly tepid opening round as far as the Brits abroad went will mean the resurgent Antipodeans and Americans will be hungry to de-throne the local boys.
So, where does this leave us coming into 2018? Is the Brit home advantage as strong as we think? And how does this bode for the current crop of racers?
Danny’s best results at the Bill came in 2011 and 2012 when he got two consecutive second places since then he’s been consistently in the top ten and hunted down a third in 2016. He's probably the strongest British hope this year as he comes in on a new Saracen Myst after having taken the National win by more than five seconds a fortnight ago. There are very few racers that have spent more time at Fort William than Danny and he will desperately want to win next weekend.
Laurie's ninth place last year was the best result for a Brit and he also bagged the best result in Losinj with a seventh. He's had two top tens at Fort William since moving up from juniors and he's bound to deliver a big result one year soon, why not this one?
The National Champion has scored three top tens in his past five visits and he’s clearly got some pace after a second at the National behind Hart. He’s also a Bill local and will have been smashing out the practice laps. Watch this space on Sunday afternoon, we could be seeing Unno's first big result.
The most successful British rider at Fort William with two wins and nine podiums. He dislocated his hip on this course at the BDS last year and has admitted he's been unable to really push on in race runs since returning this year but he stayed behind after the National to get some extra practice in. We'd love to see Gee right back up there this year
Along with Danny and Gee, Adam Brayton is the only Brit racing that has a senior podium at Fort William World Cup after his buckaroo ride to fourth in 2016. The Kestrel will be hoping to prove it wasn’t just a fluke this time out.
Brendog is coming into the race as a bit of an unknown - a puncture in finals at the National means we don't really know where his race pace stands. Who wouldn't love to see him grab a big result on home soil?
Junior winner last year with a time good enough for tenth in seniors, Matt could well announce himself on the senior rankings with a big result at Fort William. Watch this space
Fourth at the National after being off his bike for six months as a first year senior, Joe Breeden took some hefty scalps at the National. Joe wants this bad and could pull out a stunning result.
British women have traditionally gridlocked the Fort William podium but last year was a bit of a wash out with Rachel Atherton losing her winning streak and the best finish going to the now-retired Carpenter who finished fourth. It's probably fair to say fortunes will be reversed this year though with Rach and Tahnee both charging hard.
A three-time winner at Fort William, Rach is the current queen of the Bill. Her domination of the recent National is further proof that she's back at full fitness this year. It's very hard to see her being beaten on home soil.
Bad luck seems to plague Tahnee at Fort William but the only time she's had a clean World Cup run she finished second. She was blown off track at the National but showed real pace in seeding. A bit of an unknown but probably guaranteed a good result if she can string a run together.