Alan Milway is coach to Atherton Racing, has worked with many top riders and teams and has coached 5 World Champions. Here he looks at some of the unique challenges and characteristics of the fast approaching, and mighty, Fort William World Cup.
Words: Alan Milway Photos: Seb Schieck and Mike Rose
After a brief lull in the World Cup season, we are gearing back up for one of the biggest events of the year – Fort William. A staple of the circuit since 2002, it has won ‘event of the year’ many times, and to me is one of the classic World Cup venues, alongside Mont St Anne in Canada.
Ask any rider and this event will be considered a highlight of theirs. However, it is demanding in many ways. Here are some of the problems and challenges we are working to overcome and prepare for – something to bear in mind when you are viewing the live feed of the racing; you’ll know what the guys and girls are going through.
First and foremost, the track is a far cry from the new breed of ‘bike park tracks’ that have featured on the calendar over recent years. At nearly 3km long, Fort William is one of the longest, and run times approach 5mins. It is not just the length that is the problem – it is the brutal terrain you face for the entire duration that wrecks both body and bike. At the recent national race held there, many riders were having to stop mid way down as their forearms were locking up and they simply couldn’t hold on any longer. This track really does separate the men from the boys and you have to be prepared for this track. For UK riders there simply isn’t anything like it unless you travel abroad.
This event is not a mechanic’s favourite, as their workload usually goes up tenfold. Wheels can be ruined in one run (just add that up over the course of an entire race weekend). Chain guides, rear mechs, tyres, brake pads, pedals, chain rings… the list goes on of parts that are often ruined on each and every practice run and will be replaced multiple times over the course of a day of practice. The damage that this track does to the bikes is staggering.
Many results can be ruined by mechanicals and examples are all too common; in 2014 I was coaching both Rach (Atherton) and Manon (Carpenter) as they fought for the top spot throughout the year, and at this event both punctured on this track, which was a bitter pill to swallow.
The year before in 2013 I watched as Gee (Atherton) stormed in to view and on to the bottom jumps section – but wasn’t getting immediately back on the gas as he landed each jump. It was only fractional delays, but I could see something wasn’t right. Ever so slightly soft-pedaling… he had banged his chain on a rock during the run and it was badly damaged so he wasn’t putting in the big torque pedal strokes, as he knew it might snap any second. It only ‘just’ made it down and although he went on to win the race, the result could have been very different had it not been for a tough little Shimano chain link. Watch the feed and you will see him look at his back wheel and gears at the finish line.