FORT WILLIAM 2015 COURSE WALK
Words: Mike Rose
Photos: Sebastian Schieck
So many different adjectives (and sometimes expletives) have been used to describe the Fort William downhill World Cup course, but after today’s track walk the one word that keeps coming to my mind is ‘brutal’. Fall off amongst the head sized (from child to giant) rocks and boulders on the upper half of the course and you will more than likely hear the sound of crunching and mashing bones, and skin being grated like the finest Cheddar. Is there any downhill racetrack section in the world that is less forgiving?
At 2.82km long, with a vertical drop of 550m, and a winning time of 4:36.580 in 2014 (Troy Brosnan), the track on Aonach Mor is widely regarded as one of the most testing and demanding on the circuit… for both bike and body.
As the rain drizzled down it was obvious that the trail crew had obviously been down to the builder’s merchants. One-tonne bags of 10mil to dust were dotted around the place trackside, many having been meticulously spread over a lot of the upper track in a vain attempt (and in some way) to ease the severity of the ruts and gullies produced by natural, and sometimes unnatural, erosion. Walking from the start hut to the deer gate (roughly a third to half way down) you begin to get some idea of what riders will face come race day. Walking is tricky, hitting this stuff at full speed a completely different matter. It is not until you see courses like this in the flesh that you really get any idea of how skilled and fearless the top riders are. This is no place for amateurs or poseurs, this is the real deal and should be treated with the upmost respect. Joke around here and this course will kick you in the ass!
Get past halfway and you get into the wooded section. Not something you ever get to really see on the TV live feed, but it is a place where races can be won or lost. By this point riders have got used to a certain type of grip. No matter what the weather Fort William granite gives riders a fairly good level of traction, but hit the woods and rock gives way to mud and (the odd) root, grip can (and does) sometimes go out of the window. The course designers/builders have mixed it up a little here, stone highway suddenly gives way to greasy singletrack… who knows what lies beneath the slop and mud? Even the midges (that love to hang out here) weren’t quite sure what the deal was.
Riders looked and pondered, then looked and pondered some more. They eyed up gaps between trees that would need handlebars of 1990’s dimensions… threading the needle is fine, but here it will be near impossible. These new sections seemed to have a bit of a mixed reaction, but I see that as a good thing.
Over the road gap and into the traditional left hander into an almost right handed wallride (not quite). The gravel here is as deep as kitty littler and is clinging on for dear life on the almost vertical surface. The new jump section is another welcome addition, spitting riders out into one of the most awesome finish arenas of any sport I know.
When racers start thundering their way down here in practice and qualifying their bodies will immediately know all about it: hands will ache, arm pump will kick in, lungs will start to burst, legs burn. And their bikes? Well they will be really tested: tyres will have their rubber ripped from them, expensive ‘showroom’ frames will begin to creak and groan, suspension will start to earn its crust, chains and gears will crunch and clunk. Bikes that have been pampered and preened to within a millimetre of their life in the pits (like over indulged pooches) will know be thrown around and abused, treated like dirt! Can’t wait.
Check out our course preview photos and of course WynTV… and it hasn’t even started yet! Practice Friday, quali Saturday (we may or may not be on a shortened course due to forecasted bad weather) and race day is Sunday.