Number crunching king Mark Shilton analyses the split times from the Fort William World Cup.
Words: Mark Shilton.
After Gwin’s demolition job at Val Di Sole everyone, including me, thought that he was dead set for another devastating win in Fort William. He got the win alright but it was a lot harder work this week, being pushed all the way by Danny Hart and only taking it by 0.8 seconds. Where did he find that fine margin to take his second win of the season?
Fort William’s splits are located in slightly strange places so Sector 1 was a minute of fast, open and not that steep (by World Cup standards at least!), Sector 3 was 35-40 seconds of pedealling and jumping leaving pretty much two thirds of the whole track in Sector 2. Unsurprisingly the middle sector was where it was won and lost…
Perhaps reflecting the short length and high speed nature of the top section, the gaps were incredibly tight with only 1.8 seconds separating 1st from 20th. Danny Hart took the early advantage here but Gwin only gave up 0.6 seconds back in 4th place.
That’s not to say the top section was easy. Greg Minnaar bent his chainring up top and Marc Beaumont crashed and bent his rear disc rotor. Going flat out in the fog up top was not easy!
Note Ruaridh Cunningham’s 3rd place at Split 1. Unfortunately I saw him walking his bike down the hill later on with what looked like a front puncture. Split 1 was no guarantee of a fast final time but he certainly started on a flyer so bad luck to him!
Sector 2 was pretty much two-thirds of the track including all of the roughest rocks, the big road gap and, come race day, the muddy, slippery woods section. Considering this, the similarity between the Sector 2 rankings and the overall is no coincidence and the gap between 1st and 20th was over 10 seconds.
Aaron Gwin got the gap here that would put him on the top step of the podium. He was 1.7 seconds faster than anyone else and took back 2.3 seconds from Danny Hart and 4.6 from Gee Atherton. A good second sector could also get you back from a loss elsewhere. Sam Hill and Josh Bryceland both recovered from poor first splits (23rd & 28th respectively) to get right back in the race in Sector 2 with 2nd and 4th fastest times.
Sector 3 was only 35 seconds long but the splits are a fascinating insight into what a long, punishing track like Fort William can do to riders. Despite being about half the length of split one, the gap between 1st and 20th was greater – 2.3 seconds. This shows how fitness plays such a part in these big tracks. The sheer physicality of the track clearly had taken its toll by this point, something you could see in the body language of riders as they squeezed the last ounce of effort out on the new ‘M82’ jumps and the run into the finish.
Gwin clearly put in the effort in Sector 2 and luckily for him he had enough of a cushion to hold off Gee Atherton and Danny Hart. Last year Hart faded slghtly on the pedal but this year he still had enough in him to go third fastest behind Atherton and Mick Hannah – two of the top 3 on the PMB pedal section. If you want any confirmation that this was a section where physical fitness counted then just look at Jared Graves up there in 6th place after an 18th on the top section and 76th in Sector 2.
The heatmap shows that while Gwin wasn’t quite so dominant as last week he is nothing if not consistent. 4th, 1st and 8th place but crucially fastest in the longest, toughest sector. Only Gwin, Hart and Atherton placed in the top 10 in all three sectors which goes to show how relentless Fort William is, causing mistakes and/or mechanicals all over the shop.
Perhaps the most remarkable result here is Greg Minnaar’s seeing as he bent his chainring on a rock up top and dropped his chain not long after. After a 12th place Sector 1 he showed all of his experience in pulling off 5th in Sector 2 and speed tucking his way to 10th place in the final sector and 6th overall. If Minnaar can pull of something like that with a mechanical then the pressure will be on Gwin if he has problems in one of the remaining four rounds.
For more of Mark’s expert race analysis check out his blog here.