Here's the CRC/Nukeproof race report, complete with an interesting fact about Sam Hill's run in the finals...

CRC/Nukeproof at round one of the UCI DH World Cup, Fort William

After nine months since the last round of the UCI Downhill World Cup last year, all the preparation getting the team together and the off-season training, it was finally time to get the serious racing under way at the first round of the 2013 DH World Cup in Fort William, Scotland.

The famous track on Aonach Mor was as brutal as ever and with the hottest, driest weather we’ve ever seen in Fort William, the track was running faster than ever, meaning super close times and it was brutal on the bikes and riders.

Matt Simmonds in the process of turning many heads at Fort William this weekend, but sadly in both qualifying and finals he suffered bad luck.

“All weekend Matt Simmonds was riding at a blistering pace, from his first practice run he was one of the fastest and smoothest riders on the track, with so many people commenting on how good he looked," said Team Manager Nigel Page.

“Joe Smith was also looking super fast and good on the track looking like he could easily repeat his great performance of last year.

“Sam Hill was the man with all the pressure on him. The big-news signing to our team from Specialized, a few seasons of injury and not having had the chance to ride the course three weeks ago at the British National round like many riders, he spent the first day trying to get his bike setup correct for the rough fast track and dealing with the pressure of such high expectations from the whole world on his shoulders. It was a great experience for me on how a champion like Sam can deal with this!

“I did my best to keep the guys in good food in the evening along with podium catering taking care of that for us at the track. The mechanics did a great job keeping the bikes looking brand new after each practice run and the riders worked well as a team practising and getting all their lines dialled on the track."

Friday afternoon was timed training and Matt was third fastest, only two seconds off the top pace. This added to Matt’s quiet confidence and Sam and Joe posted good times also up with the top runners.

Some more practice Saturday morning and then it was time for the qualification round. Sam suddenly stepped up his pace and had a solid ‘so smooth’ run to place eighth.

Joe Smith on his way to 9th in qualification.

Joe had a fantastic run, looking really fast and strong in ninth.

Matt set a super-quick pace on the first split, setting the fastest time so far that day, but unfortunately smashed his chain device on a rock landing high up the course and lost his chain. Matt continued to rail turns and carry so much speed up on the fast top section of the course but had to pump his bike unable to pedal on all the flatter sections and jumps at the bottom where you have to be on the pedals hard! Unbelievably Matt still qualified in 23rd position, only 11 seconds off the pace of Danny Hart and Gee Atherton who set the fastest times of 3.41. Matt was on the pace.

Nigel said: “Sunday morning I watched Sam and Matt from the chairlift on their final practice run before the race. I could not believe how much Sam stepped up his pace!"

Sunday afternoon came around and it was time for the main event, the Elite men’s downhill finals. With stands and the whole of Aonach Mor packed with thousands of race fans the top 80 men set off on their assault down the track. The atmosphere was electric!

Nigel talks us through the highs and lows of the race: “I waited patiently in the team manager’s area at the finish line for our first rider off, Matt Simmonds. Josh Bryceland had set the fastest time so far and it was fast! Matt set off out the gate. The first split time came up and it was green. Matt was faster. I knew he had the pace, but as the cameras switched to the middle of the course, Matt’s bad luck continued from qualifying. He had a rear flat and then a broken rim, ending any chances of a top result he was more than capable of.

“Racing just isn't fair sometimes. I can't explain how bad I felt and how gutted I was for him. Matt has put in all the hard work, got himself as fast as the fastest riders in the world but just needs a bit of luck to go with it! It will happen soon for him. Good work Matt.

“Into the top 10 qualifiers and Joe Smith was out of the gate for his run. Joe looked super fast and was taking some amazing lines. He is one of the most skilful riders on the circuit. Joe put down a really fast solid run for a great 13th place finish for the day! Well done Joe.

“Next up was Sam Hill a past winner here and World Champion here in 2007. The crowd went wild as he set off. All the pressure in the world on his shoulders, what could he do?

There are some that have doubted whether Sam Hill is still the threat that he once was, but in our eyes he will always be a serious threat. If proof of that was ever needed then just look at his split times in the final.

“The quiet lad from Australia on flat pedals set off on his assault down the track. First split came up and it was green. He was fast, very fast! As the Red Bull cameras followed him down the course he looked like he was on rails. With the best balance in the business and corner speed only the rest of the riders can dream of, everyone waited with bated breath as the second split time came up after the majority of the course was done with only the fast bottom pedally section and the big jumps! It was still green – the crowd went absolutely wild. Sam Hill was back and on the hunt! As he came into view for the final pedalling Sam was flying but seemed to be spinning really fast! He crossed the line and went into the lead with a blistering time of 4.38!

“With seven more of the fastest riders in the world, Sam sat in the hot seat! In the end Sam finished in sixth place, one step from the podium and only 2.1 seconds off the win. An amazing result for Sam to show he is back as one of the fastest in the world. It turned out Sam had the second fastest time of the race heading into the final motorway section with only Gee Atherton, the eventual winner, slightly faster than Sam.

What could have been. But hey, that's racing. Sam though will definitely be a force to be reckoned with this season.

“It turns out that Sam had unfortunately caught his gear cable on his run and pulled it out of the rear derailleur, and was stuck in fourth gear for the final pedal where you need your biggest gear. So that was why he had lost a couple of seconds. But that’s racing! All the lads are on the pace and we just need a bit of luck next week for the second round in Italy.

“It was a good start to our World Cup campaign. We have a great team and the tools to win!

“Thanks so much to all our sponsors for their full support. We will be back on the hunt for the win next week in Val Di Sole Italy, so stay tuned…"

Photos: Fraser Britton/Chain Reaction Cycles