Fort William Day -1: Track Walk and Stevie Smith Memorial Run

An emotional day

Scorchio! Thursday at the 2016 Fort William World Cup was a day of two halves; remembering and remembrance.

Photos: Seb Schiek

Lets start with course walk… remembering. To tell you the truth some (actually ‘a lot’) of the riders could most probably have not bothered with the track walk if it wasn’t for a few (quite notable) changes. This is the fourteenth time that we have visited Aonach Mor, and in the last few years the track has changed little.


The drive up to Fort William is always stunning and the Skyfall-esque scenery was on full parade in the early-summer sun
Some weekend schedules are packed...
... while others are a bit more free-form
Top to bottom in under 4:40 and you're in with a shout. It will feel like the longest run of your life though.
There's definitely an atmosphere we've not felt at a World Cup before here
Steve Peat's bar proudly displaying this tribute to Smith

But there are changes, and they will make a difference. Up top the track has been smoothed out somewhat, surface laid, and corners kind of cut… inside lines abound. There is also what was described to me as a “horribly fast corner” with no berm… flat and open. It has been bone dry with bright sunshine all day, so the surface is loose and dusty, meaning that tyre choice and grip is going to be interesting.

Twice a winner here, Gee will always be a threat
The course may have been brushed but the rocks are as vicious as ever
The familiar top section was only given a cursory glance by most riders
Danny Hart recently spent two weeks up here getting his lines dialled, he knows this track better than anyone


With Bruni out injured, is Brosnan the last credible threat to Gwin?
It's going to be a tough weekend for Mark Wallace, who fittingly led the Stevie Smith memorial run
Track walks were sociable today - GT and Specialized sharing tactics here
The Brits were also sharing tips
Tracey Hannah kickstarted her season with a second in Cairns, no doubt she'll want to carry the momentum on here on the other side of the world
Last year's winner, and Fort Bill legend, surveys his kingdom

Much of the rest of the course remains the same until you get to the woods, where a new section greets riders. New sections are always welcome here in Fort William, and new sections in the woods even more so.

The woods is where it gets steeper and interesting. By this point racers are already pretty knackered, they need to be alert both physically and mentally. Some said that the ‘new woods’ was reminiscent of some sections of Val di Sole. It is slightly longer than the old wooded section, littered with freshly cut stumps and will need time to wear in. But once it is worn in roots of monster proportions could appear. We’ll just have to wait and see.

Fresh wood ready to be hit for the first time in anger tomorrow
The woods are littered with hidden stumps and rocks to catch wheels
Looks at that dirt! It won't be long before the sniper roots underneath are revealed though

The new wooded section still spits riders out at the road crossing jump, and everything else after that is pretty much ‘par for the course’! Anyone that raced the recent BDS will have ridden the newly shaped berm before the hip jump (some taking the inside line), and the newly shaped jumps. And that is it. Boom.

Remembrance… any fan of the sport will know that race legend Stevie Smith recently and tragically passed away. Knowing what to do it circumstances like this is always difficult, but the World Cup, and Fort William especially, needed to commemorate one of the greatest racers the sport has ever seen. The idea was tossed around the internet, then a few key players got involved, the UCI and event organisers got on board and a memorial run was decided on. This was a show of respect not only for Stevie but also for the wishes of the racers. What happened was that at 3.45pm a mass run took place, with up to fifty riders training it down to the finish line where they were met by an respectful group of fellow riders, mechanics, team mangers, event staff and more. Applause broke out and everyone ended up at Peaty’s on-site bar. Steve Smith will never be forgotten, especially in this part of the mountain bike world.

Tomorrow riders will be on track as practice begins.

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