Master and Commander(s)

Atherton, Carpenter and Iles take Fort William World Cup Qualifying... Masters wins hearts!

In almost desert-like conditions the sharp end of the 2016 Fort William World Cup began.

Photos: Seb Schieck, Ben WInder

It is hard to believe that 12 months ago we were hiding away from torrential rain in the cafes of Fort William’s High Street. Back then the whole of Saturday was cancelled, but today, under sunny skies it was an altogether different story.

We’ve been to Fort William so many times now, but you know what, there is nothing quite like it.

This was downhill racing as we have always imagined it in our dreams. Dust getting scuffed and scrubbed up all over the shop. It was as if southern California had decided to come to visit Scotland. But today was a serious occasion, the World Cup is still only in its early stages this year and a lot can, and will, change. Everything is still to play for and points are obviously all important. There were definitely some winners and losers out on the mountain.

For us there were two main stories that came out of qualifying: Danny Hart and Eddie Masters. Hart crashed early on in his run and ended up in 21st. That’s no big deal, what is interesting is that his time yesterday, in the usually relaxed ‘timed training run’, was in fact 2.5 seconds quicker than Gee Atherton’s winning time in qualifying today. That is a real talking point. Maybe it was windier today… maybe not – the track was certainly no wetter or drier than yesterday. Danny Hart must be quietly confident after today.

And Eddie? What the hell was going on there? He didn’t have an answer and even questioned if the UCI had got the timing right! We would so love to see Eddie hold it all together and secure a podium finish on race day. Zen.

Fair play Gee Atherton, you put in a stormer. A beautifully controlled and 'spot on' performance.
Who knows? Aaron Gwin always plays his cards close to his chest, and today was no different. Can’t help thinking that today was just a ‘sighter’ run, and that tomorrow will be an altogether different story. Third place, with a crash, and 30 all-important World Cup points.
Fourth place for Troy Brosnan. The Australian has won here before back in 2014, so he knows what it will take come race day.
For the Brits this has to be the story of the day. Adam Brayton has always had the talent, but when it comes to race runs… well. But this time around he absolutely nailed it. Fifth place, three seconds back.
Danny Hart crashed today, but his training time that he posted yesterday was in fact 2.5 seconds quicker than Gee Atherton's winning time today! Go figure.
Greg Minnaar won here last year but ended up 113th after a puncture (one of many for the Syndicate team so far). But don’t be fooled, Greg posted the fastest time at split 2… never write this guy off.
A cracking run from Greg Williamson in seventh.
This is Steve Peat’s last ever Fort William World Cup. Sure to scream your head off during finals… whether at the race venue itself or at home in front of a screen. We’ll miss you Peaty.
Sam Blenkinsop (here) and Rupert Chapman had a bit of duel going on. With only 30 second gaps separating riders a crash can mean that someone is on your ass pretty quick. Watching these two come over the finish line together was the best race of the day!
Style for miles. Laurie Greenland into 15th.
A familiar site so far this week. Punctures and broken wheels were common today.
Tahnee Seagrave (left) is struggling with an arm injury at the moment, so she took the decision just to roll out of the start hut to break the beam. She is a protected rider so its means that she will be racing tomorrow… if she can take the pain.
Tracey Hannah kept the British duo of Carpenter and Atherton honest in qualifying. Just over 5 seconds back in third.
Rachel Atherton chasing down the clock…
Rachel Atherton was fastest at split 1 by 2.5 seconds, but a crash in the new woods section sent her OTB. She slipped down to second place, which means that maybe the pressure of being last down the hill is off her a little.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Morgane Charre is a Dirt favourite. Fourth place for the Frenchwoman, after a massive crash in the early morning practice session. On flats too!
Good on you Charlie Hatton. There is a lot of pressure on the junior riders and Hatton did himself proud. Second place, just under a second back.
Carrying an injury but Finn Iles is the man to beat in the junior category. Finals could be very close indeed.
Quietly confident, Finn Iles.
Elliot Heap was just under 3 seconds back from the fastest junior. All to play for in finals.
Kaos Seagrave leading out current number one raked Matt Walker. Seagrave would not qualify after a puncture ruined his run, but Walker kept his head down with a solid third place.
And finally, the talk of the town. Eddie Masters put in the run of his life to finish up in second place, just 2.3 seconds back from Gee Atherton! An amazing result for the New Zealander. If he can just hold his nerve there might be one hell of party in Fort William on Sunday night.
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