Elemental Forms of Racing Life - Fort William World Cup
The complete report on World Cup Round 2 from Fort William, June 2011...
From Dirt Issue 113 - July 2011
Words by Seb Kemp. Photos by Various.
For the racers, there was more than lengthy travel in the lead up to just one run to test themselves against each other, the course and time. Five days distilled down to five minutes on Aonach Mòr.
The race is only one story. As you stand at the bottom of the hill and look up, a glinting silver snake ripples all the way down the hill through the open mountainside. From this distance the serpent looks sleepy but it hides the menace within its taped sides. Slowly the mountainside and mountain bottom fills up with fervent spectators who have come to see the assembled–race heads get chewed up and shit out of the snake’s arse. The swarming mass of ‘oglers and buglers’ pack tightly from tip to tail and shoulder to shoulder. They let loose cries and shouts, hollers and bells, claps, cheers, horns and yells. No menace, just banter, they jeer on any and all riders who put themselves down the lines.
Bumping and jostling for position. Everything is shared in the mass of the pressing crowd at the finish line circle. The smell of smoke is like a burning dog turd wafting through the crowd. The crowd drips off the hillside as the event nears its zenith. Everyone keen to see the outcome of each rider’s one–man duel with the serpent and time. The spots around the line and in front of the jumbo–tron TV screen fill up and up like a Tetris challenge. If there is a gap then the collective consciousness of the crowd packs more mass into the mess. Bodies push up against each other leaving nothing to the imagination. Too many guys sweating and crying out for the performance of another male. It could be misconstrued as being rather same–sexual if it wasn’t for the presence of the girls of the energy drink to balance the hormones out. All this for the main event.
Far more goes into these pooled moments than can be seen on the screen of a glowing electric box. Sure there was practice, qualifying, more practice and endless preparations before a rider could get enveloped by the howling pack, but the individual atoms of the assembly has its own shape to the proceedings. The race is only a race for those in it. For the rest of us it is an event. A meeting place for people to convene and become a bulk. Something with more mass and value than the sum of its constituent parts. As the citizen cells gather and the action builds the collective effervescence compels them to become more excited. The crowd bumps, jostles, and shouts till a deafening din fills the remaining space in the air around the finish.>>
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By now the men have begun the long whirring gondola ride up the mountain; some in solitary focus, others with trusted companions. One of the first up is Affy (Dan Atherton) who is amazingly back to top flight racing and claims he has never been so nervous before a race. He said that Fort Bill and Leogang will be critical for him to find out whether he has the head to return to racing. On flat pedals, a puncture in his run halts him from setting a final’s time, but he is happy he punctured. For Dan it is a sign he was attacking the course and believes that one run was the first time he has really been able to push himself in a run.
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Minnaar pops the champagne bottle on his fourth downhill win in Fort William. A crowd favourite, the place roars with approval. Travis Lucas, Minnaar’s new mechanic, is relieved. With one of the most high pressured positions on the race circuit he was living by white hot, skin tingling, chest bursting excitement all week. He was up late preparing and double checking his work, then was awake with excitement at 4am. The life of a mechanic is one of teetering on the edge of emotional paradoxes.
Hart comes confidently charging onto the podium, and looks like he has plans to stay there. He comes over as the cheeky joker, whipping around the course by the seat of his pants, but behind all the smoke and mirrors is a serious racer with a lazer focus. Brook MacDonald has grown a lot and with this first important podium he has a mental finger–lock on what it takes. MacDonald says he is bolstered by this performance and after a little bit of reverie on Sunday night he will road train into the rest of the season with his head held high and a knowing smile on his face.
Back in the crowd and it is all on the move again. The thousands of people are smushed against the gates trying to dilute itself out across the country again. Spilling out is the call but it more like the burping of a blocked water pipe. Trumpets, horns and bells still sound. The crowd still buzzes. It witnessed something of worth, something to remember.
Meanwhile around the pits there is concerted calm as the tents and stands are disassembled, folded up and packed back into their tight storage. Everyone lends a hand, there are no rock stars here. Congratulations are offered, beers are poured and the spoils devoured but the packing still goes on. No time for slacking because in no time the road to the next five minutes is calling.
Four hours after the last man descended the venue is a shell of what it was. It bares no resemblance to the place where the swarming pack swirled and sang. The vans have gone, the trucks have swallowed up all the shape of the finish area. All that remains is an empty grandstand and a naked archway that spans the black rubber skid mark of the snakes tail. It is right at that moment I know I shouldn’t be there anymore because the rain and midges that had held off all weekend begin to drip and itch.
WHO THOUGHT THAT FLOGGING A DEAD DONKEY COULD BE SO FUN? IS 4X REALLY DEAD?
4X racing has changed a lot since it was first introduced 10 years ago at the first Fort William World Cup. Back then all the downhill starts raced too…Minnaar, Peat, Hill, Rennie, Jonnier…the list is almost endless. They mixed it up with the (then) dual stars…King, Lopes, Carter…but it is a different ball game now. 4X is all about the specialist, hardtails and getting your snap on. It is at the stage now where you pretty much have to focus 100% on either 4X or DH is you want to succeed. The only riders now that seem to do well in both are Fionn Griffiths and Celine Gros…but women’s racing is a little different.
Things started off slowly, most races going to form with no real surprises. There were no real fireworks from any of the British racers apart from Joey Gough and Scott Roberts. Fionn Griffiths should have been in the final, but she punctured and was agonizingly overtaken coming into the finish. And wasn’t the only rider to flat. Those skinny ass tyres were popping all over the place. Gough put in a performance that really should have ended in victory. She got the gate and had the lead, but coming into the tricky rock section somehow got tangled up with a rock which allowed Anneke Beerten to pass her and take the win. Gough and the crowd were happy, but she knows that she should have really taken her first World Cup victory.
In the men’s Roberts was the last Brit rider standing and was looking like making it to at least the semi, but despite an amazing overtaking manoeuvre that took him from last place to second mid course he couldn’t quite keep the momentum. A great showing from the young lad, with more to come. Into the semi’s Graves was looking unstoppable. He was ready at the gate well before the other riders. Keen and eager to get it done and dusted. The shock came when he got a bad gate followed by a mistake on course that knocked him to third and failing to make the final. There were whispers that perhaps Graves made a wild lane choice but we won’t dwell on that. Onto the final it was.
Changes and improvements had been made to the course. Rowan Sorrell had been contracted to add some much needed spice to it and he went about ploughing some of the upper sections flat and starting from scratch. The ‘launch to flat’ jump at the end of the second straight was interesting, many riders coming down to earth with a bang. There was a possible quad that no one manned up to. There was even a technical pump section right out of the gate which lessened the advantage of straight–line power riders. Sorrell said he took a gamble with the course. He approached it from the perspective of someone with nothing to lose but who wanted to win back the excitement of good bar banging racing. It certainly worked. “Roll the dice and it might work out," he shrugged as praise and thanks were bestowed upon him after racing. That’s what the whole weekend’s racing seemed to be about. Graves gambled on a gate and it didn’t work out; Prokop gambled on a silly line with no advantage and it didn’t pay off; but then again Beerten gambled on tight inside and it did pay off; then the day after we saw Hart put everything on the table and come up trumps. The gamble is the source of the liveliness of the 4X racing and frankly, if it’s always that exciting to watch then surely 4X has a future.
1. GREG MINNAAR SANTA CRUZ SYNDICATE 4:43.854
2. DANNY HART GIANT 4:45.153 +01.299
3. BROOK MACDONALD MS EVIL RACING 4:45.788 +01.934
4. GEE ATHERTON COMMENCAL 4:46.858 +03.004
5. AARON GWIN TREK WORLD RACING 4:47.047+03.193
1. TRACY MOSELEY TREK WORLD RACING 5:21.898
2. RACHEL ATHERTON COMMENCAL 5:23.619 +01.721
3. FLORIANE PUGIN SCOTT 11 5:29.428 +07.530
4. MYRIAM NICOLE RIDING ADDICTION COMMENCAL 4:30.149 +08.251
5. SABRINA JONNIER MAXXIS/ROCKY MOUNTAIN 4:31.970 +10.072
1. ROGER RINDERKNECHT
2. DAVID GRAF
3. TOMAS SLAVIK RSP 4 CROSS RACING TEAM
4. JOOST WICHMAN RSP 4 CROSS RACING TEAM
5. JARED GRAVES YETI FOX SHOX FACTORY RACE TEAM
1. ANNEKE BEERTEN MILKA TREK MTB RACING TEAM
2. JOEY GOUGH
3. LUCIA OETJEN
4. CELINE GROS TEAM MORZINE – AVORIAZ/HAUTE SAVOIE
5. MELISSA BUHL