Fort William…where do you start? Can you believe that 2011 will be the tenth year of world class competition up in Scotland?
From Dirt Issue 112 – June 2011
Words by Mike Rose. Photos by Various.
Fort William…where do you start? Can you believe that 2011 will be the tenth year of world class competition up in Scotland? I was going to say “10 years of highs and lows”, but to tell you the truth (apart from the odd hangover, bad hotel, lack of places to eat, soggy scrambled eggs on toast, grumpy waitresses, midges, rubbish internet connection, early starts, etc.), there have been no lows in my Fort William World Cup experience. Every year for the last decade I have made my way up north, past Birmingham, Westmorland services (the best in the country), Glasgow (we always go the wrong way), Erskine Bridge, along Loch Lomond, Tyndrum, the magnificent Glencoe and then Fort William itself. It is a long old journey, but one that I never tire of.
In the grand scheme of things Fort William is a relative newcomer to World Cup racing, but it has certainly seen the sport grow and mature over the years…as we all have I guess. Of course we didn’t really know what to expect in that first year back in 2002. I had been to some pretty amazing World Cup races in Europe by that stage, and I had a little dread and fear at the back of my mind that Fort William might not make the grade. I had no reason to think this, a bit of self doubt maybe. Most of us had nothing to do with the organizing of the event itself but you couldn’t help but feel a collective responsibility, this was after all a World Cup race on home soil, as British riders, journalists and fans we were being put under the microscope, the world would be watching.
Of course as it turns out there was nothing to worry about. In that first year the fog hung heavily, the heavens opened and the earth turned to mud. You have to remember that a lot of the Fort William track is built on a bog and in that first year riders and organisers were truly tested. When it came to the quality of the track we had nothing to worry about, the course demanded respect as it destroyed bikes and bodies on every run. It has claimed its fair share of victims over the years, people have been carted off the hill, and it soon became widely regarded as the roughest and toughest track on the circuit.
From the upper open sections where wind, rain and boulders batter riders, then through the deer fence and into the woods, which are a combination of root, rock and mud, then onto the final flat’ish energy sapping Motorway section which spits riders out into possibly the best final section of any World Cup…a leaping, fast and furious drop into thousands of screaming voices. The big screen helps of course with the atmosphere, as do commentators Chris Furber and Dan Jarvis who slowly whip the assembled crowd up into a frenzied mess from 8.30am onwards!
Highlights? There are too many…Kovarik and Moseley in 2002…one was destruction the other pure fairytale, 4X’s first appearance in the same year with a stacked pro field, Anne Caroline Chausson doubling up in both DH and 4X in 2004, Peaty’s bad luck and injuries (until 2005 that is), Kintner and Graves’ control of 4X, the bloody weather, Jonnier and Minnaar’s numerous victories, the World Champs in 2007 of course, Gee Atherton in 2010, the pubs and parties, the Dirt ‘SNAP’ photo exhibition, people swimming out to boats in the Loch, the ‘Crack House’, broken noses, tables full of glasses, Donella, weird hangover induced time vortexes, the ‘Buffalo’, Hippy Rich and his BB gun…I could go on.
I’ve been writing about Fort William for 10 years now, so much so that I have run out of superlatives to describe the atmosphere and vibe of the place. It is a celebration of everything that is good in mountainbiking in the UK and it is all ours. It is special and always will be.>>