Fort William - 10 Years of World Cup Racing
Fort William…where do you start? Can you believe that 2011 will be the tenth year of world class competition up in Scotland?
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.>>
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[part title="2002 - Fort William World Cup..."]
2002 RUN TO THE HILLS
Downhill Winners - CHRIS KOVARIK AND TRACY MOSELEY
4X Winners CEDRIC GRACIA AND ANNE CAROLINE CHAUSSON
- World Cup riders have their first introduction to racing in Scotland. They are greeted by rain, mud and midges…it is a classic and sets the tone for years to come.
- Chris Kovarik does the impossible and beats everyone by 14 seconds.
- Tracy Moseley provides the magic and wins the women’s race on a Kona. The crowd go mental.
- Fort William hosts the first ever World Cup 4X race.
- Peaty, on an Orange, crashes out. He gets to the finish with no seat, bent brake levers, and roll–off tape wrapped around his head.
- It is the first time we came to sample the delights of the Cruachen Hotel and our wonderful host Donella.
- 4X finals is a right old mix: Lopes, Gracia, Bootes and Peat. The Frenchman takes it.
- The big, classic names were there…Vouilloz, Giove and Chausson.
- Minnaar on the Global team takes a huge stack in the final.
“I’ve never really ridden down a track like that, it was almost surreal. Half way down it was like ‘fuck me, the Scots are shooting at me’ with firecrackers going off. Incredilble." Rob Warner
CHRIS KOVARIK - WINNER 2002
At the very first Fort William World Cup in history, the track was mostly a muddy ‘swamp’ with sections of gravel to make it rideable. It was rough, there were ruts and big holes forming and the weather was horrendous all weekend. My bike was eating the shit up and I knew I was going to do well after I’d had a huge crash in timed runs on the Saturday. I was only eight seconds off Peaty and Nico’s (Vouilloz) fastest timed runs that day. And when I thought about it, my crash was at least 15 seconds long, it was a pretty big one. No one knew that, and I just let my confidence quietly grow.
Come race day, at the top of my final run it was bloody freezing, windy and raining a bit. It even started to snow for the last ten riders. I remember thinking, “what the hell are we doing here in this freezing swamp?" I just wanted to get down the hill as fast as I could to get out of the shitty weather and to get my bumblebee Fox skinsuit off. So I took off out of the gate and pretty much I knew I was on a fast one. As muddy as it was, I wasn’t slowing down. I had a line around every hole or rut. The crowd was like nothing I’d ever heard, they were really into it and it got me pumped. I remember specifically this one Scottish fella in the left hander after the cattle grid. He leant over the tape and his head was pretty much in the berm and he just screamed, “Come on! Have it!"
I had a moment in the first wooded section, the ruts had gotten massive. I had no choice but to hit the main rut which was twice as deep as it was in morning practice. It was a dropping right hander, I hit it foot out, the bottom of my fork legs were scooping up mud, I swear I thought I was going to go over the bars. That section was my main concern, so after that I felt home free. The crowd was so loud coming out of the last woods to the finish, I had no choice but to stand up and sprint. I couldn’t bring myself to sit down. As I came across the finish I had no idea how my time would compare. But after sitting in the hot seat for a while I had won the first Fort William World Cup by 14.3 seconds. I couldn’t believe how much ass kicking I did that day!
TRACY MOSELEY - WINNER IN 2002, 2005, 2006 AND 2008
[part title="2003 - Fort William World Cup"]
2003 FOUR DAYS IN THE FORT
Downhill Winners - CEDRIC GRACIA AND CELINE GROS
4X Winners - GREG MINNAAR AND KATRINA MILLER
- Gracia and Pascal make it a French one–two in the men’s DH.
- A young Sam Hill gets his first World Cup podium finishing up in fifth, with Gee Atherton back in twelfth (the highest placed Brit).
- Peaty once again has bad luck, this time getting involved in a crash in 4X and damaging his ankle.
- Tracy Moseley is the lone British rider in an otherwise all French women’s top five.
- In contrast to year one, 2003 is dry, and the track is punishing in a different kind of way.
- Brian Lopes breaks his ankle in a freak accident in 4X on the first straight, and Greg Minnaar takes in win.
- Sprung videographer Alex Rankin throws a perfectly aimed steel toe capped boot at Dirt journalist Steve Jones in the dark. Jones gets broken nose and Rankin gets some revenge.
- 4X is all about first corner carnage.
“that’s one of the most physical tracks I’ve ever ridden…brutal too I guess." Eric Carter
CEDRIC GRACIA - DH WINNER IN 2003 AND 4X WINNER IN 2002
Three of us then decided to go for an adventure. We decided to chase sheep! Fun for sure, until the farmer turned up and asked us “what are you guys doing?" I said, “we chase the sheep" and we started laughing. He got pretty pissed off and said "you think it is funny" and he started to chase us in the dark with his son. We probably ran around 3km, except for one of us who probably ran 5km to get away!
Sure thing, we all go back to town, and all the bars were packed with people, with big queues. I took ‘the 5k runner’ to come with me and jump into the front of the line and tell the girl on the front door, "we are the guys who change the kegs of beer for you, apparently you guys have a problem". And she looked at me, with my strong accent of course…and we push through, got in and enjoyed the beers until the end! We are still laughing about the run in the field today.
56 DEGREES NORTH - STEVE JONES
It’s unlikely you’ll experience much hanging ‘Grand Prix motocross dust’ as is found in the Shropshire and Wiltshire arenas, but Fort William has many of the trademarks of that latter place, a many–time World round trials town of the south Wales’ valleys – beer, street fights, chips shops and aluminium are never too far away…oh and bogs.
Fort William, a hard place jammed into a lakeside corner surrounded by an utterly captivating mountain environment. But being north it’s never shadowed by Ben Nevis, and each of the past ten years it has lightened up the downhill calendar.
A place of cliff hangers, I have many memories. Hungover in a makeshift press tent, early hours with the inimitable Donella at the Cruachan hotel, even won a British masters’ series there once. Many recollections. The blood spattered walls of my hotel room with Alex Rankin after being caught full force in the face by a flying loose steel toe cap boot that came inbound after pushing the water joke too far. Gagging on my own blood, that greatest of hosts (Donella) got me straight as well as the shift doctor who put back in place a nose that had no place at all. I remember being sat with Peaty as he drank wine at lunchtime before he won his one and only World Cup on home soil in 2005 (and the many pints he had on the nights leading up to that).
2002 kicked this venue off in spectacular fashion and late into the night the shenanigans in the hotel are probably best kept behind closed doors – I seem to remember going through one at one point. The next day Billy (the web) and me had travelled south with Mike the editor. He dropped us at Crewe train station with some lame excuse for ditching us (Ed note: I was living in Nottingham at the time and South Wales seemed like a long way from home!). From there it was a journey south to Abergavenny and it was on that train I wrote my first World Cup report:
Back in Wales me and Billy were stuck on a roundabout, it was getting dark. It was warm down south, and dry. We were still buzzing from the lightening that had struck Aonach Mor and all the intricacies that surrounded that event. You’re never far from the reality of life in Fort William, and as complex as racing can be, the area is largely a dirty big chunk of granite with a bunch of volcanic dykes cutting through it. Boy it can be a dark place. Arrive at the wrong time you will get eaten alive.
[part title="2004 - Fort William World Cup..."]
2004 CAT QUICK AND GRISLY TOUGH
Downhill Winners - GREG MINNAAR AND ANNE CAROLINE CHAUSSON
4X Winners - GUIDO TSCHUGG AND ANNE CAROLINE CHAUSSON
- Greg Minnaar wins on a Honda bike, the first ever World Cup victory for a bike with a gearbox. The future?
- Peaty storms qualifying finishing in first but disappointingly ends up fourth in the final.
- Gracia and Hill round out the top three.
- Anne Caroline Chausson doubles up, winning both DH and 4X. She is a machine.
- Live TV coverage comes to Fort William. The big screen at the bottom transforms the event for spectators.
- An airline loses Nathan Rennie’s bike for a day or two.
- The track is becoming more bedded in, speeds are crazy fast.
- Fionn Griffiths has a huge stack in her final run.
“Peaty ruled timed training, made the move on Gracia that was the most talked about 4X moment, destroyed everyone in the semi final, went out on the beer every night and still made one of his best world title starts to a season. This guy is unbelievable." Steve Jones
Fort William World Cups are full of good memories for me. The first time you go there you see this nice landscape, mountains and lakes with the mist rising off them (just like in the movies), but it makes you wonder what the track is going to look like. It’s an unusual, difficult and often wet track, which gave me a headache.
I had a big fall during a practice run the first time I raced there. I was frightened, I was afraid to return there the next year. Thankfully everything went well and the Fort William World Cup has since then been a glorious and fun event for me. I especially like the atmosphere around this race. It’s a long way from anywhere, and there are not many people who live around there, but when the final day arrives you see all these cars and thousands of very enthusiastic spectators who settle down along the course. They are everywhere…in the paddocks, on the track, they know all the racers and make a lot of noise when you pass, even if you're not British. That’s good motivation and I always loved that. These are probably some of the reasons why this World Cup is still on the calendar 10 years later.
RACHEL ATHERTON - WORLD CUP RACER, CLOSE BUT HAS NEVER WON AT FORT WILLIAM
Wow, Fort William has literally a million memories for me. The first time I went to watch, this was before I raced, I remember watching Missy Giove ride past me and being scared to death by her! I took the train up with my mum for a couple years and my career probably started when I was 15 watching Tracy win the World Cup there. I was amazed at how absolutely huge the crowd was, it was the biggest body of people I had ever been amongst and every face was turned toward Tracy standing up in the hot seat. She was wrapped in a GB flag and she was crying and I was crying because I was so happy for her to win…and I thought, “I want to be like her one day."
At the parties I couldn’t believe what animals my heroes turned into after racing was done. It was a bit scary, but thrilling to be there at the same time. At my first race I think I qualified third and then finished seventh, then I went home and did my exams. I was sitting in the exam hall thinking me myself, “hell yeah, I could do that for a living!"
Fort William is the only track the scares me when I ride it. I think it’s the Devil’s Driveway...I would like to spear the devil’s heart with my middle finger!
[part title="2005 - Fort William World Cup..."]
2005 THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH
Downhill Winners - STEVE PEAT AND TRACY MOSELEY
4X Winners - LEIV OVE NORDMARK AND JILL KINTNER
- After three attempts Steve Peat finally wins in Fort William. There is a huge sense of relief from everyone. We can all now relax.
- But better still. Tracy Moseley also takes the win…just…from a very young Rachel Atherton. The Brits have had a good day at the office, it was a defining moment.
- The time around Fort William is the final round of the World Cup series, so titles are decided.
- Lopes racing in ‘Jimmy hat’ much to the crowd’s amusement.
- Sam Hill has a bad day, he gets to the finish with a bent pedal and crank.
- New Zealander Scarlett Hagan takes a big stack and has to be airlifted off the hill.
- 4X gets its first streakers…unfortunately they are both male.
- “this was a day with an outcome that many had dreamt of but few thought would ever happen…the man had won (Peaty). It was a magical moment in downhill history. Triumph, glory, the whole damn lot."
STEVE PEAT - WINNER IN 2005
For me mountain biking in Ft William started around 1993/94. I travelled up to race a national event and had to jump off my bike cyclocross style to run through a big boggy stream crossing. It paid off and I took the win.
So as you can tell Fort William already had a special place in my heart long before the World Cup first visited and it has only been enhanced by this very fact. I was so happy and excited back in 2001 when it was announced that we would have a World Cup round there. A World Cup in Britain, what could be better? From 2001 to 2011 I am still that same happy and excited person when I know we are heading back up to the highlands to race our bikes.
There are many stories over the last 10 years, but I think it’s appropriate and important for me to share my win in 2005 with you all. It no understatement that I wanted to win badly at Fort William and because of this maybe I put too much pressure on myself for the first few years. Coming into 2005 I felt that I just needed to settle in and ride for me, not for the fans. It’s always an awesome atmosphere and it’s hard to get from our pits to the chairlift, sometimes I just have to get my head down and crack on. It’s not because I don’t want to sign autographs or chat with people, it’s because I have to get on with the job in hand!
Practice was going well and when it came to qualifying I put a good run in, but I saved something back for the finals, I was really happy to emerge the fastest qualifier but was a little unsure as to how much extra pressure I had stuck on my own head. I tried to keep it calm and focus on the job in hand, my run was going well but the thing that stands out the most on that descent was the crowd.
I set off from the startgate and there were cheers and sporadic, ‘Go on Steve’ from the off. Then a little further down the hill it was a louder, ‘come on Peaty’ from a larger group of cheering fans and spectators. A little further down and those calls were louder as they came from bigger groups of supporters, and so on until I got on the motorway section. In any race situation you have no idea how you are doing against the other competitors or the clock so you just have to dig deep and keep it going to the line, this one was a little different for me, it felt like everyone watching was willing me down that hill. I obviously knew that if I got a big cheer on the Tissot arch coming into the finish that I was in with a chance, but I wasn’t expecting how loud that cheer would be. I kept it going to the line and managed to win.
[part title="2006 - Fort William World Cup..."]
2006 THROUGH HELL AND HIGH WATER
Downhill Winners - SAM HILL AND TRACY MOSELEY
4X Winners - MICHAL PROKOP AND JILL KINTNER
- Sam Hill takes his first victory at Fort William by just over half a second from Cedric Gracia.
- Tracy Moseley takes her third victory at the Fort winning by over seven seconds.
- In fact Moseley tops off a podium that also includes fellow Brits Rachel Atherton and Helen Gaskell.
- It is wet and gusty.
“there is no place to hide on Aonach Mor. It is unforgiving territory." Mike Rose
SAM HILL WINNER IN 2006 AND 2007
SVEN MARTIN EX WORLD CUP RACER AND NOW PHOTOGRAPHER
Coming back to Fort William for the tenth year now is like having your annual family reunion. Yes you look forward to it, to the familiarity, camaraderie and spirit, but secretly you also dread it, dread what could be in store. Riders look forward to Fort William each year but they also know what is expected of them and their machines out there on the savage unforgiving slopes of Aonach Mor, show one sign of weakness and it will claim its toll on equipment, body or both, it shows no mercy or offers no favour, we have seen this each and every year.
It is truly the perfect testing ground for both athlete and engineering. When the current greats like Peat, Hill, Minnaar and Atherton have all won here you must agree that it is a level playing field that only the best man on the day can win on? It is one of the few tracks where rain hardly affects any given result, in fact the riders welcome the rain here, it is the wind that is your foe, jerseys will be pinned back and tucked in tight as maximum speeds are reached.
I have been lucky (or unlucky) enough to be on the receiving end of all that a trip to Fort William can offer. I have raced World Champs and a World Cup here and I have also inspected every last centimetre of track with cameras time and time again. On a proper DH bike those fun looking, easy to hit lines whizz past you and the undulating bedrock becomes wheel and suspension eating deathrock. No surprise that despite the added tyre pressure I have yet to finish a race run here without a flat and a destroyed wheel. Now the task is made even tougher by last year’s ‘excavation’ of the track. No longer a manmade gravel path above the peat. This is an evil bucking snake on the moors. I’ll stick to the photos from now on thank you very much.
[part title="2007 - Fort William World Cup..."]
2007 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS WET WINDY AND WILD
Elite - SAM HILL AND SABRINA JONNIER
Junior - RUARIDH CUNNINGHAM AND FLORIANE PUGIN
BRIAN LOPES AND JILL KINTNER
- The World Championships comes to Britain. This is the biggest mountain bike event ever to happen on these shores.
- It has taken six attempts but Sabrina Jonnier finally gets her first win in a rainy and windy Scotland.
- There are changes to the top of the track, making it better for riders and spectators.
- Ruaridh Cunningham becomes Junior World Champ, Scottish national hero and makes the cover of Dirt.
- Dirt’s SNAP photo exhibition at the Lime Tree Gallery is a huge success.
- Josh Bryceland punctures in his run ending his hopes for the rainbow stripes.
- There’s a lot of pressure on the Brits, but Rachel Atherton takes silver in the women’s DH, as does Katy Curd in the juniors. Gee Atherton takes bronze.
- Jared Graves blows a tyre off the rim in 4X semis. Brian Lopes cuts it close coming from fourth to second to go through to the final. He and Jill Kintner make it a US double gold.
- Peaty gets to the event injured and then snaps his seat off in his run. Minnaar rides part of the track with a dislocated shoulder and Gracia breaks his wrist in 4X finals.
“I feel like I am in enemy territory." Sabrina Jonnier
“It was pouring with rain and the wind was so strong I couldn’t stand up." Mick Hannah
SABRINA JONNIER - WINNER IN 2007, 2009 AND 2010
My best memories was winning the World Championships in 2007, it was an epic'ly cold week! On race day the crowds were all along the track, all packed in, there was no empty spots – people were cheering so loud, it was amazing!
JILL KINTNER 4X WINNER IN 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009
Any place where you can accumulate three World Cup wins, and a Rainbow jersey is going to warrant a few fond memories. Scotland has treated me well over the years, but as far as atmosphere, show and good times, 2007 was the best event/World Champs I have been to. Fireworks, racing under lights, jumbo–tron TV, announcers wearing tuxedos, thousands of enthusiastic fans, photographers, beer tents, packed grandstands, it was like a fairytale.
Fort Bill was packed that week, but a small town with a big crowd meant that our hotel was a 40min drive out to the neighbouring town of Ballachulish. Pretty far, over the river and through the woods, but it was a quaint little bed and breakfast on a golf course near a lake with the best home cooked meals ever. Quiet without TV or internet, but kind of nice to kick back and have a cup of tea around the fire and converse. We had booked the whole place out with 11 of us in the GT and Mongoose crew. We were a tight little family that week.
First few days we kept ourselves entertained, went out looking for Nessie, played some golf, took in the countryside, had dinner together every night, it was really quite lovely, it could not have set the tone any better. We were as dialled as we could’ve been, the ladies from the hotel even made us sandwiches cut into triangles and packed lunches each day for training.
Everything was going perfect, till I had a dumb crash in practice and got flipped backwards onto a straight locked arm, which hyper–extended my elbow and broke my little finger. I was in shock, not a nice feeling seeing your hopes and dreams fly out the window with the World Champs two days away. The rain masked my tears, but the damage was done.
We headed to the hospital straight away, and I sat in the back seat and watched my skin change colour on the car ride over. Swollen, and not moving so well, the X–Ray said my elbow wasn’t broken, which was good news. I didn't want to stick around to hear the rest.
For finals, I was not feeling better, but sort of woke up determined. I had not been sleeping well, had aches and deep purple bruising all down my arm, but strapped it up tight, took some pills and managed the best I could. It was my day after all, I’d waited all year for this, and that was it. Sometimes an injury can take you out of your mind, and really present in the moment at hand. In the start gate I said a few words to myself, hoped for the best, gave it everything I had, and was able to pull and the pain disappeared for a minute, and I won! It had been an uphill battle, but to be World Champion is an unbelievable experience, let alone to win three in a row under those circumstances! Right after that, my teammate Brian Lopes, came across and won the men’s 4X World title! It was one of those nights that can never be touched.
At the end of it we were all drenched in Champagne and victorious as a team. The presenter on the podium shook my busted arm so hard, I was nearly dropped to the floor, but I kept it together. Mission accomplished, and I survived to tell the tale. We celebrated a bit, taking photos in the pits. The ladies from the hotel were so excited to have two champions staying in their place, they came outside and greeted us in their thick Scottish accents screaming, “Ahhh, you were wee stars out there!" I love Scotland .
[part title="2008 - Fort William World Cup"]
2008 VINDICATE THE SYNDICATE
Downhill Winners - GREG MINNAAR AND TRACY MOSELEY
4X Winners - JARED GRAVES AND JANA HORAKOVA
- This was the 100th ever World Cup race.
- The Santa Cruz Syndicate team have a field day. Greg Minnaar is first, Steve Peat in third and Nathan Rennie fourth. It was tag team domination and they celebrated as if they had already won the series!
- Matti Lehikionen slices himself up on the ‘cheese grater’.
- The Mojo team show up in rubberized skin suits. This causes some controversy, but you cannot deny that they make the riders go faster.
- There were some wind issues up top.
- Moseley crosses the line to a wall of sound to score her fourth win in Fort William.
- Fabien Barel is unlucky again, this time a puncture puts an end to his hopes.
- Jared Graves finally gets a Scottish win in 4X.
“Minnaar, Peaty, Rennie and Bryceland were celebrating as if they had won the series. This was pack mentality, wild animals celebrating a kill."
“Fort William went from Baltic to Bahamas in one simple step…people were even getting sunburnt."
Fort William is a place I always treat with respect, simply because it can dish out anything, I’ve had some of my biggest career highs and lows there. On my first visit in 2003 I had an almost career ending and life threatening crash which resulted in a month in hospital and it almost cost me my only remaining kidney. I returned in 2005 only to be struck with the flu, and have two epic high speed crashes in DH practice, mostly due to my lack of concentration, which made me realize how on top of everything you need to be to be at the pointy end at this place.
I thought I was 100% prepared for the 4X World champs in 2007, and maybe I was, but the track had other ideas, which made me learn in a hurry to not count your chickens!
After then, from 2008 onwards my preparation has improved, and I think that shows in my results, and I have won the 4X for the past three years. So after thinking that I was forever doomed to suck at Fort William, it’s been a great confidence booster to know I can go well there.
Fort William is for sure one of the venues that riders want to do well at, the courses always test all forms of riding so that the best overall rider will prevail, If you’re fast at fort William you can be fast anywhere, so it’s a track that riders will always want to do well on.
ALEX RANKIN - FILM MAKER
After three or four years travelling to a few other World Cups around the world it was exciting to have an event in the UK, and not just an XC in Plymouth but a full blown DH with a gondola. This was real progress for the UK scene and ‘not to be missed’ was the feeling I had about the first DH World Cup up at the Nevis Range. But through all the memories of the racing documented elsewhere, from Kovarik's massive win to Peaty’s landmark victory, there is one thing that sticks in my mind about Fort William, and that is the Cruachan Hotel. The Cruachan was to become the base for all my Fort Bill visits. Through the years there was something special about this sub par dump with a shady breakfast, and don’t let the 2.5 stars on trip advisor fool you into thinking the place is even half way decent. However it had two things going for it, firstly the all–night bar for residents only! Each year this bar would be manned by a fine gent called Alex Rankin, a namesake and one of the finest bar tenders in the highlands, and it was well stocked with the finest malts. And secondly, the hotel also had an amazing manager lady called Donella and she let us bring back some friends for the after–after–party. Over the years this small gathering on the Sunday night turned into the whole god dam race after–party descending on our beloved home from home. These big parties never lasted long and Donella would shut the hotel and eject 400 people from a wrecked bar only to open up again to the residents 15 minutes later for an all–nighter. Happy birthday Fort Bill and the Cruachan Hotel (which I now hear is under new management).
[part title="2009 - Fort William World Cup"]
2009 LAMBS TO THE SLAUGHTEr
Downhill Winners - GREG MINNAAR AND SABRINA JONNIER
4X Winners - JARED GRAVES AND JILL KINTNER
- Sabrina Jonnier kills it with a nine second victory.
- French riders once again dominate the women’s podium, taking all five places.
- Minnaar scores back to back victories.
- Peaty was on a high. He had just won at the second round of the World Cup in La Bresse and at round 3 in Andorra and was wearing the leader’s jersey, but this time around he ‘glanced’ a tree, which knocked him off the podium.
- A new rock section appears in the 4X track.
- Tracy Moseley crashes in the final and finishes 15 seconds back in 7th position.
“rider’s bikes and bodies are battered from the constant pummelling of four and a half minutes of Scottish grit, bog and slab."
GREG MINNAAR - DH WINNER IN 2004, 2008 AND 2009, 4X WINNER IN 2003
I have also had some great memories, winning on the Honda RNO1 in its debut race in 2004. And then racing Honda’s final race in DH in 2007, it definitely didn’t end off the way it started. I had another visit to the Ben Nevis that year, I had crashed in the woods section dislocating my shoulder and breaking my scapula, not knowing at the time I got back on the bike and ended up fourth. I argued my way out of spending a night at the hospital, they wanted to put me under general anaesthetic to put my shoulder back in, I told them I was supposed to be at a team dinner and after that I needed to be at the after–party (World Champs is always big). I convinced the doctors that I didn’t need to be put under, so they gave me that laughing gas stuff and slipped my shoulder back in . A couple hours later I caught dessert at the team dinner before tearing up the dance floor.
I bounced back from 2007 with back to back wins in 2008 and 2009. There has been a lot of mixed emotions for me in Fort Will, but with three wins, two visits to the Ben Nevis and a whole load of Saffa’s supporting, it feels more like a race at home than the World Cup in PMB.
DAN JARVIS AND CHRIS FURBER - FORT WILLIAM’S COMMENTATORS
For Dan and I, Fort William has been our favourite weekend of the year for 10 years now and holds some incredible memories. For me it all started back in 2001 when I helped Andy Groom run the National Series event on the new track. The event was a great success and it was the first race I ever announced. I remember it well as they opened the track that year and Mike Jardine (one of the main organisers of the FW World Cup) crashed and broke his nose.
In the following February I walked the track with Christophe Burri (UCI Coordinator) as we tried to persuade him that the venue was capable of hosting a World Cup. It was dark and cold and the rain and sleet where coming in sideways. He kept shaking his head and I never thought they would get it but the UCI had no alternatives so they got it and ran the first World Cup event four months later. Chris Kovarik won by miles on flat pedals, but I’d lost my voice getting overly excited so Dan called the last few riders on his own. It was the event of the series.
Dan’s top memory is Steve Peat’s win in 2005. What an incredible experience. I did my usual, “if he wants to win he needs to appear in the next 10 seconds". The crowd counted down and as they said “1" Steve appeared. The crowd went nuts and for the next 60 seconds Dan and I were drowned out as Steve stood in the finish with his bike over his head. Gives me goose bumps just writing about it. Dan said, “Your World Cup champion is Steve Peat" and again the crowd went bananas.
It’s always great fun to announce at Fort William and it’s the crowd that makes it. They are incredible!
[part title="2010 - Fort William World Cup..."]
2010 DING DING
Downhill Winners - GEE ATHERTON AND SABRINA JONNIER
4X Winners - JARED GRAVES AND JANA HORAKOVA
- Gee Atherton takes his first win at Fort William. There are amazing scenes in the finish arena.
- It is sunny and dry. In fact the conditions are the driest in the race’s history.
- There are some major track changes up top where it is down to solid bedrock in places…the track has evolved.
- Hill crashes out big time ruining most of his season.
- A young New Zealander called Cam Cole came of age and took second place, almost upsetting the form books and the locals.
- Minnaar has to ‘nurse’ his bike down the hill.
- A surprised Jonnier takes win number three in Scotland.
- Controversy in 4X as a section of the rock garden is cut. Graves won even with a flat in one of the rounds. Jana Horakova makes in win number two in the women’s 4X.
“It’s great to see a classic track such as this one evolve rather than become stale. If anything the changes made one of the toughest tracks on the circuit even tougher." Ed Haythornthwaite
GEE ATHERTON - WINNER IN 2010
ROB WARNER - EX WORLD CUP RACER AND NOW COMMENTATOR
There're just so many good things about the World Cups in Fort William; the crowds, the organisation, the town, the pubs, seeing mates you only see every year up there, but for me I think the one thing I really love about the place is the course and its setting.
Obviously the gondola puts this race far and above any other on our island, but the minute you get out at the top and take a look around at the surrounding mountains, I dunno, it just feels epic. I always take a deep breath and take it all in. Probably partly because when I was racing I knew what I was about to embark on, a real racetrack, a real test of man and machine, the course is fast and dangerous and utterly exhausting, but so exhilarating.
Right out of the old start it’s flat out, holding on for dear life, trying to stay off the brakes down that insanely quick top straight, then you get to the flatter middle section, narrow and awkward, hard to get any pedals in on the straights, they're so rocky so you have to carry speed through the loose blown–out turns. Around the deer gate still on the open moor you start going really fast again, big open punishing turns, as rough as anything you'll ever ride anywhere. Then the woods, somewhere it'd be difficult to win the race but easy to lose it. By this point you’re ruined, in bits, but as the course meanders down gently to the motorway section you've got to keep it going, stay focused and dig really, really deep. The last sprint in is huge, but I almost used to like it in a sadistic way, it's the end and you can bury yourself, the feeling of coming over the last jump to see the crowd waiting is amazing. You’re almost there, it's almost done.
There's definitely more fun tracks in the world, but probably none more rewarding than the one on Aonach Mor, you gotta respect the bitch.