Fort William hosted the UCI Mountain Bike Downhill World Cup this weekend….and what a weekend.
I’ve been watching the different stages of the Mountain Biking Downhill World Cup via the internet on Red Bull TV for a few years now and the atmosphere/energy of the crowds always made me want to be part of it myself one day.
So in 2016 when I was at the Fort William venue a couple of weeks before the main event, seeing the preparations underway with the grandstand being erected and the pro riders starting to arrive to test their bikes and learn the track, I decided that 2017 was the year I would finally go cheer on the riders in person.
We provisionally booked our accommodation and once the dates were released, confirmed our booking and ordered full access all areas tickets for the 3 days of the event.
Finally, the big weekend arrived and we pointed the van north for the 8-9 hour drive into the Highlands. Unfortunately, work commitments meant that we had to miss the Friday practice day, but we were ready for a couple of good days watching qualifiers and then the racing itself.
Chilled out Saturday – Qualifying Day
Arriving at the Nevis Range venue early on the Saturday morning, I was struck by the fantastic organisation behind the event. We’d received information with our tickets about different transport options to the venue, from parking onsite, through to park and ride and 3 complimentary bus routes. Entry onto site was well planned and the site information really did make life easy.
With a chilled out atmosphere before the crowds really started arriving, we wandered through the team stands where you could see mechanics making adjustments to the riders’ bikes and, if you were lucky, catch up with the riders.
Having been to several Formula 1 Grand Prix races in the past (admittedly around 20 years ago) I found some similarities between the two types of event and the pit lane walk. However, that’s where they ended. Here, anybody could walk around the team stands, mingle with the riders and mechanics and watch the preparations underway – throughout the weekend and for no additional cost.
Next, it was onto the trade stands. I loved wandering around chatting to the various retailers, finding out what was new on the market (ok, so more clothing than technical equipment – well, I’ve never professed to know what I’m talking about there) and catching up with people I’ve met over the years in the mountain biking world.
Heading up (and down) the mountain
A quick lunch and it was time to take a gondola ride up to the starting hut.
If you’ve seen my previous post about taking the gondola at Nevis Range, you’ll know that there’s a cafe up here which is one of my favourite places to spend time writing. I always find it a peaceful place to be, despite the number of people mingling around.
We’d arrived in time to see the pro-women riders begin their warm up preparations for the qualifying runs and headed off down the track to find a good position to watch the riders fly past.
It was incredible seeing the skill and technique of these women.
By the time we reached the wooded section of the track, it was coming towards the back of the bunch.
The track was, by now, muddy and churned up with lots (lots) of tumbles taking place. I’m all for seeing pro riders tackle difficult terrain, but this seemed crazy and dangerous for race conditions.
Arriving back at the base, qualifiers were done – so with a beer in hand, we watched the 4x racing before heading home.
A grandstand view for Race Day 🙂
Race day on the Sunday arrived with a terrible weather forecast (which thankfully never actually materialised), so wet weather gear was packed with a view to heading back up the mountain to watch the day unfold alongside the track.
However, a brief chat with retired racer Steve Peat prompted us to follow his insider knowledge to watch the racing from the finish line where we could see the split times throughout the racing and know how each rider was doing.
Thanks Steve (incidentally, I’ve now watched your DVD “Won’t Back Down” – it was awesome and no, I’d not seen it before despite my husband suggesting otherwise).
Again, the difference between this and a Formula 1 race struck (F1 sells grandstand tickets at a vastly inflated price, I dread to think how much a finishing line grandstand ticket would cost).
With no extra money required, I got to be one of those lucky people I’d seen over the years sitting in a grandstand seat with a perfect view of all the action – and the atmosphere was electric.
Enthusiastic crowds and lots of noise
Now, if like me you’re into watching either climbing or mountain bike competitions, it will come as no surprise to hear that everybody (and I do mean everybody) regardless of team, nationality or race position is cheered back home with enthusiasm. Actually, those experiencing problems (mechanical/crashes) are given even more noise despite their slow times.
British riders, as you would expect, were all given huge support but the international riders knocking them off a 1st place podium win were cheered just as hard. The noise just grew louder with each faster rider.
Sadly, at the start of the Women’s event, the news came in that British rider Rachel Atherton (winner of 14 consecutive races since 2015) of Trek Factory Racing DH had crashed out in pre-race practice with a dislocated shoulder (put back in by an unsuspecting spectator on the side of the track) – remember those muddy woods I mentioned earlier…..
I was disappointed not to be able to see her race, especially after seeing her very inspiring talk at the Women’s Climbing Symposium in Sheffield (2015). Hopefully she will heal quickly and be back to race form soon.
Despite my initial disappointment, I loved seeing the women’s race and hats off to them for the hard work they endured through the muddy gloop of the wooded section. Congratulations to Aussie rider Tracey Hannah (from team Polygon UR) who had an incredible ride to take 1st place – her interview immediately post ride was heart warming.
Usually, I find watching the women’s racing more interesting. However, this time, I have to admit that the men took the prize with edge of the seat viewing. Each time a faster rider came home, the energy in the crowd ramped up another level and by the time the South African rider Greg Minnaar (member of the Santa Cruz Syndicate) came down the mountain on the final run of the day – taking the win – the noise level was deafening.
“We’ll be back….”
It’s hard to put into words how incredible the Fort William event was – other than it was everything I expected and more.
Taking a bet on the 2018 dates, our accommodation has already been provisionally booked and tickets will be purchased as soon as they are released.
Fort Bill 2017 “Home of the Brave” thank you for an incredible weekend.