Fort William is a monster of a track and the new additions have done nothing but improve on a classic track that's been a fixture on the circuit now for nine years.
The big news here at Fort William was Sam Hill's training crash on Friday, injuring his shoulder. Rolling the dice on feeling good enough for a finals run, the Monster Specialized rider started during qualifying and then deliberately DNF'd shortly into his run, allowing him to take a start in the final as a top 20 protected rider. Hill rolled the track once in practice before the final and threw in the towel on racing Fort William. Best wishes to Sam on a speedy recovery.
The ladies: Rachel is back and was wanting to add a bit of icing to her Maribor cake by winning on her "home" turf. Qualifiers looked good, with the on form Rachel storming to a 2.02-second "win" over Sabrina Jonnier. Floriane Pugin, Tracy Moseley, and Emmeline Ragot were all in the mix, as well. Finals saw Jonnier take the hot seat with only Rachel left up top, and despite a solid run, Rachel was unable to attack the lower section of the track as strongly as the Frenchwoman, finishing 1.11 seconds back from Jonnier. As her style, Jonnier very deservedly chugged the remnants of her champagne bottle after hosing off her fellow podium finishers; to the victor go the spoils…
The men: Gee Atherton received a bit of criticism for sitting up a bit near the end of his qualifying run, coming home in qualifying at +4.41 to Greg Minnaar, with Matti Lehikoinen, Aaron Gwin, Cameron Cole, and Sam Blenkinsop in between.
"After qualifying first last year… well, that's a lot of pressure," explained the Commencal rider. "I'd rather be a bit chill and focus on racing for the win without that pressure on me this time 'round."
A pretty sound strategy as Gee came home 2.05 seconds faster than Mick Hannah, tossing the GT rider out of the hot seat before settling in to wait out some stiff competition. Cam Cole gave him a bit of a scare, finishing .41 seconds back, while Sam Blenkinsop came down 2.11 seconds back. Then Minnaar was on track. The South African has won here before and was looking to be on another level, but was unable to surpass Gee's ability to mash gears and suffer on the lower section, coming in at 1.21 to Gee. Taking a cue from Jonnier, Gee hosed the podium down, but then savored every last drop of his victory champagne.
Points wise, Sabo takes the women's overall World Cup leader's jersey from Rachel with a 25 point lead, while Minnaar retains his hold on that particular rubber chicken for now—although Gee is a scant 15 points back. With Hill out of this race and a short season, it looks to be a battle between the two for the World Cup title.