It's World Cup time at Fort William again and that means: the Ben Nevis ski area, haggis, black pudding, fine highland scotch and the greatest downhill mountain bike racers on the planet.
One thing unique about the Fort William DH track is that the course rarely changes. The top is artificial—always has been, always will be. Why? The above-tree-line slopes are essentially a vertiginous peat bog and no track would withstand the beating meted out by downhilling—particularly during World Cup training sessions. So crafty race organizers laid rock and crushed concrete all the way from the top until the track roars into the woods. And they created a wheel-wrecking, body -reaking monstrosity when they did so.
Once into the woods, it's ancient, wrist-thick roots and slimy mud. Even when Ben Nevis is gripped in a heat wave, there's still mud somewhere to challenge traction and send riders off line. Last is the finishing third. It's not exactly prairie flat, but it's here where the race is frequently won by riders who have the strength to keep pedaling even though they are already buried so deep that "redline" was a concept they left behind minutes ago.
"She's a true downhiller's track," muses local hero Steve Peat. "One of the few where you really need a true downhill bike. Anything less and you'll be hopelessly off pace."
Peaty's been on fire in the last two World Cups and a win on his home track would ignite the crowd. However, look for his teammate Greg Minnaar to perform well here, too. This is a track that favors Chris Kovarik, as well. He's been sick, but look for him to bring something extra here this weekend.
For the women, it's shaping up to be a race for third behind Tracy Moseley and Sabrina Jonnier. The only rider who can challenge either of them on such a physically demanding track is Rachel Atherton, and she remains on injured reserve recovering from shoulder surgery as a result of complications from her training wreck this past spring.
There's no XC race this time weekend, but there is 4X. And like the downhill, the 4X track remains unchanged. Jared Graves owned it here in his pre-Olympic appearance last year and given the way he's been riding, I'd say he's a very safe bet to defend. For the women, Jill Kintner has done well here in the past, but Jana Horakova has been coming on form, and there's also Anneke Beerten and Melissa Buhl—neither of them are going to let Kintner or Horakova cruise to the podium. Two-time BMX World Champion Shanaze Reade was scheduled to make her World Cup 4X debut here, but a training crash last month has her sidelined until August. Shame really: that would have been a battle royal.
Keep bikemag.com bookmarked through the weekend for race pics and reports.