Wet and wonderful – the Mountain Bike World Cup at Fort William


When the world’s finest downhill riders came to battle it out in Lochaber, Johny Cook was there to photograph the action and give us this account.

Fort William is now pretty used to hosting a round of the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup. But there’s one thing that no amount of experience enables the organisers to control – the weather.

Bernard Kerr

Bernard Kerr takes to the air

Every year since 2002, a round of the tournament has come to the town, with the exception of 2007 when it was the venue for the Mountain Biking World Championships, which is a one-off event, while the World Cup is a series of eight rounds held all over Europe and North America.

Troy Brosnan (Mens Elite)

Troy Brosnan tackles some awkward roots

Over the weekend of June 6-7 the planet’s top riders descended on Lochaber – and found it to be very wet indeed. There is a lot to cram into the weekend – the 4X Pro Tour, British Trials Cup and Scottish Biketrial Cup, Scottish Power Youth Mini Downhill and the Downhill World Cup for Junior Men, Elite Women and Elite Men.

On the Thursday, course inspections are carried out and teams are then allowed access to make their own inspections. Friday is training day for both downhill and 4X riders, who can ride the track as they please. The downhill track is 2.8 kilometers long making it one of the longest of all the rounds in the series.

Samuel Bull

Samuel Bull kicks up some spray

This year it became apparent pretty quickly during training that riders were struggling through the woodland section, with ruts and mud trying to dictate the lines they rode. With this area shunting riders around, Josh Bryceland went straight into a tree during practice and another rider slid without his bike off the road gap, luckily landing on his feet.

Furiously checking the weather, everyone was hoping for the forecast to be wrong on Saturday. Normally riders would race to qualify for the their start position on Saturday but this was put on hold and reviewed at 8am then 11am. Unfortunately the weather cancelled qualifying for all riders leaving a hectic super Sunday.

Despite the weather disturbance for downhill the 4X still went ahead in the afternoon. Riders battle it out racing four at a time knocking out the slowest until it comes down to the last four. Even though totally drenched, spectators stayed and cheered on the riders as they flew down the short course inches from each other.

WalkAroundThe rearranged Sunday event schedule packed almost two days of racing into one. First riders were allowed to start practising at 6.45am and we were soon all woken up by the lashing rain and strong winds at the top of the course.

As the day progressed we were given sunshine and the fans who didn’t make it on the Saturday soon arrived at the trackside ready to make a noise – blowing whistles, banging old bike parts, ringing cow bells and even starting up a chainsaw. The fans make as much noise as they can, urging the riders to go faster, and the din seems to get louder if someone crashes, in an attempt to encourage them to keep going.

This year the weather not surprisingly seemed to have had an impact on numbers, but riders were still greeted by thousands of fans when they crossed the finish line after battling their way through the wind at the top, technical and muddy woodland in the middle and a final push through the big jumps known as the motorway at the bottom of the course.

Greg_Minnaar(Elite Men)Standing at the finish you see results coming in and constantly changing as the riders battle it out on the course to gain points for their overall standing. Well done to all who made it to the Downhill World Cup podium. The men were Greg Minnaar, from South Africa, in first place, followed by Aaron Gwin, from the US, and the Colombian Marcelo Gutierrez. The female podium finishers were, in first place, Rachel Atherton of Great Britain, followed by fellow Briton Tahnée Seagrave and Emmeline Ragot, from France.

Main photograph: Kenta Gallagher on the rocks


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