The final day of the 2013 Fort William World Cup saw closer racing than has ever been witnessed at the Scottish venue, with an outcome of glory for Brits in both the men’s and women’s categories. To make the scene even more perfect for the ever-enthusiastic crowd, the wins went to brother and sister Gee and Rachel Atherton.
The 11th year of world-level mountain bike racing at Fort William really couldn’t have gone much better for the Atherton family. Rachel’s winning margin of over 10 seconds from second placed Manon Carpenter (Saracen) proved that Rachel has not only been putting in a huge amount of work over the winter with new fitness coach Alan Milway but also that none of her natural skills or fighting spirit have been lost to the many injuries she has sustained in recent years. The win would also come as a huge relief for Gee, who hasn’t won a World Cup race since the finals of the 2010 season, and also possibly a sign of things to come this year. Gee’s consistency throughout his career so far is something to be marvelled at, and even though he didn’t win in 2012 he was in the top five at every race. With such a strong start to the season and a look of real motivation in his eye expect to see the start of another solid season for Gee.
The new GT Fury bike launched officially on the Thursday prior to the World Cup, and what better way to ensure confidence in its capabilities than by domination of the event. Having raced on the older, fully carbon model for the 2012 season, the Atherton’s racing to such success on the new bike in aluminium Fury was perhaps a sign that bikes don’t need to be carbon fibre to win after all (for that matter, Fabien Barel won on a ‘ole world metal’ at the first Enduro World Series race)… Gee also remarked that the new Fury is the lightest downhill bike he has raced on (at 36lbs). We are likely to see a carbon version in the not-too-distant future so perhaps it will be even faster after all.
Aaron Gwin has aptly been titled ‘Gwinner’ over the previous two seasons, winning the World Cup series in unbelievable style with an astounding nine wins in 14 races. Gwin raced under the Trek World Racing banner for those two seasons, but winter 2012/13 saw a high-profile contract swap for the American, jumping ship to another mega-brand, Specialized.
Fort William was the first World Cup outing in new team colours for Gwin, but it unfortunately didn’t quite go his way, with his results in both qualifying and finals being well outside the top 10. There was much speculation over the weekend as to the reason, with some rumours proving a little far-fetched, but whatever the true cause of Gwin’s lack of form, we can be sure that the level-headed rider will take a lot away from Fort William, learn from it and be ready to fight hard when the World Cup moves to Val di Sole in Italy.
The runners up
The Brits were out in force at Fort William, with Josh Bryceland, Joe Smith, Greg Williamson, Marc Beaumont and Sam Dale doing their nation proud by placing in the top 20. Danny Hart was also up there, eventually settling for seventh place, but he would have left the race disappointed, having qualified fastest this year and having finished in second place in both 2012 and 2011. The young rider from Redcar will be fired up and ready to make amends come next week’s steep and technical Val di Sole track, which matches that of his memorable 2011 World Championships winning course in Switzerland.
Trek’s new signing, Kiwi Brook Macdonald, was probably the happiest looking racer at the close of events, his second place bringing a huge smile to his face and there was not one spectator who wasn’t happy for the young rider. Canada’s Steve Smith showed that he has managed to carry his speed from his 2012 season finals win with a third place here. Sam Blenkinsop from New Zealand showed that his change to clipless pedals has worked for him with his fourth and Australia’s Mick Hannah did his new frame sponsor, Polygon, proud by sneaking into fifth.
In the women’s, young British rider Manon Carpenter may have been 10 seconds down on Atherton’s time, but she shouldn’t be disheartened as she beat the rest of the field into second place, with France’s Emmeline Ragot over a second behind her. Commencal’s Myriam Nicole generally does very well on technical tracks, and Fort William is just that. She slotted into fourth, follwed by current World Champion Morgan Charre.
Top Brit in the new junior category was Mike Jones in second place, a superb result for the home crowd and backed-up by Phil Atwill’s fifth place. Noel Niederberger of Switzerland took a convincing win of over three seconds which certainly put a smile on his face! Interestingly, junior aged riders are allowed to opt to either race in the category or whether they would prefer to race against the older riders in the elite category. America’s Richie Rude chose to race with the seniors and put in a time that could’ve/would’ve/should’ve won him the junior title.
There were several riders experimenting with 650b wheels at Fort William, with Spain’s Bernat Guardia-Pascual – a tall rider – looking characteristically fast and controlled and with nothing but praise for the bigger wheels, saying that they were feeling great over the harsh and rocky terrain of the famously tough track. He unfortunately flatted in qualifying so we won’t know how the wheels worked on his results and will have to wait and see as the downhill season progresses.
Ireland’s Ben Reid was another sporting the bigger hoops and as a smaller rider there were mixed opinions from the onlookers as to whether the wheels suited his height. Speaking to Ben during practice he only had good things to say for the wheels though, and with the choice of whether to run 26″ or 650b there was no reason to use them other than that he felt good on them.
Will more downhillers start to use bigger wheels? As a discipline that dictates and prototypes a lot of the technologies used throughout the sport it will be interesting to see where this goes. Gee Atherton stated in this interview about his new bike that his team has been testing but hasn’t yet found bigger wheels to be faster. Watch this space.
To be trackside at such an event was truly a privilege and to witness first-hand the gobsmacking skill and speed of the top riders is something that everyone should experience. Fort William has more than just a brutal downhill track to offer for mountain bikers, there’s also a longer Red graded run from the Nevis Range gondola plus a short trail centre loop and plenty of natural riding in the area, so if you like the look and sound of this race there’s no excuse not to start making plans for a World Cup holiday in 2014.
We’ll be at Fort William next year, so should you be.
Finals review from DirtTV: