Brian Lopes: possibly not his real hair
Just a small crowd
Gee Atherton was unstoppable on his way to the final
Leiv Nordmark’s only done two World Cup 4X rounds this year, and he won this one
The 4X is always a ludicrously popular part of the Fort William World Cup weekend. There was a pretty healthy crowd just for the qualification on Friday evening, and that’s just everyone riding down the course on their own. It might not be as exciting as four-rider racing, but the assembled multitudes got to see Gee Atherton putting in the fastest qualfying time and make a lot of noise about it.
Really, though, qualifying is a bit of an irrelevance. All it does is mix the fastest riders across the heats so they don’t all knock each other out in the first couple of rounds, but the time differences are so tiny and the connection between being able to ride the course fast on your own and being able to beat three other people down it so tenuous that they could pretty much pull names out of a hat and assemble heats that way.
Whichever way it’s done, the main event is always pretty spectacular. The finals didn’t start until 6pm on Saturday evening, but there were people gettting themselves into optimum spectating positions at about three in the afternoon. By the time the start came around the whole course was about fifteen deep, plus the people in the grandstands and all the ones who’d climbed trees for a better (if rather more precarious) view. The Fort William track is a cracker – an opening straight runs across some little ripply bits into a huge berm, then there’s a couple of smallish doubles into another berm, over a big step-down into a huge triple thing, another berm, a set of overlapping triples that offer a huge choice of lines into the final berm and then down over the big doubles and another step-down into the arena.
As fastest qualifier, Gee Atherton was in the first heat. It was a three-rider heat, which made things easier, but one of the others was 4X specialist Martin Ogden, which made things harder. It wasn’t Ogden’s night, though – Gee and Julien Camellini went through to round two.
Dan Atherton won his heat too, as did a bunch of familiar names – Guido Tschugg, Cedric Gracia, Bas de Bever, Mick Hannah, Roger Rinderknecht, Scott Beaumont, Greg Minnaar, Brian Lopes. Round two and Gee won again. Dan Atherton was second in his run behind Tschugg, meaning that the Athertons would be up against one another in the quarter-finals. Beaumont, Minnaar, Lopes, Hannah and Sam Hill all went through, but Gracia, Nathan Rennie, Will Longden, Dave Wardell and Rinderknecht all went out.
Quarter-final time and Gee won again, followed by Tschugg, with Dan Atherton going out. Also heading for the semi-final were Kyle Strait and Filip Polc. In the other half of the event, Leiv Nordmark was the only rider other than Gee to win all his races so far, while Greg Minnaar and Brian Lopes both went through.
By this stage Gee Atherton was looking unstoppable, and when he won his semi-final the crowd went wild. Tschugg was second, with Strait and Polc heading for the curiously-named “small final”. Brian Lopes, riding in a comedy tam o’shanter/orange wig combo, got the best of Nordmark in the other semi, putting a halt to Minnaar’s progress.
Before the deciding races it was time for the women’s heats. Well, they didn’t really have any heats – there was only eight of them so they could dive in at the semi-final stage to decide which four were in the final and which four in the small final. All the Brits – Joey Gough, Rachel Atherton and Fionn Griffiths – ended up in the small final, alongside Vanessa Quin, who appears as “Melissa” on our results sheet for some reason. Misnamed or not, she won the small final ahead of Griffiths, with Gough in third and Atherton bringing up the rear. There were no surprises in the final – the only rider to beat Jill Kintner this year has been Anneke Beerten, and she wasn’t racing, leaving the way clear for Kintner to take her sixth win of the year and the series title. Beerten had done enough in previous rounds to hold on to second overall, with Anita Molcik third. Fionn Griffiths and Joey Gough completed the top five.
Back to the men’s racing, and Minnaar took the small final ahead of Damien Godet. The line-up for the final was Gee Atherton, Brian Lopes, Guido Tschugg and Leiv Nordmark. Gee had won all his races to get there, Nordmark had won all but one and Lopes was series leader, so the stage was set for a real showdown. It was pretty much all over by the second corner though – Nordmark just rode away from everyone and was followed home at a respectful distance by Lopes, Atherton and Tschugg.
Lopes took the series title, Michal Prokop was second despite not racing at Fort William, Gracia held on to third, Tschugg was fourth and Gee Atherton overhauled Roger Rinderknecht in the standings to take fifth spot.