Our Art Guy (and lifetime downhill fan), Rob, reflects on a full, exciting and emotional weekend at the Fort William World Cup…
As we all know, heroes come in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes they come in sparkly suits with fancy weapons, other times they wear unbelievable moustaches and represent much more than just a talisman for a sport. For fans of mountain biking and specifically downhill, our heroes come in full face helmets, mirrored goggles and, well…sparkly (enough) suits. As for weapons, the bikes these heroes ride are ones we lust after, and as kids (and maybe adults) pin up on our bedroom walls staring at for hours. Fort William has been a race I’ve always wanted to get myself to, but up until now there has always been a reason to put it off until ‘next year’ with other plans coming up, or the six hour drive, seeming that touch too far to justify for a two day trip. This year I got my chance, and boy was it as good as I could have imagined.
World Cup weekends are always going to be a fantastic occasion, and this one in particular was going to be straight from the top drawer, for many different reasons. This weekend was all about the heroes of downhill, the real legends of the sport. Emotion, elation, excitement – Fort William 2016 had it all.
Rachel Atherton once again showed this weekend why she wears the rainbow jersey, and continues to prove why she has to be considered one of the best athletes Britain has produced, claiming her 9th consecutive World Cup victory. Gracious in victory, a true sports personality who is dominating her sport and field, and a massive influence on anyone who wants to be a part of this sport.
Topping the podium doesn’t mean the occasion is over. Rachel cheers Manon Carpenter on after a crash on her race run. Manon still comes in third and as Rachel has done so many times in her career, continues to show the power of Great Britain within the Downhill series standings.
A crash in the race run can’t stop Manon taking third at Fort William. A true champ!
In the men’s, Greg Minnaar triumphed in extraordinary fashion, and continued his reign of being the most decorated Downhill mountain biker ever. This hero settled for an all grey ensemble, complementing his chrome Santa Cruz V10 beautifully.
Team mates back in the finish area safely, Josh Bryceland and Minnaar congratulate each other on the top step. Bryceland had an unfortunate run with a few costly mistakes in the middle section, finishing him in 15th. Smiles all round for the Syndicate team mates.
Aaron Gwin flies down the hill into second place, with focussed eyes and the aero position fully engaged.
The podium sat and watched as qualification leader and last man on the hill Gee Atherton headed into split one, a few hundredths of a second up on Minnaar. A uncharacteristic crash in the top section however, blew Gee’s hopes of beating Minnaar to the top step and after making it to the finish line safely, Minnaar took to his feet to claim his victory. Just behind Aaron Gwin, our own Danny Hart claimed a phenomenal third place, just +3.995seconds off the pace of Minnaar.
It was all hugs, high fives and smiles for the South African.
Adam Brayton clocked a superb 4th place podium finish with a time just +4.046seconds behind the winner, Minnaar. Another Great Britain athlete showing the goods in one of the biggest stages on the Downhill circuit.
When it comes to emotion, Fort William 2016 had it by the pint glass load. Last Orders were called on one of the biggest heroes in Downhill. Steve Peat ran his last World Cup run down Fort William this weekend, and boy did he go out in style.
The full tartan bike and riding kit was shown off to fans walking the pits in close proximity and on the track, it was easy to see who was coming round the next corner. Not just because of the bright kit, but the noise was staggering. ‘Peaty’ rang down the mountain side and his reception when entering the finish line was exactly what we would class as a ‘heroes welcome’.
An un-mistakable Peaty heads into the finish line, to ten thousand people screaming his name, rattling cowbells and slapping the boardings. Unbelievable scenes for an unbelievable talisman of the sport. A top 30 finish for Peaty deserved him that signature finish line beer.
A champion of champions, Peaty wears the crown just as he deserves it. Crowds of riders already at the finish line celebrated with him and we imagine the party that night, was pretty dam good!
This weekend of celebration wouldn’t be complete without reflecting on a rider that had inspired so many to get into the sport, and was considered to be one of the best in the game. Taken far too young, Stevie Smith was in the minds of everyone attending Fort William this weekend. Fitting tributes were made to the man nicknamed Chainsaw over the whole weekend, but I don’t think anyone was ready for the emotion that came on race day and specifically during the runs themselves. At the point where Stevie would have had his race run, silence descended on a usually raucous and energetic Fort William.
The big screen at the finish area, showing a photo of Stevie, played live cameras, panning down the track where he would have been, symbolising his race run. An utterly silent crowd watched on with arms round one another. Riders, team members, commentators alike, stood and appreciated just how much of an impact one rider can have on this sport. After a minute of complete silence, with hair on end and a tear in the eye, the Fort William crowd showed the exact meaning of community spirit and roared back into life, in celebration of Chainsaw.
The message was clear all around the Fort William site – Chainsaw was to be in everyone’s hearts, on everyones bikes, helmets, vans; anywhere there could be a tribute, there was.
If it wasn’t stickers, it was keyring or hangers. And if it wasn’t them, it was homemade tributes and even body painted ones. Mountain biking has come together to celebrate the lives of many athletes over the years, and this one certainly wasn’t going to be any different. A tear in the eyes of the riders shows the amount of respect there is within this sport. It’s a competition, of course; but when the helmets are taken off, it’s a bunch of close mates having a wicked time doing what they love. Riding bikes is more than just a hobby. Remember that next time you’re out in the hills and make the most of riding your bike.
Fort William 2016 was an amazing experience and I urge anyone who loves mountain bikes, to get to a World Cup wherever it may be. You will not regret it, I promise you that.