British rider Rachel Atherton, who rides for Trek Factory Racing, proved unbeatable in the Fort William sunshine at this weekend’s UCI Mountain Bike World Cup as she took home her ninth consecutive title.
In what proved to be a thrilling women’s downhill final, Atherton showed why she is rated as one of the world’s best as she triumphed with a time of 5.11.219, 12 seconds ahead of Australia’s Tracey Hannah and fellow Brit Manon Carpenter, who finished third with a time of 5.32.108, despite a crash in the woods.
A nail-biting finish to the men’s downhill saw South Africa’s Greg Minnaar, the most successful downhill biker of all time, hold off a strong challenge from both USA’s Aaron Gwin and Britain’s Danny Hart to win with a time of 4.35.601.
In a race of twists and turns, it came down to the crowd favourite and leader in qualification Gee Atherton, to decide the final standings for the day. After a shaky start out of the blocks, Atherton’s bike caught a rock on the track and ended the crowd’s hopes of double success for the Atherton family.
A touching tribute was made half way through the men’s race to the late Canadian rider Steve ‘Chainsaw’ Smith, who lost his life aged just 26 in May this year riding his motocross bike at home in Canada. An impeccably observed minute’s silence was held across the Fort William course in honour of the multiple UCI World Cup winning rider, who was widely considered to be one of the finest downhill racers on the circuit.
Crowd favourite and legendary British downhill racer Steve Peat was also honoured in his last ever competitive appearance at the event after announcing his retirement from racing at the end of the current World Cup circuit. With the sun beating down on the Fort William track, the 10,000 thousand strong crowd gave ‘Peaty’ a rousing send-off as he clocked a time of 4.49.859 to finish 29th overall.
The day however, belonged very much to Atherton and Minnaar, who continued their domination on the downhill sector with two impressive performances on the tricky Fort William trail.
Speaking after her success in the women’s category, Rachel Atherton said: “I didn’t know that it would be my ninth consecutive World Cup win until this weekend – I don’t think about it, I just do each race as it comes. I had such a good year last year, and then again this year I’ve won three World Cups so far. It’s pretty cool, but pretty nerve-wracking as well. I’m nervous my luck is going to change soon!
“Fort William is so incredible. I struggled here as a younger rider, and it took a long time to get to grips with the track. I was second here six times, and then suddenly it clicked. You’ve got to be so strong and so tough here – Fort William’s the only track I race completely out of control! There’s something about it that makes you ride on the edge. You can do that though because the crowd is cheering and saying your name all the way down and that makes you not want to crash, it really makes you dig deep and want to stay on.
“It’s such a family event here at Fort William, there are so many families here with their kids that all ride and all the kids know the riders’ names. It’s so incredible, and so different to any other race. It just keeps getting better every year!”
Greg Minnaar said: “It was a really emotional race. The whole event has been emotional and the ghost run put on for Stevie was really special. The team here at Fort William have done a great job, it was such a surprise what they organised to commemorate him.
“I was a little bit late coming to the start – I thought I had more time prior so I had to calm down and relax so I would ride smooth and fast. I kept thinking I’ve got this win this event. I came in on good time, but I wasn’t sure it was going to hold because some guys came close.
“It’s always difficult to win a race when someone crashes like Gee Atherton did – I just want all the guys to get down in one piece and he’s pretty beat up about it. Sitting in the hot seat is such an emotional rollercoaster.”
Speaking after his final Fort William appearance, Steve Peat said: ““That last run was tough. The track has dried out a lot and there are lots of loose rocks. I didn’t have a very good top section but when the crowd got wild I seemed to get in to my groove and got faster as I reached the bottom. It was awesome to come in to the arena to such a loud a crowd.
“It’s really strange to be retiring from the World Cup circuit. Obviously I’ll come back for nationals at Fort William but the atmosphere you get at a World Cup is like no other – I’m definitely going to miss that. I’ve just watched Stevie’s ghost run and I’m quite emotional about it. We can only do what we can in his memory and live our lives to the fullest.”
We’ll have more reports, galleries, tech and fun stuff from Fort William once the Singletrack Remote Reporting Squad returns from the long drive back down.