You can’t be a true mountain bike fan in the UK unless you’ve made the pilgrimage to the Downhill World Cup in Fort William at least once.
Here’s what you’ve said in our Poll:
Have you ever been to the Fort William World Cup?
- No, never (51%, 328 Votes)
- No, but it's on my bucket list (26%, 167 Votes)
- Yes, many times (11%, 68 Votes)
- Yes, once, a while ago (10%, 64 Votes)
- Yes, once, this year (1%, 6 Votes)
- Only for the 2007 World Champs (1%, 4 Votes)
- Yes, every year there's been a World Cup there! (0%, 1 Votes)
Total Voters: 638
The Nevis Range resort has hosted a round of the UCI downhill World Cup every year since 2001 – apart from 2007 when it hosted the combined downhill, cross country and trials World Championships. Every year sees something like 20,000 mountain bike fans descend on the small town (which itself only has a population of around 10,000). And for 99% of the UK’s population, Fort William is a very, very long way away.
But everyone makes that trip. The team trucks, the riders, the photographers and writers, the busloads of fans, the drivers of the giant TV screen and timing lorry. They all converge on Fort William, taking days off work and some scheduling the family camping holiday around that one weekend at the start of every June.
Accommodation is scarce, with many campsites having an extra price tier for that one weekend in June, but it’s sold out for miles, with many fans traveling for hours to get to the Nevis Range venue.
So, why does everyone make that massive effort to get there? Because it’s a chance to see some of the best bits of our sport – so close that you can touch it. It’s a chance to see the riders in person as they ride through the pits on their way up for a run. It’s an opportunity to see secret, prototype new gear that’s being thrashed as hard as possible on an merciless, rocky, muddy race course.
Unlike Formula 1, you can get so very close to the action. There are no barriers to crane your neck over, just a double row of tape between you and the race course. Even the Tour de France – a comparable race where you can get close to your heroes – has no-go areas that the public aren’t allowed. The VIP enclosures and pits and pre- and post- race areas where the riders and teams are. Fort William (like all mountain bike World Cups to be fair) has open pits where you can see the riders warming up, celebrating and consoling after their runs.
It’s also about the fans and the atmosphere too. With Dan Jarvis whipping the finish crowd into a frenzy, the yells and cheers can be heard across the valley. In the woods, fancy-dressed fans are in the trees, or trackside, banging bits of old bike together, shouting themselves hoarse. This kind of behaviour would get you some odd looks in many sports, but on the mountain, anything goes.
A visit to Nevis Range away from the World Cup weekend feels like a surreal dream. Even though that’s the norm, the sight of the vast gravel car park empty apart from a few cars seems wrong. It’s as if those team trucks, trade booths and pits have always been there, just hidden from view until June rolls around again.
Long may the circus continue to visit Fort William!