Following on from the Elite Women’s finals (check out the results and race report here), it was time for the men to come down Aonach Mor. Though earlier weather forecasts had predicted heavy rain around lunchtime, somehow, despite Scotland’s reputation for, shall we say, ‘eclectic’ weather – the predicted rain kept getting pushed back further and further into the afternoon. In fact, as we sit here in the Media Centre typing this news story, the Fort William event centre is basking in sunshine, blue skies and a balmy temperature of 23°C. The rain never came, and that kept things fast and furious all the way down the race course.
While there were just 16 riders in the Elite Women’s field, the men’s race saw 60 riders gearing up to take on the 2.8km race track to put their skills, fitness and mental concentration to the test.
So who would come out on top?
British rider Taylor Vernon, of the newly-formed UNNO Factory Racing team, posted a quick run early on in the afternoon, clocking 58 km/h on the final motorway section to give him a final time of 4:41, putting him squarely into the hot seat. A few riders later, Matt Walker stepped up to the start line, hoping to put in a solid performance in the Elite Men’s race to back up his Junior World Cup victory from last year. Walker charged down the hill on his Saracen Myst 29er race bike, putting in the fastest time on the pinball section up top, going up by 1.8 seconds at the first split, and eventually finishing 3.7 seconds up on Vernon. It was a short-lived period in the hot seat though, with Scotsman Reece Wilson, going one better to put 1.83 seconds into Walker. And with half of the field still yet to come, it was apparent that the bar had been set high early on.
No one could touch Wilson’s time for a good while, with big names like Bernard Kerr, Brendan Fairclough and Gee Atherton trying, but failing. Marcelo Gutierrez from the Giant Factory Off-Road team may have put in a blinding pace on the second half of the track, clocking an incredible 61km/h on the motorway section, but he was only able to slot in with the third fastest time. Next up was Belgian rider Martin Maes, who appeared to float gracefully over the new rock section in the woods. But much like Wyn Masters, Maes couldn’t quite bring his Enduro World Series performance to the downhill arena, coming in behind Gutierrez’.
Connor Fearon was next on the chopping block, and he delivered moments of brilliance during his savage run down the Fort William race track, though the Kona rider was a touch off the pace in the latter half and just wasn’t able to string it together.
The Scotsman Greg Williamson followed, and hopes were high after his qualifying run yesterday, which saw him take the 5th fastest time of the day. He was looking smooth in the first half, but he appeared to suffer an unfortunate mechanical somewhere in the woods. A flat tyre was suspected initially, then a broken chain, but on the TV cameras, neither appeared to be visibly damaged. As it turned out, Williamson had experienced a complete failure of his rear brake, which meant he had to nurse the bike all the way down the track with just a single front brake.
Searching for a return back to his World Championship-winning form, Loic Bruni looked hungry for speed on the race track. He rode smoothly and effortlessly until he hit the woods, where a couple of small dabs on the rocks washed off some of his pace. Bruni was only half a second down at the third split, but that gap opened up to 1.2 seconds by the end of his run, putting him in second position behind an increasingly anxious Wilson.
Expectations were high for Aaron Gwin, particularly given his top-20 performance in qualifying, which he managed to achieve despite putting a slash into his rear tyre just two minutes into his run. Gwin looked dangerously fast on the open section up top, clocking the fastest time through the pinball section. Unfortunately he came a cropper whilst deep in the rock-laden section in the woods, where his front wheel was swallowed by a rock, flipping him over the bars in an ugly scorpion-like crash. Gwin remounted his bike and carried on, but it wasn’t to be the American’s day.
Having qualified tenth, Frenchman Amaury Pierron from the Commencal-Valnord team made his way down the mountain with blistering pace. The crowd held its breath as all his splits showed green compared to Wilson’s yet-to-be-beaten race time. Pierron busted the gap open to over two seconds through the woods, but even though he was a touch slower in the lower portion of the track, he managed to cross the line 1.32 seconds ahead of Wilson. Finally, after two dozen riders had come down the track, Wilson had been pushed off the hot seat into second place.
With just four more riders to come after him, the gloveless Kiwi, Sam Blenkinsop, couldn’t deliver the flawless run he wanted, with a slip-up in the woods putting him back in 6th position.
Troy Brosnan was next out of the gates and very quickly showed promise with the second fastest time through the pinball section. The Aussie rider kept his run smooth through the woods, but lost a little time to put him a second down by the third split. He pedalled his legs off through the lower part of the track, gaining valuable speed and time, but it wasn’t quite enough – he finished just 0.3 seconds off the pace.
Santa Cruz Syndicate’s Loris Vergier had been looking quick all weekend long, and he was holding Pierron’s pace well leading into the woods section, sitting just half a second back at the second split. That opened up to 0.63 seconds at the third split, and then a whole second by the fourth split, as Vergier struggled to keep the big wheels on his V10 rolling smoothly all the way down. To everyone’s surprise he made up time right at the end on the motorway though, managing to push Brosnan out of second position and coming within just 0.2 seconds of Pierron’s time. So very close.
Danny Hart was the second last rider to come down the race course, and his run was easily one of the loudest of the day, with spectators cheering him all the way down. He was quick to begin with, but the time gap had opened up to 1.25 seconds by the third split. By the fourth split that had grown to 2.7 seconds, and that’s how it stayed until the end.
As the fastest qualifier, 22-year old Luca Shaw was the last rider to come down the mountain. Despite looking smooth and comfortable, Shaw – like many others today – suffered a rear puncture in the woods section. An unfortunate turn of luck for Shaw, ruining any chance for a podium.
And so in the end, it was Pierron who took the win at the 2018 Fort William World Cup!
Elite Men Results
- Amaury Pierron – 4:34.45
- Loris Vergier – 4:34.722
- Troy Brosnan – 4:34.76
- Reece Wilson – 4:35.77
- Loic Bruni – 4:37.03
Click on the image below to show full results for the Elite Men’s race.