In last week’s race preview I talked about form and history being the two factors that can help guide us towards picking a race winner and the next time my wife suggests that I don’t get anything right, I can reference this moment.
All images: Red Bull Content Pool
Conditions in Fort William on race day were ‘typically Scottish’ with rain showers throughout the day and midges biting, but after a near three year break from World Cup DH racing that wasn’t enough to keep the crowds away.
By the time the Top 10 women lined up for their race runs on Sunday it hadn’t rained for a while, so conditions on track were pretty disgusting, mud was being dragged across rocks, corners that had been repaired after the National a fortnight earlier were getting completely blown out and a greasy film coated the bottom half of the track.
With Tahnee Seagrave out with concussion and Rachel Atherton only riding practice then one thing we were guaranteed was a new winner.
Veronika Widmann was on the podium in 2019 and after a crash in her qually run seeded ninth. She set the early pace in the race though with a 5:29 and headed straight into the hotseat. She didn’t have time to get comfortable though. Next in the start hut was Nina Hoffmann who, having taken victory in the National Downhill race at Fort William a fortnight earlier was the form rider. In qualifying Hoffmann was fastest at split three only to flat on the stump gap before the motorway. She didn’t make the same mistake in her race run though, attacking all the way down, crossing the line in 5:14.1 and with it a 15 second lead; crucially six seconds faster than Camille Balanche’s fastest qualifier.
Next up were a couple of Brits who qualified well, former National Champion Stacey Fisher and Scotland’s Mikayla Parton. Both had solid runs with Fisher eventually finishing tenth and Parton five seconds faster in eighth. Into the top five with Eleonora Farina. Having crashed twice on the road gap already this weekend the tough Italian went deep off it on her race run. With an aggressive ride she was only three seconds back on Hoffmann at split two but lost more time all the way down eventually crossing the line nine seconds back but into second place. Marine Cabirou was posting similar times to Farina until she lost her pedals just before the road gap and had to go around. Which just left the big three at the top.
World Champion Myriam Nicole, brave in all white kit, couldn’t get near Hoffmann, crossing the line seven seconds back. 2020 Series Winner Vali Hoell was pushing hard and just half a second back at split one. The young Austrian got loose a couple of times in the middle section before eventually going down. Annoyed, she still held on to fourth place, 11.5 seconds back.
Camille Balanche is now firmly establishing herself at the top of the Women’s category. Winning the first round in Lourdes and carrying the No. 1 plate as Series Leader, this weekend she also qualified fastest for the first time at a World Cup. Balanche prefers steeper tracks though and saved herself for the bottom half of the track. Four seconds back at split two, she’d narrowed it towards the end but had left herself too much to do which meant that Nina Hoffmann was the first German winner at the Fort.
1st. Nina Hoffmann: 5:14.170
2nd. Camille Balanche: +3.615
3rd. Myriam Nicole: +7.172
4th. Eleonora Farina: +9.621
5th. Vali Hoell: +11.478
Nicole, Balanche and Hoell will all be happy having survived with good points for the overall. Their battle will continue elsewhere.
In the Men’s race the big news on Saturday morning was that five-time World Champion Loic Bruni had broken his collarbone on the top section – coincidently going off track where I nearly got hit by Valentin Chatanay on Friday.
Laurie Greenland qualified fastest with a 4:37 but there we plenty of riders who didn’t qualify because of rear flats, Brook MacDonald and Jack Reading to name just two.
One of the first riders capable of posting a quick time, Joe Breeden crashed in the middle section, breaking his elbow, and the first notable run was from Dylan Levesque who posted a 4:43, fastest by 3.2 seconds and eventually good enough for twelfth. Another Frenchman, Remi Thirion, was green at split three but was six hundredths back by the end. Max Hartenstern has been in the UK training for several weeks training with his teammate Danny Hart but a big crash in the rocks ended his hopes of a podium run. Then it was Baptiste Pierron’s turn. The oldest of the three Pierron brothers, he was green all the way and crossed the line 0.1 up, eventually finishing eleventh. With 24 riders remaining, the podium was all French.
After podiuming here in the past none of us were expecting to see Reece Wilson qualifying 35th. Carrying the number seven plate and therefore protected after a fantastic result in Lourdes, the Flying Scotsman looked smooth at the top but the time was disappointing, crossing the line in fifth and eventually finishing 17th. Dakotah Norton’s run was the antithesis of Wilson’s. Lighting it up all the way, taking the high line in the woods, hitting every possible inside line he was green by 1.5 seconds before he crashed in the worst possible place – just after the stump gap before the slight uphill section that leads into the motorway.
Thibaut Daprela was visibly faster than everyone who had gone before. Three seconds up at split two, the wild Frenchman produced an incredible piece of riding as he exited the woods on to the road gap and his 4:37.5, was 5.2 seconds in the green and at that stage the fastest run of the weekend. It was a time that would take some beating.
Into the top 10. GB National Champ and 2020 World Cup Champion Matt Walker had a big crash just before qualifying but it didn’t show. Green at the second split he stumbled in the woods exactly where Daprela had produced some magic and it cost him over a second. He crossed the line 1.4 seconds back and would eventually finish fifth. In our interview with him on Friday, Luca Shaw said he was riding the fastest he ever has and he was on a solid run before losing the front wheel and sliding out in a weird crash just by the Oakley wall ride.
By the time eighth fastest qualifier Benoit Coulanges was on track the weather had changed: it was noticeably windier and was raining again. 2.7 seconds back at first split, 3.8 seconds further down the track the Frenchman was saving himself for the bottom section and as he crossed the line, he’d narrowed the gap to 0.4. The wind had definitely got up as the winner of the National race and probably the best rider of the top section on the planet, Danny Hart, was three seconds back at split 1. He couldn’t pull it back crossing the line 3.9 seconds in the red and finishing eighth. Loris Vergier was super smooth but lost his chain and ended up sixth. Bernard Kerr also had transmission issues – 16th. Which left four riders…
Winner of the last two World Cups in Fort William, Amaury Pierron, had opted for a custom ‘full 29’ Supreme to try and generate more speed on a flatter track. His run was incredible. Despite the poor conditions he was never more than a second back before going green on the motorway and crossing the line half a second ahead of his teammate Daprela. We once again had a French 1,2,3 but with a completely different set of riders.
Minnaar, seven times a winner at Fort William and on his 18th start couldn’t lay one down like he has in the past and finished seventh. After his best ever seeding run Charlie Hatton gradually lost time all the way down crossing the line 6.5 seconds back. Still a fantastic weekend for Hatton who’s had a fantastic start to the season.
Fastest in timed training on Friday, fastest qualifier, Laurie Greenland was up by over a second at split two. As he took the high line in the woods the fans went wild but then a small error, stalling as he exited the woods on to the road gap and 0.2 back at split 3. Unfortunately he doesn’t have the same power in his legs as Amaury and he crossed the line in third.
So, Amaury took his third win in a row at Fort William and his second win of the season. Probably the only person who can stop him this year is himself. Oh, and the Men’s race at Fort William still hasn’t been won on a mullet…
1st. Amaury Pierron: 4:37.115
2nd. Thibaut Daprela: +0.469
3rd. Laurie Greenland: +0.916
4th. Benoit Coulanges: +0.936
5th. Matt Walker: +1.927
Earlier in the day the Junior Men and Women set some of the fastest times ever seen. Jordan Williams and Jackson Goldstone is a battle for the ages. Jackson was up at all the splits but a mistake just before the motorway which cost him a second and the win. Yes they raced earlier in the day when conditions were slightly better but their times would have been good enough for fifth and sixth place in Elite Men.
1st. Jordan Williams: 4:38.485
2nd. Jackson Goldstone: +0.038
3rd. Remy Meier-Smith: +4.476
4th. Henri Kiefer: +12.461
5th. Bodhi Kuhn: +13.927
In Junior Women, hot favourite Phoebe Gale slid and lost her pedal coming into the road gap so had to stop halfway across the wooden take off & turn around and go down the B line costing her six seconds. She pulled half of that back on the motorway but winner of Round One, Gracey Hemstreet, took the win.
1st. Gracey Hemstreet: 5:37.496
2nd. Phoebe Gale: +2.947
3rd. Aimi Kenyon: +6.067
4th. Jenna Hastings: +14.527
5th. Lisa Bouladou: +25.953
The riders have a little bit of a break now before Round 3 in Leogang on 11th and 12th June.
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