Round 2 of the British downhill series at the legendary Fort William was just around the corner. I previously had 2 weekends off riding the downhill bike and parked my bum on the motocross bike, so it was nice to jump back onto the GT Fury feeling fresh to race one of my favourite races of the year.
Saturday’s practice was hot and went well, within the first 2 runs I was happy with my lines and focused on getting down using minimum upper body strength to save my arms from pumping up. I was feeling strong and fit and couldn’t wait to go against the clock. The main contributor to this was my GT Fury. With the big wheels and amazing long geometry this thing is built for this track. Fast, loose and rough.
My seeding run was smooth and a little reserved, I crossed the line in 18th with allot more to give. I was excited to get on track for the race and I knew exactley what I had to do to make up time.
On the start gate I was a little nervous but kept myself calm, before I knew it I was giving it my all along the motorway, my legs were burning and I was clearing the jumps with the finish line in sight. One final push and I crossed the line, 10 seconds faster than my seeding run and was sat in 7th place. After more riders coming down I was pushed back to a respectable 18th in experts and I was very happy with my performance
As Cath and I had never ridden Fort William we decided to go for it and signed up for Round 6 of SDA.
After a rather eventful start to our road trip involving moving a sofa for my mum, a flat tyre, my van breaking down and rental car we arrived in town and met with Andy Cody of NX2.
All of us sat down with a pint and we speculated on the race weekend’s events to come. Getting to the site we were full of nerves and excitement, on the gondola we headed up the mountain watching other riders come down through the motorway, doubt of my ability to ride the track at began to creep in. As we moved across the middle wooded section we were treated to snippets of the track all looking tight and fast. Continuing up the mountain we came to the infamous top section and it looked as fast and technical as it did watching it on TV.
My doubt of being able the track had gone from creeping to full scale disbelief!!! Practice went better than expected and we studied other racers lines and slowly put together our own. Only managing 4 runs total my body was ruined and wasn’t even able to put a full run together. Warnings of the tracks length had not been exaggerated and it was tough, putting a decent race run down felt impossible.
Race day began with nerves that I had never felt before but we pushed on and were on the track for practice. Only managing 2 runs both of these resulted in many stops and lots of reassessing lines as the woods had been pulled apart and a last minute track walk the evening before had revealed yet more lines to be had.
My 1st race run consisted of far too much braking, squaring off corners and then some more braking. I had to take several rests (not stationary of course) through the woods just get some feeling back in my arms, this was proven by a very close call mashing my head over the bars in the woods off the side of the boardwalk to flat. Coming into the motor way I pedalled as hard as could to make up for my mistakes I managed a time of 6.24.
My second run I was totally drained, stood at the top I ran through my critical lines I needed to make and rest points were going to be minimal. I dropped in and went for it pedalling at every opportunity I smashed into the rough stuff but had lost all energy by the dear gate, so having to dial it in I regained some energy for the woods and motorway. Through possibly my favourite part of the track I went into the speed trap clocking about 45kph into hip/transfer slightly over shooting it I was in the loose stuff at full pace. Regaining grip I pushed through the motorway and dropping into the elevator I was greeted with screams of “DON’T BRAKE” from the side lines, I flew in the finish with possibly the biggest grin ever!!! My final time was 6:19 and with it being my first time at Fort William I was definitely pleased with that.
The absolute highlight to the weekend was traveling up in the gondola and watching my wife Cath pin it down the mountain, what a buzz that was! Sadly Cath’s runs did not go so well and her second run she ripped her mech off taking her chance to make up for a steady 1st run but again we both walked away happy that we had just ridden Fort William. Bad luck to Andy for his crash in his 1st run and shredding his hand on the rocks, gutted bud you were flying.
Cheers to all the lads at We love mountains and Cycopath for making it a cracking weekend. And of course TRG and our sponsors.
Watch one of Bens practice runs here
|Fort William BDS rd2
Heavy rain and high winds with gusts of up to 60mph! – not the weather report you want to read the night before you set of on a 8 hour drive to Fort william, the venue for round 2 of this years British Downhill Series.
It was looking like Sunday race day would be cancelled, what left the organizers no choice but to cram practice and seeding(this would be our race run) into the Saturday, with this in mind, hotels booked, entry fees paid the decision was sod it were still off, whatever happens we’ll make the best of it and have a laugh doing so!
The long drive up was mainly through the above mentioned heavy rain until we finally got ahead of the rain and arrived if a sunny pleasant Fort Bill. Time for a track walk, 45 minutes later we reached the dear gate about 2 thirds of the way up and decided we’d find out if any thing had changed on that part of the track on the fly tomorrow! It was getting late so we headed back down checking our lines as we went and enjoying the view.
Saturday morning arrived and the sun still had his hat on, but the nasty stuff was coming, it was visible on the horizon, no time to loose we needed to get 2 practice runs done asap to be able to compete. Once suited up we headed to the gondola station and what is by far the best up lift in the UK, a very pleasant 10 minutes later and we were ready for our first practice run. Its considerably colder and windier and there’s a long queue so by the time I start my run down I’m very cold, fortunately this wears off in seconds as Fort William is a very demanding course and soon after the fast turns and boardwalk section you hit the first of many rock gardens and all thoughts of being cold have long been replaced with line choices, hanging on and out bursts of tourettes. A stop here and there to check out lines and off course one at the dear gate and I’m a third of the way down, a couple of minutes to compose myself and it’s time to continue, moments later and I’m having the first ‘big’ moment when my front wheel hits a rock it needed to clear, full travel and some blue language but I’m still rubber side down so carry on. The track from here down is basically rock garden after rock garden with some cut throughs as options until you reach a fire road crossing. Next it’s into the woods and time to pedal before fitting the long awaited motorway section, this comes as a massive relief as it relatively plain sailing from here to the finish, down the wall, over the 2 step downs and across the line.
A quick break to refuel and back to the top, it was nice to be fast tracked past the long uplift queue, the Marshalls are making sure everybody gets at least 2 practice runs in before seeding. This time I put a full top to bottom run in and even though its hard work I’m happy that I can string a full run together. Big Rich is also happy with his full run although his left leg is threatening to cramp!
Seeding Run is set for just after 3:30 so while the sun is still shining myself and Big Rich break for lunch and to collect or thoughts. No sooner have we reached the van and the weather starts to turn and the heavens open, and it looks like it’s here to stay! Thankfully after 20 minutes the sun is back out and blue skies are again gracing Fort William.
Back at the top and it’s nearly time for our seeding runs, it is however that cold by now that we shelter in the café until the last minute before making our way to the start hut. Because we had been told to make the seeding run count, basically this was going to be our race run, all the vets had agreed before hand to ‘self’ seed ourselves to give us all the best chance of a good clean run. I was quite happy to be one of the first few away, standing around in the bitter cold didn’t appeal! So with only a couple of rides away in front of me it was soon my turn, Big Rich wished me luck and I was off, battling against the wind the top smooth section soon gave way to the board walks and then the rock gardens, a shout of encouragement from Rich Easton who was photographing helped me to continue on my way, soon the deer gate was in view and the arms and legs are feeling ok, and even better I haven’t been caught by any riders, always a concern on such a long course. Soon I’m clear of middle section and down into the woods, by now the legs are begging for a rest so I’m taking every little opportunity to grab even a second on the seat – every little helps as they say! It’s a great relief to finally be hitting the motorway section, I’m down the wall in a blink of an eye before being cheered over the final two step downs and the finish line.
Big Rich is also having a good run and catches the rider in front! This causes him to lose some time which wouldn’t matter if this was really a seeding run but as we suspected and had been led to believe from the race organizers it turned out to be our race run as the race was cancelled for Sunday as the weather would be too bad to race.
All in all another cracking race from Si and the BDS team, even though it had to be a one day event it was still worth the long journey – and more importantly myself and Big rich survived or first race at Fort William, and now we have marker to aim to beat next year!
Richard Marshall 18th vets
Richie Molloy 20th vets
Photos: Rich Easton