Fort William World Cup
June 07 2010
This weekend brought the World Cup circus to Fort William. A course known for high speeds, big rocks and surprise results. You’ve all seen the action over the past few years, the highs and lows of the UK contingent as everyone battles to make an impact on home soil. Nothing makes them pedal harder, cut corners and take risks like the call of a home crowd.
This year Orange went up in the usual fashion with a truckload of show bikes. Every year we make the journey to support the event, show off our wares and help our riders in whatever way we can. This year we headed up on Thursday night only to be foiled by an accident on the access road, so the polite thing to do was head into town and familiarize ourselves with the local drinking establishments. But as soon as Friday morning came we were up at the Nevis Range building our home for the weekend, Stu from MTBcut leant us his camera and put together this time-lapse video.
Once in place, the riders had somewhere to shelter from the strong Fort William sunshine, it’s pretty rare we get to say that but things were looking good for the weekend. Pitting with us this year was MTBcut’s comedy giant Ben Cathro, a rider known for his height and raw style on a bike. Team mate Joe Barnes is also known for his strong results up here and was hoping to make an impression on his local track. Chris Hutchens from Transcend Orange completed the team cleverly using the pit area to hide from an abusive crowd who spotted his new kit. When he wasn't hiding in the pits he was in the gondola eating mars bars.
Over the weekend we decided to document the rider’s experience, we wanted to show what it’s like for those who aren’t on big factory teams, riders who buy much of their own kit and hold down part-time jobs to fund their racing career. These guys are faster than most of us will ever be, but they don’t get the team bus, coaches and training schedule, they motivate themselves because they love the sport, they give more than they ever take. Yes, the MTBcut guys have a deal, but you won’t see personal mechanics and turbo-trainers here. These guys live to ride and it’s their own audacity that sees them podium at the weekend and mix it up on the World Cup stage. The riders also deserve a medal for humoring our freestyle interview techniques. Luckily, MTBcut were on hand to give the whole thing the professional touch, all the action from practice.
The course was fast and dusty, but the conditions made things quite sketchy and the course developed lots of holes as practice went on. Chris smashed his way through a wheel, Ben got in a couple of early runs and then enjoyed the media attention as the Scottish hero, and Joe quietly killed the track all through practice. The guys prepped their own bikes and Ben even swopped his fork damper to get it dialed for the race weekend. Everything was set for Saturday’s qualifying, although our donut supply was running thin after Chris got his hands on them (they were jam so one of your five-a-day apparently).
-Pit picture of Chris
Everyone rolled in early on Saturday morning as the riders headed up to get more practice on the constantly changing track. When it was time to qualify, the riders prepared in their own individual style. Ben seemed calm and in the zone, Joe quietly confident and Chris his usual excited self. Chris came down with a 5:01 qualifying in 76th, Joe had an awesome run with a 4:52 and a 33rd, one place behind Brendan Fairclough. Ben absolutely ripped with the fastest top split, a crash, and still qualified 18th. Ben was slightly bashed up but doing so well with a crash had to give him a boost of confidence going into the finals. As the riders walked the course in the evening, everyone seemed pretty happy with how the day went and things were looking positive for Sunday.
Race day brought out the fans and the midges were seriously biting as the riders got ready to race. A couple of early practice runs to check the track before bike and mental preparations. Chris was ready for action from the start...
Joe and Chris were pretty much left to do their thing but Cathro’s status made him a constant target for the local video makers. As the race started the attention drifted to the track and everyone was left to themselves as their time came to go up the hill. Fifth rider down the track was Chris Hutchens and he pulled out all the stops knocking over eight seconds off his seeding time and finishing the day in 53rd - a top effort from Chris and a solid result taking him into the summer race season.
Then it was Joe's turn as the 45th rider down the hill. He took it steady getting a similar time to qualifying and finishing in 49th. A good result but Joe seemed disappointed knowing he could have gone faster and got higher up the field.
Then it was time for Ben Cathro to hit the track, he was fifth fastest at the first split, quickened up and took first at the final intermediate.
As Ben reached the bottom section of the track he pumped one of the motorway section jumps and as he got back on the pedals the crowd could see he was in trouble. His fastest split time popped up on the big screen but his pedals were jammed and he lost his chain. To a screaming crowd he jumped and pumped his way down the last sections of the track, trying his best to keep his momentum through the last section. Despite his best efforts he visibly slowed down, and as he crossed the line he knew his weekend had been ruined. He had come within inches of taking a podium spot and he knew it.
Nobody knows what to say to a rider who has come so close, and as he walked off he saluted the cheering crowd. Everyone was gutted for Ben but astonishingly he still finished in 19th place, one position behind Steve Peat! So it goes without saying, if Ben can pull this out of the bag with a mechanical, what else is the big Scot capable of? Some riders have the full pro deal and a team constantly working on their progression, MTBcut riders Ben Cathro and Joe Barnes, and Transcend Orange rider Chris Hutchens do it with a few loyal sponsors and bags of dedication. These guys are the heroes of the weekend and crucial in making our UK downhill scene the best in the world.
Thanks to Ben, Joe and Chris for all the action and Stu from MTBcut for the video help. Photos courtesy of Ian Linton, check out his website for more nuggets.
Oh, and some guy called Gee Atherton won...