The second round of the British Downhill Series took place this weekend at the awesome venue that is the Fort William DH track at the Nevis Range. For us this meant a 1,200 mile round trip to cover the action, with a shocking forecast of rain and strong winds it was a tough decision to make. However, this event is being seen by many top riders as a precursor to the UCI DH World Cup that will kick off at this very spot in June. With big names like Greg Minnaar, Danny Hart, Gee Atherton, Cedric Gracia and Sam Blenkinsop to name but a few the decision was made an awful lot easier! We’re also sponsoring the Block Head Energy Gum DH Team this year, so that was another reason to load up the van, put in the miles and cheer on the team.
The track at Fort William is brutal, talking to the riders over the weekend the amount of punctures and mechanicals was bordering on ridiculous. Brendan Fairclough managed to flat both the front and rear tyres in his seeding run, testament to the challenging track. Other riders had more expensive issues, broken shocks, smashed wheels and damaged bikes all trickled down the hill in a far to regular fashion. Some of the crashes were savage and we witnessed plenty of incidents over the weekend, some were comical, others were downright nasty!
The weather in Scotland is the other big player, you can never really tell what it is going to do, the forecast for the weekend was rain with strong winds kicking in during the afternoon on the Saturday and continuing on Sunday. Traditionally at the BDS the Saturday is for practice and the Sunday morning hosts the seeding runs followed by the race runs in the afternoon. As the track here uses a gondola uplift, the wind has to be taken into consideration. At the risk of not getting the event finished Si Patton decided to run the seeding on the Saturday starting at 3pm.
Whilst the morning practice was wetter than an otters pocket the wind never really materialised in the strength predicted and seeding kicked off on time. Numerous delays, caused by mechanicals, crashes and the resulting red flags had the event running about an hour behind schedule, which meant a few riders waiting till quite late in the day to get there run in. The forecast for Sunday was also looking hectic, so there was every chance the seeding runs could be counted as a race result, let’s just say it was all to play for!
The conditions stayed reasonably dry for the entire session, the odd shower blew through but compared to the mornings downpour it was hardly worth noting. There were however a multitude of big name shocks, Manon Carpenter, Gee Atherton and Brendan Fairclough were just a few of the pros who struggled to really shine due to issues with bikes and nasty crashes. The murderous course continued to take its toll and it didn’t care who you were or what you were riding!
In the expert category our rider Josh Lowe struggled a little with outright pace, managing just a 9th place, the credit went to Michael Spence who headed Christopher Gallagher and Mitchell Skene respectively.
In the Women’s category it was the Scott riders Florian Pugin and Emilie Siegenthaler who impressed with times that most men would be proud of, closely followed by Morgane Charre.
Arguably in the Elite category was it any surprise who won the day, the track was fast and loose with some wet muddy sections, and Danny Hart loves those conditions more than a fat kid loves cake! He dominated to take the top spot, closely followed by a very on form Matt Simmonds who has been very impressive so far this season. The third spot went to Marc Beaumont who just pipped Bryceland and Minnaar.
Race Day dawned and the harsh weather hadn’t materialised overnight, perhaps it would play its hand later in the day, but for now the last chance for the riders to practice was on and the first lift was packed. The race was due to start at 11am, so there wasn’t much time for the riders to tune in to the ever changing track. 3 runs seemed to be the order of the day to get your game face on for the climatic final showdown…
As is the norm for these occasions, it’s always women and children first! Manon Carpenter was first down the mountain in the girls fleet having punctured yesterday, the Madison Saracen team were running tubeless here, but were peppered with flats all weekend. No doubt they will be taking a long hard look at the rims they are running in the next few weeks. Today though was Manon’s day and she burst into the hot seat with a blistering run of 5.30.248.
Emilie Siegenthaler was unlucky when she came across a battered Morgan Charre who had come up short on the river gap and pasted herself all over the landing. She lost valuable time avoiding the carnage and didn’t manage to repeat her brilliant seeding run. With Emmeline Ragot in second and Manon in the hot seat it was down to Florian Pugin as the last lady on the hill to unseat the now rather comfortable Manon. Florian pulled out the stops and went sub 5.30 with a time of 5 minutes and 27 seconds to take the crown for the ladies.
The Experts were up next and Jack Geoghan was one one of the first riders down the hill having knocked himself clean out in a crash yesterday. Despite having a full on over the bars crash during his race run, it seemed to be Jack’s thing this weekend, he smashed out a time of 5.10 and jumped straight into the hot seat.
Rider after rider came down the hill attempting to beat Geoghan, but with many riders getting flats, crashing and just not being fast enough it looked ever more likely that Jack would be sat there for the duration. Our rider Josh Lowe was looking really quick in practice, but flatted up top and didn’t get into contention. Michael Spence couldn’t match his form yesterday and Jack kept hold of the top slot, impressive considering how messed up he was from the crashes the day before!
With the Elite Men’s category all waiting up top, it was time for the main event and a chance to fire some of the best riders in the world down the infamous track. Sub 5 minutes is a fast time here and Gee Atherton was first down the hill after his savage crash yesterday left him without a seeding run. He absolute smashed it despite the large bandage on his leg with a time of 4.47 placing him firmly in the hot seat and making him the man to beat.
They all tried, and they all failed, Matt Simmonds came close, and was up at the first split, as was Minnaar, but no one could match Gee’s effort at the bottom of the gruelling course, in the end Gee sat in the hot seat for the entire race, until that is the young master who is Danny Hart set off as the last man down the hill. Danny was over 3 seconds up at the first split, and kept the gas on full throttle all the way down course, he even kept his whips to a minimum and it was all business on the race run. In the end he crossed the line just hundredths of seconds in front Gee, but had done enough to beat some of the best riders in the world, on one of the toughest DH tracks on the planet!
Well done to all the riders who came and made the event what it is, as I sit here in the cafe typing this up and editing the images for this post on my iPad I can confirm the wind and rain has finally shown up and we were lucky with the weather! Well done to all the marshals and organisers and Si Paton for putting on another stellar event!
We’ll be back in a few weeks for the World Cup, will Danny have what it takes to beat the mighty Gwin? Only time will tell!