Fort William 2015 UCI DH World Cup
The word that comes to mind when trying to describe this year’s Fort William 2015 UCI DH World Cup? Carnage, absolute carnage. So much went on it is actually going to be difficult to fit it in to one article (HINT: If you just want to see crash footage scroll down to the bottom).
We traveled up to Fort William from the excellent Tweedlove Enduro World Series event in Peebles to find that it was snowing, that’s right, snowing, in May. The World Cup start area on Aonach Mor was covered with the white stuff, which was not really what we expected or wanted. However there was still a week to go so we were pretty hopeful things would improve, anything could happen with the weather in that time frame.
The f-riders crew were staying in a log cabin not far from World Cup village and we were joined by some friends and two teenagers who were both competing in their very first UCI DH World Cup, Elena Melton, f-riders sponsored rider, who was joined by her parents, and Rona Strivens accompanied by her mum.
Photo: F-riders chalet - With Rona's mum washing-up in the background.
Unfortunately our camp was divided by contrasting fortunes from the outset, Rona Strivens was bouncing off the walls having conquered the difficult Llangollen track at the British Downhill Series the previous weekend. Elena, however, had been struck down with a virus having expended everything she had to complete in the gruelling Tweedlove Enduro World Series event the same weekend.
The weather forecast was bad, rain for the whole week, but it looked as though it would clear up for the racing at weekend. Unfortunately as the week went on the forecast changed and turned bad for the weekend, with heavy rain and strong winds predicted. As many of the spectators we chatted with over the weekend pointed out to us, the event had been very lucky with good weather for several years, so it seemed inevitable that it was going to be bad sooner or later.
Later in the day the Great Britain riders assembled for a photo shoot and as if on command, the sun came out. It was a incredibly proud moment for everyone involved and parents and friends snapped away at the girls in their white, red and blue jerseys.
Photo: British Cycling team members. From left to right - Elena Melton, Rona Strivens, Gemma Taylor & Suzanne Lacey
So Saturday arrived and even if the riders were ready, the weather did not want things to go smoothly. The winds overnight were so strong they had turned some expo tents in the pit area into mangled wrecks of twisted metal and canvas. It was too windy for the gondola to take the riders up to the start and heavy rain sent a river running down the course. The decision on whether to start the scheduled practise and qualifiers was reviewed at 8 am, then again at 11 am, by which time the track was so wet and the winds so strong it was agreed that no riding could happen and everything would have to go ahead on Sunday.
Photo: Fort William 2015 UCI DH World Cup finish
Despite this, the Fort William crowds were still on great form. Our favourites were the cute couple pictured below, who got engaged during the 4X (the only riding to take place that day.) Congratulations guys.
Photo: The newly engaged couple, what a way to make the most of a rainy day.
The junior women automatically qualified, but for the elite women the battle was on. With similarities to the finals last year Tahnee Seagrave suffered a puncture, only this time the puncture was in her qualifier run, meaning she still had a chance to get a good result.
The rooty section of the track soon became treacherous and I headed over to watch the women's final. I stood shoulder to shoulder with Elena's dad in the finish area, with Rona's mum close by, looking up at the big screen and watching the carnage on the track playing out. I felt thoroughly anxious, on tenterhooks, knowing how much effort it had taken Elena and Rona to get here and how one small mistake could ruin it all. I can only imagine how their parents must have been feeling. On the screen Gemma Taylor was wrestling her bike down through the trees slipping and sliding. The camera's then switched, Blanca Aracil Alba caught Hope Jensen, who did not want to be overtaken and was putting up a good fight. After a comedy tussle sliding in the mud Blanca got away. In a hugely bold move Blanca chose to hit the road gap but this bravery was punished, the thick mud prevented Blanca from taking the corner and she flipped into the netting. Hope managed to overtake. The cameras switched again and we saw a delayed shot of Elena confidently make her way down the top section, then another switch to her steadily making her way down through the roots and the mud. She came through the motorway section and crossed the line ahead of the rest of the field. We rushed over to congratulate but instead we found an inconsolable rider. An off-screen crash had ruined her race, she had slid off under the tapes and struggled to push back up to re-enter at the point of exit, the effort had been immense and had taken every last ounce of effort, she was exhausted. We were just so happy that she had finished considering the run-up to race.
Video: Crash compilation - Elena wasn't the only one struggling on this section.
As the rest of the elite women field came down the mountain it was clear that it wasn't only the junior's struggling with the state of the track. However, Tahnee Seagrave who had suffered a puncture in qualifying, showed she was more than up for the challenge. Having been junior world champion, she continued her steady rise through the elite women's field which she began last year and has carried on this season. At this rate surely a spot on the top of the podium for Seagrave couldn’t be that far away. Katy Curd also had a solid run down the mountain and she looked like she might also get a well deserved spot on the podium, but there was still some big guns to go.
Rachel Atherton looked in control and assured on her race run that took her to the top of the podium, but tears in the finish area gave away the shear effort and determination it had taken to achieve. Winner of the 2015 Lourdes World Cup Emmeline Ragot made a mistake, she plunged off a north shore shelf, failing to manual, and went over the bars. With her helmet full of dirt she scrambled for her bike and while she had dropped the chance to take the top spot, the rest of her run was still good enough to finish ahead of Katy Curd.
So it came down to the final rider, last year's World Champion, Manon Carpenter. She rode as confidently as Atherton and the splits looked close. No mistakes through the roots and flying over the jumps in the motorway section, it was going to be close. Then, unlike the majority of the women's field she decided to hit the Scotland Arch jump at the gateway to the finish arena. The jump had been built steeper last year and many were avoiding it because it was difficult to ride but Manon has great jumping skills and won't shy away from a challenge especially if the guys are hitting it. It proved to be a catastrophic mistake.
To the horror of the watching crowd and the commentator Manon nose-dived nitting the knuckle of the jump and slammed hard into the ground. A piece of her helmet visor snapped off and pinged 20ft into the air. After a blood chilling few seconds, which felt like minutes, Carpenter managed to get up, shakily find her bike and maintain enough composure to get over the finish line. I turned to see Suzanne Lacy on the verge of tears, "It's not me, its for her,” I think it is a sentiment that all of the riders watching shared. It takes so much training, effort and discipline to get to the top, to be so close to victory and for it to be snatched away by a split second mistake was cruel. Despite this massive slam Manon still finished in fourth place, leaving questions of what might have been.
WOMEN’S ELITE DOWNHILL FINAL RESULTS
1. Rachel Atherton, GBR (5:31.654)
2. Tahnee Seagrave, GBR (5:39.643)
3. Emmeline Ragot, FRA (5:47.576)
4. Manon Carpenter, GBR (5:54.047)
5. Katy Curd, GBR (5:54.406)
JUNIOR WOMEN’S FINAL RESULTS
1.Marine Cabirou, FRA (6:06.961)
2.Blanca Aracil Alba, AND (7:46.687)
3.Rona Strivens, GBR (8:05.437)
Photo: Tahnee Seagrave hugs friend Manon Carpenter.
So the weekend ended and for Rachel Atherton and Tahnee Seagrave it was in glory. For Emmeline Ragot and Manon Carpenter thoughts of what might have been. For the race organisers and all volunteers a huge pat on the back. With the next stage of the World Cup in Leogang this weekend, there is little time to for any of the riders to dwell on the race. For Rona and her mum a 22 hour, 1000 mile drive to Austria lay ahead.
Video: Crash compilation proving that Manon Carpenter & Emmeline Ragot are ridiculously tough.
Lessons learnt from this weekend: anyone can make mistakes when conditions are bad, winning takes everything you've got, our expo tent can survive strong winds but not our van backing into it, girl’s DH in the UK is on fire at the moment and most of all, we are too old to understand why a video of a pixelated cat flying on a pop tart is funny.