Fort William bathed in sun, with nary a midge in sight and bikes caked in dust rather than mud – who'd have thought it. That was the sight that greeted the BikeRadar and Mountain Biking UK crew when we arrived on site at stupid o'clock this morning to set up our E-Z Up.
Since then, we've been checking out the pits, getting the lowdown on course conditions from the pros, and scoping out new products in the trade village. Here's a quick round-up – check out the thumbnail gallery for more images. Look out for more coverage of the Fort Bill World Cup over the next few days.
ChainReactionCycles - Intense always have some of the best looking bikes on the circuit, and this year is no exception. We'll have more info on their new Intense M9 prototypes on BikeRadar soon, but, as you can see in the picture at the top of this story, Claire Buchar is looking pretty chuffed with hers.
Frenchman Cedric Gracia has always been a crowd pleaser but in recent years he hasn't backed up his showmanship with major race wins. Santa Cruz boss Rob Roskopp, who sponsors his CG Racing Brigade team, reckons that's about to change, saying that Cedric is on top form in both four-cross and downhill, where he's now piloting a carbon V-10.
When we bumped into Cedric he was his normal ebullient self and seemed to be loving the extra-fast bone-dry downhill course, but wasn't best pleased with last-minute changes to the four-cross track, hinting that he might boycott the event or stage some kind of protest.
Fellow Santa Cruz rider Steve Peat will be hoping for his first World Cup win at Fort William since 2005 – something that would make the home crowd go crazy – after a disappointing first round in Maribor, Slovenia.
He and his Syndicate team-mates Greg Minnaar and Josh Bryceland will also be racing the new carbon V-10s, but not with the RockShox Vivid Air shock they used in Maribor – although Minnaar did have one on his spare bike. Roskopp reckons coils are a better choice for the square-edged rocks of the Scottish course.
Of course, while Santa Cruz's new carbon bike has attracted a lot of attention, GT were the pioneers of composite frames on the World Cup downhill circuit and their team Fury bikes were resplendent in lurid yellow.
Sam Hill has been keeping a low profile today after a nasty crash in practice, but we did spot Monster Energy - Specialized team-mate Brendan Fairclough's race bike.
Empire's AP-1 looks even more amazing in the 'flesh' than in pictures, especially with this colour-matched RockShox Boxxer fork and Cane Creek Double Barrel shock.
Designer Chris Williams says a shorter-travel trail bike is in the pipeline, which will share the downhill rig's innovative cast alloy construction and swoopy lines, but in a lighter weight package that will appear to a larger number of riders.
Clothing & armour
On the clothing side of things, new helmet brand Bluegrass had some promising looking prototype full-face and pisspot lids on display. The downhill helmet takes styling cues from the Troy Lee D2 and Giro Remedy, and is surprisingly light.
Prices are expected to be around £35 for the jump helmets and £150 for the full-face when production models hit shops in the autumn. They'll be available in a load of different designs.
FiveTens are still the shoe for flat pedal riders, and they had their latest footwear on show, including two prototype clipless pedal compatible models, the Minnaar and the more stealthy-looking Hellcat.
Minnaar was wearing a version of his signature shoe that will be closer to the production model, which will sport a 5mm thinner, orange-bottomed sole, will lose the 'Minnaar' logo on the Velcro strap and will shed some weight. Both shoes are expected to be available later this year and will cost £80-£90.
It sounds like a new flat pedal shoe could also be in the pipeline, which would slot in behind the heavy-duty Impact downhill model and more basic Freerider designs. For more casual use, there are also the new Line King (pictured below) and Spitfire models. A FiveTen downhill/freeride jersey will be available soon.
Leatt were showing off their new mountain bike specific neck braces, the DBX Ride and DBX Comp, including this custom one made for Pete Scullion of UK distributors Hotlines. The core brace is the same as that used in Leatt's motocross models but extra adjustments and different pads make the DBX more suitable for mountain bikers.
If you come to Fort Bill this weekend, make sure to drop by the Mountain Biking UK stand and say hi – we've got free goodie bags plus subscription offers, not to mention The Airbag, where you can try your hand at dirt jumping without crashing yourself stupid.