Fort William world cup preview
By Luke Webber
Friday, June 6, 2008 9.40am
Dry and dusty at the Fort
New Zealander Matthew Scoles during last year's World's at Fort William AFP/Getty Images
Rain and Scotland are synonymous with each other – if it’s missing you'd feel short changed! But miracles can happen and with a flawless forecast for this weekend, it looks as though Fort William, known for its wet and wild conditions, will instead be a dry and dusty race for all three disciplines with some riders even hoping for rain.
Such hopes however have nothing to do with dampening down the course, because in dry, warm weather on the open ranges of Ben Nevis, midges thrive. These small biting flies get everywhere and should the forecast be correct, expect a rush for mosquito nets (although we’re not sure they'll be popular with the riders).
The cross country loop is the same as that used in last year's World Championships. Starting with a long climb on smooth doubletrack this is the place where the race will be won. Unfortunately, last year's winner and current world cup leader Julien Absalon will not be present, preferring instead to rest at home before the world championships in just three weeks time.
This will produce another unpredictable race as seen in Andorra where an out-of-sorts Absalon meant those bold enough to attack would be rewarded with career-best results. One such rider was Burry Stander who will be hoping to hang on to the form of his life. Finishing second behind Christoph Sauser was no fluke, but it would take an incredible performance to beat the man who won in Andorra on another hilly lap.
For the women there is scheduled to be a return for all the top riders including Gunn Rita Dahle Flesjå, Sabine Spitz and Irina Kalentieva who captured the world champion's jersey here just nine months ago.
Following a shock result in Andorra where all three Athertons won their respective events, it would be unbelievable to think they could repeat that again. But on their home course with the notorious Fort William crowd anything is possible. In the past decade the UK has produced some of the best downhill racers in the world and any one from ten has the potential to win, from the youth of junior world champion Ruaridh Cunningham to the experience of legend Steve Peat. A win for Peat would go some way to making up for a devastating home world championships where he was injured and also suffered a snapped saddle in the finals, erasing any chance of the perfect win.
Following last week's defeat it will be interesting to see how Sam Hill, so dominant in the past year, comes back to race. Will this be the motivation he needs to obliterate the opposition?
In the women’s competition, Rachel Atherton is the girl to beat and will relish the home support. Sabrina Jonnier is her main rival and so far the pair have been a different class to the competition.
Following qualification there have been some big surprises in four cross – the biggest of all being the return of Jared Graves. He has been absent for the early rounds, preferring instead to focus on BMX qualification for the Olympic Games but now makes his return in anticipation of the world championships. Many say last year on this course he was the man to beat, but a misjudgment on the final quad, blowing the tyre off the rim knocked Graves out while leading by a big margin.
Second place qualifier was Dan Atherton, but at a second up there is no doubt Graves is the man to beat. With a 100% record from rounds one and two Anneke Beerten is the women’s hot favourite, despite a poor qualifier.