The six-week break has been and gone, and we’re back into the madness that is World Cup downhill racing. This weekend sees the series move to Fort William in the Scottish Highlands, famous for the biggest crowd on the circuit and its brutally long and rough track. Last year saw the Athertons do the double in front of a home crowd – can they repeat their success?
10 things to watch for in Fort Bill
1 The Chainsaw is back
Stevie Smith, AKA the Canadian Chainsaw Massacre, is making his return to racing this weekend. Stevie’s last three World Cup starts all resulted in wins – could we see him make an instant return to the top step? The field is stacked and it’ll be no easy feat, but he’s beaten them all before so he knows it can be done again. It appears Devinci Global Racing have been smart about Smith’s return, and all signs suggest he's fully recovered from his off-season crash and not rushing back into racing prematurely. Whatever happens, Smith’s return is something you don’t want to miss.
2 Will Rach be firing on all cylinders?
Rachel Atherton was struck by a stomach bug back at the first race in South Africa but after dominating round 2 in Australia it was assumed she'd made a quick and full recovery. It would appear that isn’t quite the case, because since that race she's taken some time off the bike and missed two British national rounds that the rest of her team attended. Could this illness be more serious than everyone assumed, and possibly leave Atherton as less of a sure thing for the overall title? On the other hand, if she can win a World Cup by a large margin while ill, what will she be able to do when she's back to full health? The fans will be hoping for a repeat of last year’s double victory.
3 DH bikes at a DH race
This year's first two races saw some racers choose bikes that were better suited to the pedally sections of the tracks, and the current men’s points leader, Aaron Gwin, is yet to use his downhill bike. But that's all going to change this weekend – Fort William is fast and rough, and even a DH bike doesn’t feel like enough. All the moans about the way the sport is going will be history this weekend, because this is a true downhill track. Although physical, it isn't filled with pedally sections, and this could really help out the less powerful riders.
4 New bikes
With a break from racing, many teams have had the chance to test new kit in the hope it could get them higher up the results come Sunday. It's rumoured that both Lapierre and Specialized have new bikes for this race. Can the new Lapierre take Loic Bruni to his first win? New bikes are often tested by World Cup riders before being released to the public, so watch closely and make sure you don’t miss a sneak peak at some 2015 hardware.
5 Danny Hart
Danny Hart’s 2011 World Championship winning run is one of the most watched videos in mountain bike history, and for good reason. Danny's shown the same kind of speed at Fort William in the past, but things have never quite come together – he won qualifying last year but pushed too hard in the finals and finished off the podium. Could this be his year?
6 Gwin's away game
At this point, the title race is between Aaron Gwin and Gee Atherton, and this weekend will see Aaron travel to Gee’s home country. The American is going to have his work cut for him because Gee is coming off the back of a national win on this very track, and will have the home crowd behind him. A win here could give Gee a strong advantage for the rest of the season, but he isn't going to walk away with this – it is Aaron Gwin we’re talking about, after all. Look for these two to fight tooth-and-nail all weekend and all season.
7 Sam Hill
Sam has recently made the move to 650b wheels, and last weekend finished an impressive second at a British national round. He's been in the country for a few weeks with his team, CRC-Nukeproof, and things look to be going well for the Australian. Sam was on a flyer last year at Fort William until a snapped gear cable lost him an almost certain podium position. A confident Sam Hill is dangerous for everyone else – could this weekend see Nukeproof grab their first ever World Cup win?
8 The adopted Atherton
At the beginning of last year, the Athertons announced they were signing Taylor Vernon, a Welsh junior, to their team, GT Factory Racing. Taylor showed flashes of speed before picking up season-ending injuries. Now he’s back, and is picking up speed with every race. He finished second last weekend at the British national and looks to be getting back to his old ways. Taylor qualified first at this race last year before getting a mechanical – could we see an Atherton triple this weekend?
9 A surprise winner?
Out of all the madness of the first two rounds, the biggest surprise has to be Neko Mullaly. The American has talent, but top five in the overall points wasn't where we expected to see him, heading into Fort William. His Cairns performance was incredible, and with a small crash it'll have left him wanting more. Could Neko win this weekend? He's shown the potential is there. One to watch, for sure.
10 The Brits
Every year British riders manage to raise their game for the fans and often pull out season-best results at this race. Racing a Fort William World Cup is every young British rider's dream. Could Josh Bryceland win? Could Matt Simmonds, Sam Dale, Joe Smith or Marc Beaumont podium? Every British rider wants to do well at this race more than any other – will the home advantage get them on to the box?
Tune into Red Bull TV to watch the race this Sunday, at 2.15pm BST: http://live.redbull.tv/events/356/2014-uci-mtb-world-cup-5-fort-william-dhi/