Fort William has hosted a Downhill World Cup every year since 2002 – except in 2010, when it had the honour of hosting the World Championships instead – making it one of the longest running and most successful venues on the mountain biking calendar. The car park at the foot of the Nevis Range gondola becomes a huge pits and expo area, and the buzz is truly massive. If it’s your first time at the Fort it can all be a bit overwhelming, so here are our tips for making the most of the weekend as a spectator.
Where should I watch from?
Aonach Mor is a big old hill. We’d recommend jumping on the gondola to the top and then slowly making your way down beside the track – the sound of the marshals’ whistles will let you know when there’s a rider approaching so you can watch the world’s best at work. Here are some of the key sections we’d recommend checking out…
1 Up top
Racers may not be able to win the Fort William World Cup up top, but they can definitely lose it here. The weather is a huge factor – when last year’s winner Troy Brosnan left the start hut it was raining yet he finished the race in blazing sunshine. The Bus Stop is the first real test on the track and an ideal spot to watch the pros punish their machinery during timed training.
Riders to watch: Josh Bryceland and Danny Hart are masters of making this section ride as wide as possible.
2 The Deer Gate
This is a great area to watch the action from because it’s close to some of the larger exposed rock sections and there are a couple of decent jumps shortly after that the riders tend to get pretty sideways over. Keep an eye out for the gap directly after the left-hander after the Deer Gate too.
Riders to watch: Gee Atherton – fully committed everywhere, goes through here like an express train.
3 The woods
Enter at your own risk! The razor-toothed Highland midge is king in these parts and you’ll need protective equipment to spectate here. That said, there are seconds to be gained in the trees and the top riders will take risks in the hunt for glory.
Riders to watch: Wet, steep woods with multiple line choices? Sam Hill, all day long. Shame he’s injured this year.
4 The finish arena
Witnessing the world’s fastest riders taming the slopes of Aonach Mor is an incredible spectacle but we’d highly recommend that if it’s your first Fort William World Cup you drink it all in from the finish arena. Why? Well, there’s beer there, but more than that the big screens and live timing keep you perfectly in touch with the action, and the atmosphere and noise is right up there with any major sporting event in the UK.
Can’t make it to Fort Bill? Or want to replay the finals in their full glory? You can watch the race live on Red Bull TV, and the replay is normally online within 24 hours.
How do I get there?
From Inverness, head south on the A82 along the edge of Loch Ness and you can’t miss it. The centre is off a junction on your left and well signposted.
From Glasgow, again you’ll be on the stunning A82, but heading north. Follow signposts through Fort William for Inverness and the centre is on your right.
There’s an overnight sleeper service from London and Fort William is pretty well serviced from most large Scottish stations. Bring a bike and ride the seven miles from the station to the centre. Or hop on the bus.
Can I ride the track myself?
Both the World Cup DH track and the Red Giant trail bike descent are open to the public for all but the snowiest parts of the year. They’ve been closed for the World Cup but will reopen on Monday 8 June, so you’re in luck if you can stay on for a day or two once the racing is over.
Although a single trip may seem steep (no pun intended) at £13.50, a whole day’s pass can be had for £31 with further discounts for multiple days.
Before you load up the gondola there’s a form that needs to be taken care of. It basically absolves Nevis Range of responsibility and acknowledges that you are aware of the risks and have in fact ridden a bike before.
This is an extremely steep and difficult track with plenty of potential to do you damage so it’s vital to take your time to get used to it. It’s also a good idea to phone ahead in advance to make sure it’s open (www.nevisrange.co.uk, 01397 705825).