After the third round in Offenburg, Germany last weekend, the UCI's cross country mountain bike World Cup presented by Shimano steps aside for the Gravity events to resume this weekend in Fort William, Scotland.
This year, Fort William is celebrating its 10th anniversary as a World Cup/World Championships venue, and it continues to be a favourite of the riders. The stunning vistas on the face of Aonach Mor, the ninth highest mountain in the United Kingdom, and the passion of the Scottish fans make this an event that is truly special.
Fort William was the location of the first-ever World Cup four cross, and it continues to attract some of the biggest crowds on the circuit. After qualifying on Friday evening, the finals will take place the next night. The track is been rebuilt for this 10th anniversary event. Most of the jumps and straightaways have been modified, so riders will have to relearn the best lines.
Anneke Beerten (Milka-Trek) holds the leader's jersey in the women's series after round one in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, but second-ranked Fionn Griffiths (Team GR) is racing before a home crowd, which is sure to provide extra motivation. In the men's category, World Cup leader Australian Jared Graves (Yeti Fox Shox) is, as always, a favourite. He faces strong competition from Czech rider Michal Prokop, plus the top-ranked RSP 4 Cross team of Michal Marosi, Joost Wichman and world champion Thomas Slavik.
The Fort William downhill is one of the longest and most physically demanding on the circuit. Besides the fitness required for all the pedalling sections, there are new jumps this year that the riders must master, including a huge road jump into a steep drop. The Scottish Highlands weather often plays a factor as well, with riders going from cold, driving rain and gusty wind at the top, to sunshine at the bottom. For the World Cup on Sunday, the rain and clouds that have made training in the early part of the week miserable should have lifted, and the prediction is for sun and blue skies on the weekend.
World champion Tracy Moseley (Trek World Racing) traded her rainbow stripes for the World Cup leader's jersey in round one of the women's downhill, and she has a history of doing well in Fort William, on her "home" course.
However, the women's field has impressive depth, and she will have to overcome challenges from Fionn Griffiths and Emmeline Ragot of Team GR, and Sabrina Jonnier (Maxxis-Rocky Mountain). Also returning to action will be former champion Rachel Atherton (Commencal), who skipped the opening round to recover fully from injuries suffered last season. Former four cross world and World Cup champion Jill Kintner (Transitions) will also race the downhill.
In the first round of the men's World Cup, Aaron Gwin (Trek World Racing) become the first American in many years to don the leader's jersey, beating out Greg Minnaar (Santa Cruz Syndicate) by less than a quarter of a second. Gwin will also face pressure from former Fort William winners Gee Atherton (Commencal) and Steve Peat (Santa Cruz Syndicate), as well as the return from injury of Fabien Barel (Mondraker) and Dan Atherton (Commencal).