The UCI Mountain Bike World Cup returns to one of the modern classics of the gravity series for round three - Fort William, Scotland. Held in the Highlands, with riders charging down Aonach Mor, the ninth highest mountain in the United Kingdom, this race is one of the longest and hardest of the season.
The 2.8-kilometre track starts above the tree line, descending over 550 metres. Riders don't have much chance to enjoy the panoramic views at the top, as they navigate switchbacks and rock gardens before the long, pedaling middle section. The lower portion of the course has received some major upgrades for 2012, with four large jumps - the biggest on the World Cup circuit. The very dry conditions have made the course extremely fast and loose, so riders will have to strike a balance between aggressive, high speed action and maintaining control on the gravel.
In round 2, world champion Emmeline Ragot (MS Mondraker) took the lead in the women's overall standings, after finishing third. However, Rachel Atherton (GT Factory), the winner of round two by a large margin, should be considered the favourite for Fort William - she finished second to fellow Brit Tracy Moseley last year on this course, while Ragot was a distant seventh in Fort William last year.
Interestingly, Moseley is racing her only downhill of the year here, after racing the World Cup eliminator series and some cross country events this season. Others to watch will include round one winner Tracey Hannah (Hutchinson United Ride) and Myriam Nicole (Commencal/Riding Addiction), who finished second to Atherton last week.
In the men's series, the standings couldn't be closer: Aaron Gwin (Trek World Racing) and Greg Minnaar (Santa Cruz Syndicate) are tied for the lead, with a win and a second apiece. Gwin took over the leader's jersey from Minnaar last weekend by virtue of the more recent win, but Minnaar won at Fort William last year, while Gwin could only manage fifth. Others to watch include Brits Gee Atherton (GT Factory) and world champion Danny Hart (Giant Factory), because both will be looking for a win before their home crowd.