This article appears in the May edition of Mountain Biking UK, available in newsagents now.
It's long been said that Fort William holds one of the best UCI downhill races on the World Cup scene, but because that's the headline event, the cross country race - held at the same venue - seems to have slipped out of the limelight somewhat.
The last time the United Kingdom held a stand-alone cross country World Cup race was in 1999 - at Newnham Park in Plymouth. It was a far cry from the more challenging terrain that cross country racers ride today.
Cross country mountain biking is one of the most demanding sports there is, and it's only right that a new course to truly test the riders has been designed. Dalby Forest is now home to a World Cup cross country track - a track that stands above all other race tracks in the UK, a track that is designed to challenge the best of the best...
Already on the map for its excellent off-road riding, Dalby Forest is the ideal location for a cross country World Cup race. It's able to support the huge number of people that will be in town, it has plenty more to offer if you want to make more of a trip and the beautiful local town of Pickering is littered with restaurants and watering holes.
For race only...
Although 6.5km may not sound much to trail centre Charlie and his daypack-donning friends, it's important to remember this is a £200,000 race track designed to test the fittest and most skillful cross country racers on the planet. It's not supposed to be a fun trail to ride with your friends. And it's designed to give you - the spectator - the full experience.
When MBUK was offered the chance to ride the new World Cup course, we jumped at it. It began with a sprint start, which is bound to have the riders at blistering pace on race day. We then disappeared down the forest track and looped back through the Dixon's Hollow four cross-style track and back through the paddock - this will string the field out and will have them battling for position before hitting the first wooded section.
We hit this bit of trail flat out and imagined just how much faster the top guys would be travelling. The pace on race day will blow your mind!
Unlike trail centre routes, where the trail is predominantly singletrack, the race course has a mixture of line choices and chicken-out runs around technical obstacles that may prove a timely option. But if conditions are bad or bottlenecking occurs, they could also be good opportunities for racers to climb a spot or two.
Developed by pros
Olympian cross country racer Oli Beckingsale and ex-World Cup racer Nick Craig were pivotal in the development of the new trail. Thanks to them the trail rides hard. As we pushed round it, we soon realised it'll look great from a spectator's view too.
"I can't wait to race the World Cup at Dalby, racing at home will be awesome. The course is great with a good mix of natural terrain and man-made singletrack. I'm just hoping I can ride fast enough to give the Brits something to shout about," said Beckingsale.
There are rock gardens, North Shore ladder sections and a few old-school rock drops that were staggeringly steep to ride with our saddles up our arses! Under the pressure on race day, this technical stuff will really raise its head as the racers try to retain position and fight fatigue.
One of our favourite new sections was Medusa's Drop. It's going catch out a whole bunch of riders as they descend in to the gully, and the four cross area in Dixon's Hollow opens up the chance for riders to pass each other.
There are a few savage climbs along the trail's length too - we suffered on them big time - and if you want to see the best of the best suffer too, you won't be disappointed! Another highlight is the steep and rooty descent at Worry Gill. It kept us on our toes and it's really challenging when muddy - run a race over this and it'll be shredded. There's a chicken-run of course, but we don't want to see the world's best ride the chicken-runs!
"Dalby is a place to test the real all-round mountain bike racer - you need power, speed skill and a good head for racing. It's technical enough to bite you in the ass if you make a mistake," explained Craig.
Ride the Dalby World Cup
It's an amazing track to ride, and you'll have the opportunity to ride it in the Dalby Dare - Saturday's public race challenge before the main event on Sunday. This is the first time you'll actually be able to ride a world-level cross country race track and see why it's going to be so hard for the pros.
We can't encourage you enough - it'll make you go bonkers for the elite race on the Sunday when you see the pace they set. There will be carnage at Medusa's Drop, out-of-control, 'have-a-go heroes' at Worry Gill and great gravel rash potential at Dixon's Hollow - so don't say we didn't warn you.
If that's not enough to entice you to Dalby for the opening round of the UCI World Cup, then don't forget Dalby Forest also has many trails out in the hills, an excellent skills area with North Shore stunts, skinnies and drops - and a set of dirt jumps for the air merchants out there. There's plenty of riding to suit all levels of rider.
And did we mention the Pro Sprint Eliminator on the Friday night? It's a short course sprint event where racers negotiate steps, alleyways, graveyards and even ride through a bar. Although we're keeping the name of that bar close to our chests - see you there!
Other trails - lots more to ride at Dalby
Dalby red route: This 23-mile masterpiece ducks and dives through the undulating hillside and has some heart-throbbing climbs, rough technical sections and downhills that have adrenaline coarsing through your veins. Awesome.
Dalby black route: It's only six miles long, but it's a technical little beggar that will have your lungs burning on the ups, and your eyes searing on the downs.
Pace Bike Park at Dixon's Hollow: There's a one-mile skills loop of North Shore style skinnies, ladders and drops, and a four cross track with separate jump line.
Moor to sea cycle trail: This is 80 miles of cycling from Dalby Forest - you link Pickering with Scarborough using Forest roads and bridleways. If you fancy a long ride, then this is definitely the one for you!
Don't miss it!
Cross-country World Cup Rd 1 - Dalby Forest 23-25 April - tickets at www.yorkshiremtbworldcup.co.uk
Planes, Trains and Automobiles... getting to Dalby
Dalby forest is a five-minute drive from the town of Pickering, which is situated approximately halfway between Thirsk and Scarborough on the A170.
From the South, take the M1 to junction 45, then take the A64 for York. Take the A169 to Pickering.
From the North exit M1 at junction 49, then follow the A168 to Thirsk. Join the A178 to Pickering.
The nearest train station is York, an hour bus journey from Pickering, and the nearest airports are Leeds Bradford International and Durham Tees Valley.