From a weekend of highs at the Irish EWS it was onto the second round of the UCI Downhill World Cup in Fort William, Scotland, for the team.
Here’s Team Manager Nigel Page’s report:
It was the 16th consecutive year for the venue holding a downhill World Cup race or World Championships and we got all the weather conditions possible with rain, sun, wind and the midges! What a treat they are when out in their billions.
This year they had a new section of track after the famous dear gate section which was a nice change and then into the new wood section from last year which proved to be very controversial and a huge factor to the race results.
The wood section turned into a technical, boggy nightmare where only a small percentage of riders made it through clean! Is this good or bad? It didn’t make the race footage look fast and exciting for many riders but it did test the riders’ technical ability and ability to hold their nerve to the max, so good or bad? You decide….
Mike Jones, who is always fast at Fort William, was still out with injury from his broken wrist at the first round in Lourdes but made the journey up to support the team which was great.
Sam Hill was riding for his first time on the downhill bike since Mont Saint Anne last year, so it was nice to see the five-time downhill World Champion back on the big bike and also a good team mate for young Elliott Heap in practice.
Sam was looking super smooth and having fun in practice but must have had a lot of pressure on his shoulders to ride fast but not take too many risks so he didn’t get injured and ruin his enduro season dreams and goals.
Elliott was looking really fast and focussed in practice and is continually improving but come qualifications on Saturday, disaster happened for Elliott. On the fast, rough open section up on the top of the course Elliott just got bucked off a big rock going into a left hander and flew over the bars right off the track into the marshland rocks and heather. By the time he got back on the track and going again the rider 30 seconds behind him had passed him ending his chances of making the top 80 times and a spot in the finals.
Elliott was super gutted, but he’s not injured badly and will be back to fight another day, next week in Leogang for round three.
Sam Hill was one of the last riders off for qualifying as he is not ranked highly with not racing downhill this season. Sam got really nervous when it came to the race with all the pressure of his first downhill race in nearly a year and thinking out the bigger picture of not getting hurt for his enduro season, where he is currently laying second overall.
Sam tightened up and rode a lot differently to how he was in practice and ended up having a big crash in the technical wooded section. He then thought his day weekend was over and showboated for the crowd going huge off the final jumps which was amazing to watch, but ended up sneaking into the finals in 78th position.
Race time came along and the rain had stopped drying up most of the track but making the conditions in the woods a technical nightmare which only the best technical riders in the world managed to get through without crashing.
Sam was third man off early with the worst of the conditions in the woods as it did slightly dry up for the latter riders, Sam in his own words had a steady run – got through the woods clean and sat in the hot seat for ages. His time ended up good enough for 18th, which was amazing: his one and only downhill race of the season.
We will have to wait and see now if that result is good enough to land Sam a position on the Australian downhill team for the World Championships in Australia later in the year. Well done Sam, you’re a legend.
The race ended up coming down to the wire where the last man off, Greg Minnaar, ended up winning the race and bagging his 20th World Cup win! Big congrats to Greg and his team.
Also a big congrats to my old sponsors Intense Cycles for their rider Jack Moir bagging his first World Cup podium in second on his custom new bike hand made by Intense owner and my great friend Jeff Steber. Well done guys.
We had a great weekend and it was my little boy Harrison’s sixth birthday on race day, so my whole family came up with us for the race. Thanks to everyone that wished him a happy birthday and gave him cards and presents.
A huge thanks to my wife Michelle for all the help and cooking for the team, the mechanics, TJ for the videos and letting Harrison help with pictures, the Heap family, Fraser Britton for the photos and all our sponsors for the continued support.
All images by Fraser Britton.