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9th/10th June 2012 - World Cup #3 Fort William, Scotland

Helmet cam run with Jack

The Fort William World Cup. The one everyone looks forward to because the atmosphere is amazing! On both qualifying and race day the track is littered with spectators which makes for a great weekend's riding and racing. After running out of energy on race day in Val Di Sole last weekend, I approached this race with a new strategy aimed at getting me to the final run on Sunday feeling strong and fresh so as to be able to blast out a good one!

We arrived on Thursday afternoon and headed up the gondola for a course walk. The track was dry and in perfect condition! The trail staff at Fort William had literally brushed all of the corners on the track to get rid of all the loose gravel and stones. You may think, why would they do that... makes it easier doesn't it?? Well yes and no. Yes, it isn't as loose to ride, but no because it means we're going much faster down the track, carrying speed in and out of sections into various rock gardens. All in all, the track looked awesome and it was set to be a great weekend.

On Friday morning we got up and headed to the event base nice and early to pick the spot we wanted in the car park so we could get the gazebo up. Then after signing on and hiding from the biting midges which were in place to haunt me for the entire weekend, I headed up the track for a warm up run. I was going into the day thinking I'd do 5 practice runs, but each time I would pick certain parts of the track to ride flat out, and take it easy on the other bits. That way I would have ridden the whole track at 100% at least once by the end of the day, but I wouldn't do it every run, that way getting up to speed the whole way down, without expending lots of energy in the process. This is something that I have picked up watching riders like Gwin and Hill, so have to confess it isn't a clever idea I've conjured up myself. I've watched them in practice and thought, why are they going so slowly, but then someone else would report seeing them on a different part of the track, where they were apparently setting the world alight. So a new strategy for me, and hopefully it would work and I'd feel fresher come race run on Sunday, but also be up to speed.

Jack's approach to the finish line in race run

 

 

On my first run I was having a gentle cruise the whole way down the track, taking in the lines and feeling out the bike on the fast rough course that is Fort William. Then when I got in the woods half way down, for seemingly no apparent reason, I snapped my rear mech and hanger clean off, also damaging a rear wheel. Awesome. The day hadn't started well to be honest – I'd not slept well so was feeling tired, the midges were driving me mad and I'd now damaged my bike. Thankfully, and due to the help from the awesome guys at Trek, Shimano and Mavic, I had a new mech hanger (plus a spare), a new rear mech which was fitted for me and a new rim with the broken spokes replaced. I was back rolling within the hour, so thanks guys you were great!

 

And things got better from there. I did two more practice runs before timed practice for top 80 started and was feeling fast and up to speed. My first timed practice run was a full run with the helmet camera and microphone fitted, and this went well. I didn't do much pedaling as there wasn't much point wasting the energy and the talking makes it slower (not that the microphone picked much of it up this time for an unknown reason) but the time was still pretty respectable and something to build on for qualifying tomorrow. It was a 5.10 I think. The video of this run is within this report. My next run in timed practice was another opportunity to have a few stops and look at a few lines. I'd had a mechanical at the very bottom the run before, so by the time I'd sorted the bike I was one of the last riders on the chair lift.

After a much better night's sleep I was feeling good on qualifying morning and very fresh. Hopefully my practice strategy was working. I decided to only do 2 practice runs even though practice was from 8.30 until 1. This meant lots of hanging around! I did my first at about 9.30 and my second at 12, so I had to kill 2 hours in between while staying focused and not getting completely eaten by midges! I finished practice feeling strong and ready for qualifying, but my bike had sustained a couple of injuries on the last run, bending a chain ring and one of the E13 chain device parts. Thanks again to Shimano and also E13 for replacing these bits and getting me rolling again.

By the time I'd finished sorting the bike I had very little time before heading up for my run. After one of my Mum's awesome sandwiches and some warming up in the car park I went to get on with the business. The weather was pretty good, cloudy but no wind or rain, making for good riding and spectating conditions. I rode aggressively straight out of the start gate. Recently my top splits have been poor, indicating that I'm not pushing hard enough at the top, and then getting more and more into it as I make my way down. I think this could be partly because I don't have the strict warm up regime that the other guys do, because I don't have the equipment available such as a turbo trainer. The run went really well, smooth and fast with no mistakes. I came across in 33rd place with a 4.56, and that was good enough to hold out for 35th place qualifier which I was really happy with.

I went into race day hoping that I would have enough left in the tank by the end of the day to produce a similar result to the one I had in qualifying and finish in the top 40. Unfortunately the weather had turned and we were subjected to rain and misty conditions on track. This also meant that the midges were out in force and they added to the stress of the day. They really were bad, I'm covered in bites and it made any time spent off the bike very unpleasant! I was first rider on track in the morning for two reasons. Primarily because I wanted to go up and have a very steady roll down looking at lines as I didn't do a course walk the night before, and also because the midges were driving me insane and I had to get away from them.

The course changed a lot throughout morning practice. I did 3 runs and each time new holes had appeared and it was getting rougher and rougher. It was great to see that the rubbish weather wasn't keeping the fans away. The course and finish arena was littered with people all day and they really should be proud of their dedication to supporting the sport and us riders, we appreciate it! I was still feeling strong at the end of practice so hopefully I had lots left in the tank to give it 100% the whole way down on my race run. There was only one really rooty muddy section and with the rain it had become really chewed up and nasty. I had already decided to take it reasonably steady through here as it was going to be a good spot to throw it all away.

When I got to the top it wasn't raining, so I planned to go see how long I had before my start time, then have a roll about to get warmed up. However it turned out I didn't have enough time to leave the start area once I'd got there as my run was in 5 minutes. Therefore my warm up consisted of a few squats and swinging my arms about a bit. The thought ran through my mind at the time actually, when I played football for college etc my warm up would be a proper job, about an hour with the team. But yet here I am, sat at the top of Fort William, tens of thousands of people about to watch me race in a World Cup, and I'm not even doing a proper warm up. Another thing I guess I have in my locker of improvements I can make to my racing to help me climb further up the standings.

Nevertheless my run started well. I went for it from the off and got into a good rhythm, despite the fact that within the 5 minutes while I waited for my gate slot it started raining heavily. I took it easy in a few spots where I knew there was high risk of problems, but overall I give it everything and had a good run. I was absolutely knackered at the bottom and barely made it over the jumps at the finish. I came in with a time of 5.07 and finished in 39th place which I'm really really happy with. Another successful weekend and this time I got to race run feeling strong and got a result I felt like I deserved. My new practice strategy worked well and I'll continue on with it at future races.

I've made some new friends this weekend as well. I had a laugh with the boss from Shimano and one of his marketing team who ummd and arrrd about whether they could help me or not because I wasn't on their sponsored rider list, then joked that for them to be able to give me a new chain ring I had to catch it with my teeth... I declined, but thankfully he was feeling generous. But a few hours later when I qualified 35th I enjoyed going and letting them know. Hopefully they won't forget me now! I also met the Irish dudes from www.ridingdirty.com, a social networking site for mountain bikers who were a great laugh and I wish them every success with the site. I've also started a connection with the boys at Burgtec who have sorted me out with a set of bars and a stem for my race bike which look really nice and I'll be running for the rest of the season.

I have a few days' recovery time before its back to Scotland for the IXS cup at Innerleithen. This is one I'm really looking forward to as the track is supposed to be awesome and there isn't the pressure of qualifying day to deal with. Then its home for one day before flying out to Montreal for the Mont Saint Anne and Windham World Cups! Busy busy.

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