Posted on June 06 2019
Pivot Factory Race Team enjoyed a successful race in Fort William but not without some challenges.
Fort William in the Scottish Highlands hosted the second round of the 2019 UCI Downhill World Cup. The classic venue and track have hosted a World Cup each year for the last 15, becoming a firm favourite with fans and riders.
With 2.8 kms of winding track cutting into the moor side hill keeps the same DNA year after year with a few changes in the usual wooded section close to the bottom. For 2019, this change was taped rather wide to offer loads of line choices. With the softer ground and forecast of a wet weekend, this area was going to cut up and cause everyone headaches.
The track walk set the tone for the weekend with umbrellas and rain jackets being the accessory of choice. As Fort William has been raced for so many years the riders are now looking for the smallest margins to gain any amount of time available. Lots of time was taken on the new section, assessing each line, spotting hidden rocks and roots and discussing the best way to tackle the challenge with the team.
More rain and grey clouds greeted the riders on Friday during training. Emilie Siegenthaler was feeling strong after a few weeks physio and gym work on her shoulder. The long physical track with few super steep and technical sections doesn’t match her strengths but the sloppy muddy conditions were right up her street.
The new section was proving difficult to ride at speed with the soft ground cutting up into deep ruts and the mud covering the rocks and roots. Surprisingly the rain actually made some of the top corners grippier, keeping the dust down, packing the dirt and allowing the tires to cut in and grip rather than slide.
Eddie Masters has always ridden well at Fort William with the long track playing into his Enduro strengths as well and downhill speed. He was looking fast in the wet and muddy conditions enjoying slipping around and finding the grip.
Matt Walker and Bernard Kerr were riding hard in training. Riding one behind the other and testing lines, both were getting confident with the conditions. Bernard was up to pace quickly and finished a successful day training off with a top five in timed training, a great sign for the weekend ahead.
A gap in the wet weather was a huge relief for the team come Qualification Day. A drying track was riding faster and faster with less standing water improving visibility and letting the riders push even harder. The drying track was much welcomed but the increase in wind wasn’t. The exposed nature of the track meant high winds were a particular challenge and frustratingly unpredictable.
For the first time in years, Emilie wasn’t protected and guaranteed a spot in the finals following her injured race at Round 1. A few mistakes in her run and having to work hard to keep speeds up in the windy motorway section, Emilie was pleased with a 6th fastest qualifying run and into the main event.
After a strong first round and top 20 overall standing, Eddie was a protected rider. Not worrying about qualification Eddie could focus on his lines and push hard on his run knowing a mistake or mechanical wouldn’t end his weekend early. With a clean run, Eddie crossed the line with a brilliant eighth fastest time!
Bernard dropped in not far behind Eddie, enjoying the track and hopping the big rocks and holes to keep his speed high. He was also on a great run and feeling good, posting a fantastic time for tenth.
Matt was looking good on track all week and felt the bike was running perfect. Charging in the top section he clipped a pedal on one of the many rocks littering the track. Blowing both feet off the pedals, he rode the top tube for a while but his cat-like reflexes stopped him from crashing hard. Losing valuable time, he set off knowing he had time to make up. After a very nervous wait Matt qualified in 60th, a fastest final split was just enough to squeeze him into the main event on Sunday.
The team woke up to more rain on Finals morning. Thick fog covered the top of the track, creating limited visibility and making the high-speed sections even more hair raising.
Emilie was first rider to tackle the track and wet conditions and was feeling confident after a strong qualifying run. Carrying good speed and finding the little grip that was on offer, she was posting top three split times. Taking risks and hitting a fast inside line that no other female rider was hitting she landed in a compression that stopped the bike instantly, throwing her clean over the bars and into the muddy rocks.
Landing on the shoulder she previously injured, Emilie tried to remount and continue but couldn’t safely keep riding and was forced to pull out.
Matt was first elite man to race the track. Flying down in the rain and enjoying the thousands of fans lining the entire track, he put down a very strong time. Ending strongly on the motorway section he used the last of his energy, keeping the bike low on the jumps, pumping and peddling wherever possible.
Being in the top ten, it was a long wait for Bernard and Eddie that was made even more tense with Matt posted a great time and holding the hot seat for over an hour. With 15 riders to go, he was guaranteed a top 20 finish.
Bernard dropped in like he meant business with the tenth fastest at the first split and then fastest through the “pinball” rock garden section saw him clawing back time. Losing traction in the woods saw him unclipped and dab but didn’t cost him too much time. His speed and style came through on the motorway section as he was flying into the finish area.
Posting the third fastest time, Bernard was into the hot seat to watch Eddie come down one rider later. Eddie came out the gate firing and was over one second up at the first split. He held the advantage all the way through the fast, open and rocky top section with the 29er wheels rolling over the roughest of terrain.
Coming into the woods Eddie got stood up in the same turn Bernard lost traction in. Not losing too much time but the mistake caused him to ride the next few sections tight and drop some vital seconds. A classily exciting run had everyone on the edge of their seat and he crossed the line in fourth, just ahead of Bernard.
As the last few riders came down the final standings were settled with Eddie finishing in tenth, Bernard in eleventh and Matt in a fantastic 16th.
With all the Pivot Factory Racing riders in the top 20, it was a brilliant weekend of racing for the boys. The only downer of the weekend was Emilie’s crash but it was good to see her speed is there and she will be back next week, pushing hard in Leogang for the next round of the UCI Downhill World Cup.