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Mountain Bike World Championships - CM

Fort William, Scotland, September 4-9, 2007

Course touted as climber's special

By Rob Jones in Fort William

Even the singletrack is all groomed and buffed.
Photo ©: Rob Jones
(Click for larger image)

It is now less than 24 hours until the start of the 2007 Mountain Bike World Championships in Fort William, Scotland, and organizers are feverishly working to get all the inevitable last minute bits and pieces finished before tomorrow's Team Relay. Riders from all over the world have descended on Fort William and are busy training on the cross-country circuit, after its official opening today, Rob Jones has spoken with riders and walked the circuit to provide you with an insight to what the riders will face.

The 7.9 kilometre circuit (7.6 kilometres for the opening lap) is, in the words of American pro Adam Craig, "a climber's race for sure. I'm not really a big fan; you go up a lot and then down, it's been over-prepped to the point that it's a decent bike path, really. I prefer the old one; it was more raw."

The start lap cuts out an initial tight, wooded single-track section called The Wiggle and heads straight to the climb, which runs in step ups for the first three kilometres. On a non-start lap the first thing the riders hit after the line is an abrupt right onto a short steep ramp built of large boulders. Dirt is packed in between the rocks to make a relatively smooth surface, but a lot of riders are still struggling quite a bit to get up and over it - the Chinese women spent a lot of time practicing today, and were successful only 50% of the time; Craig, on the other hand, had little trouble.

After the rock ramp the riders have a slow speed, winding run in the woods - much of it on a wooden boardwalk - before spilling out onto a gravel fire road for the main climb. The vast majority of the climb alternates between double track and fire road, with only one short section of single-track. The final 500 metres of the climb is some of the steepest, featuring open switchbacks which offer a tremendous view across the valley with the mighty Ben Nevis Mountain as a backdrop.

The Fort William organization
Photo ©: Rob Jones
(Click for larger image)

Once at the top, the riders immediately drop back down into a series of BMX-style banked berms for nearly a kilometre. Canada's Max Plaxton (bronze medallist in U23 last year) comments "you need a good rhythm here, it isn't tough technically, but you need to be in the right line."

Craig is less polite: "they're (the berms) so tight that it is impossible to ride them fast without having to brake right at the apex of the turn. But this isn't a spot to do much; the top 40 guys will all go down within 10 seconds of each other's time."

There is another kilometre and a half of descending after this section though the woods; still single-track (without the berms), but very smooth and fast trail with nary a root in sight. The descent ends with an abrupt drop-off (Hole in the Wall) - most of the pros don't consider it particularly difficult, although there is a longer alternate ride-around.

The rock ramp at the start of the lap
Photo ©: Rob Jones
(Click for larger image)

From here the riders go into an almost two kilometre long fast, flat forest road and then traverse a short boggy section via a boardwalk, before a final set of berms in front of the start-finish (retained from the old course).

It is too early for the number of laps to be released, but the expectation is that it will be five laps for the men (elite and U23), four for women and junior men.

So far, the weather has been good - lots of sun with occasional cloudy periods and brief shower bursts.

Competition begins tomorrow with the Team Relay, and one of the usual favourites will be absent from the start line - Canada. None of the Canadian Elite men or women has arrived in Fort William, making a team entry pretty much impossible.

The American squad looks to be very strong, led by Adam Craig and Georgia Gould, with Sam Schultz as the U23 rider and Ethan Gilmour the junior man. Teams have not yet been announced yet but of the 17 countries that will participate, Switzerland, Germany and Poland are also likely to field strong squads. Each rider will do one full lap of the circuit, so the race will also provide the first chance to see what race speeds are likely to be later in the week.

Both the 4-Cross (Friday) and Downhill (Sunday) use lengthened versions of the traditional courses. For the downhill the new top part is a fast open section which should - based on Steve Peat's time at the test event - add approximately 20-25 seconds to the previous winning times.

The 4-Cross is considerably longer than the previous version, with the first corner crucial to winning. It offers multiple lines, but is un raced at this point and riders will have to wait until Wednesday to determine how the course rides.

Race Notes

The Swiss training on the climb
Photo ©: Rob Jones
(Click for larger image)

- British hopes took a dive when top downhiller Steve Peat broke a bone in his foot recently, yet showing how tough he is Peaty is still scheduled to race, broken foot or not. The organizers say that they are conservatively estimating 40,000 spectators for the Worlds, with the majority of gravity-mad Scots and Brits expected for Friday night and Sunday. Organizers announced today that advance ticket sales for the 4X are 300% ahead of last year's World Cup Saturday (elite XC) and Sunday (DH) are up over 40%. Gondola tickets for the downhill are completely sold out.

- Some of the American team got a jump on Worlds competition by racing the Single Speed Worlds yesterday (Sunday), about 100 kilometres from Fort William. As befitting this nonofficial event, winner Adam Craig wore denim cut-offs and denim vest referring to it as a 'Canadian summer tuxedo', while women's winner Kelli Emmett was stylin' in a tube top and velour pants. Men's second place Carl Decker went native in a kilt... Craig and Emmett received tattoos in lieu of trophies as their prize.

- Britain's Liam Killeen is listed as a competitor, but it is said to be highly unlikely that he will compete.

- The U.S. team had a nasty shock when the UCI unceremoniously turfed them from the digs they had reserved over a year ago; the international federation decided to take over the hotel space for their own use.


For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here

Images by Rob Jones/www.canadiancyclist.com