It might not be the steepest or most densely wooded venue in mountain biking, but Fort William is the longest and most respected. For riders and followers of downhill mountain biking, a win at Fort William is worth two anywhere else.
Despite its volatile Highlands weather, Fort William draws enormous crowds for any event. It has become the benchmark venue for downhill mountain biking since being included in the events’ schedule in 2002.
A World Championship win at Fort William is unquestionably the fantasy outcome for all pro downhill racers. But more so for British riders. And at this year’s World Championships, Fort William delivered all the drama and spectacle that fans who had journeyed to the Highlands hoped it would.
Organisers reshaped the legendary Fort William track for this year’s World Championship. The changes added a steeper routing lower down, with several off-camber switchbacks testing rider agility and bike control. The overall speed, ruggedness and those fearsome rock gardens remained in place to test all and punish the unwary.
A new era for women’s downhill mountain biking
The women’s elite downhill race established that a new dominance might be shaping. As a teenager Austria’s Vali Höll was identified as a future World Champion, and with a win at Fort William, she has delivered on that potential.
Höll has secured consecutive World Championships, delivering on the promise she showed as a junior. The Austrian rider has had all the makings of becoming the leading presence in women’s DH racing, similar to Rachel Atherton’s dominance in the 2010s.
Finishing second to Höll was Swiss rider, Camille Balanche, with France’s Marine Cabirou taking the bronze medal.
An all-British win
For downhill mountain biking purists, Fort William is most majestic when there’s rain. And true to form, the Scottish skies opened as the elite men prepared for their race runs.
Wetter conditions meant even riskier rock gardens and nearly unmanageably technical root rollovers in the forest section. But for the world’s best riders, a wet Fort William is the challenge that delivers the greatest reward. Winning a World Champion at downhill mountain biking’s most revered track in the rain is the stuff of legend.
British riders were clear favourites in the men’s elite race. Accustomed to racing in wet conditions and buoyed by frantic local support, a British overall win was always likely. And in the end, it went to 25-year-old Charlie Hatton.
What made Hatton’s win even more remarkable, considering the track degradation that happened during the men’s race, with rain and on-the-limit riders rutting the track to ruin, was the bike he won on. To make the sense of British victory even more complete, Hatton earned his gold medal on an Atherton, the eponymous brand founded by downhill mountain bike racing’s most successful dynasty.
Hatton’s Atherton’s bikes teammate, Austria’s Andreas Kolb, finished second, with Laurie Greenland rounding the podium with another medal for Britain.
A British rider winning the World Championship at a drenched Fort William on an authentically British-made bike is the stuff of downhill racing fantasy. But at this year’s UCI World Championships, Charlie Hatton and Atherton bikes made it a reality.
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