Fort William has been home to a UCI World Cup stop for fifteen consecutive years, and has long been a favorite among both competitors and fans. This year was no exception, with over 22,000 of us flooding into the Ben Nevis Range to see the world’s fastest downhillers compete for glory on one of the toughest courses on the circuit. By the end of the week, it was clear that we had not only traveled miles, but years, to get where we ended up on Sunday.
The week started like it always does: with a massive group effort to assemble our shiny, new pit. Last month in Lourdes, it took us 11 hours to set up in the rain (and eventual dark). We were relieved to have finished it in half that time, and with just a little bit of rain, in Fort Will. As soon as the pit was ready, Chappy and Ernie set to work on the team bikes. “You wouldn’t think there would be a lot to do - just roll out the bikes, swap a few tires and be ready to go…” says Chappy Fiene, Team Technical Director. “But it’s quite a bit more than that.” Chappy and Ernie (Adalid, Team Mechanic) are responsible for making sure each rider’s bikes are running perfectly - and for fixing whatever’s not.
And while it’s usually pretty standard protocol, sometimes it’s not - like when you’re racing a prototype, or (in this case) two.
Jack and Dean both were running prototype 29er bikes, and with the wheel-size controversy of late, the bikes got a lot of attention. “It’s not always a benefit to run a prototype,” says Jeff Steber, who has been designing and testing bikes for over 20 years, and knows a thing or two about the prototyping process. “I am proud of Jack and Dean. Both are running bikes that are unproven, which can go either way…” Not to be overshadowed, the American riders, Charlie Harrison and Nik Nestoroff were treated to custom Union Jack paint jobs on their M16 carbon bikes. “I have been on the M16 for three years now and am really comfortable on it. Special paint always gets me pumped to go ride too. Everything came together super good on it”, said Nik. Along with the usual goodies, the M16’s featured matching custom ENVE wheel stickers, a custom Fabric saddle.
Track walk day was Thursday, and the weather held out pretty well, with just one massive downpour mid-day. We all took shelter inside our pits and felt very grateful to not be out in the rain. IFR team manager, Bernat Guardia, got a call from Red Bull with an invitation for Jack to be featured on the “Preview Run” that Claudio Calouri has made famous. Following Jack’s recent win at the Australian National Championships, we were all really happy for him.
Practice runs were Friday and Saturday. We had a lot of support from our friends at SRAM/RockShox, Maxxis, ENVE Composites, Fabric and Crank Brothers the bikes were running great. After some tweaks to bike set-ups, several practice runs, long talks about line choices and many trips to the grocery store, the team felt ready for race day. But could we really have been ready for the roller-coaster that day became?
Our hopes were high for Nik. He had laid down some fast practice laps, and was feeling great on his bike. A crash in the woods section cost him valuable time though, and he ended up in 10th place - which was pretty good considering when you see his crash on video.
On his practice run before his final, Dean had a massive crash in the dreaded woods section, that resulted in a minor concussion and six stitches in his upper lift. It wasn’t until 30 minutes before his race run that he got medical clearance to race, and off he was. He took a very conservative race run and ended up safely down the hill, crossing the finish in the top 20, and ending the day in 50th place. “I felt terrible in my final run - just wanted to get down clean”, says Dean. We are happy he is safe and sound.
Consistency plays a big role in a long season, and Chuck finished 27th place in both Lourdes and Fort William.”I was feeling fast and comfortable on my bike all week. On race day, the wood section was nearly impossible to get through clean, but I was stoked to be able to stay up in the woods and happy with another top 30 result."
But it was Jack’s run that will go down in the IFR history books.
After so many top riders losing time in the woods, having technical issues or crashing, the field was starting to narrow, Jack had laid down an incredible time in qualifying and we knew he could do well here… When he came down in the hotseat with only two riders left (Greg Minaar and Loris Vergier), we all felt like he had already won. Even if Jack ended up in 3rd place - to us, it felt like a win. It was Jack’s first podium on the World Cup circuit ever, and the first podium for IFR for longer than any of us (including Steber) could remember.
Loris suffered a flat tire and Jack remained in top spot, with only Minnaar to go, we were holding our breath. My phone was blowing up with friends and co-workers back home who were watching on Red Bull TV. We knew whatever happened next was going to be incredible.
As we all know now, Minnaar won and took his 7th consecutive win in Fort William, and we are stoked for him - but to us, it was Jack’s day, and a huge day for Intense Cycles and IFR.
“What an awesome weekend in Fort William for me! It was pretty special to share this with the whole team who have had my back through all the lows, and my friends from back home who flew out to watch me." Said Jack.