Words: Mike Rose
Photos: Nathan Hughes and Ale Di Lullo

We’ve been here many times before, but Fort William in the Scottish Highlands never disappoints. It is a long and brutal track, and this year it had constant wind and rain greeting riders on almost every run. It’s a destroyer of both bikes and bodies. Let battle commence.

The Fort William track can be split into three parts. The upper open section of rock slab, boulders and high speeds, then the middle wooded section of roots, trees, mud and more rocks – this section is usually a puzzle, the organizers changing it up every year to keep riders guessing. Finally there is the long motorway section, an energy-sapping pedal and tuck before the track drops into one of the greatest finish arenas on the World Cup circuit.

For the quickest it’s around four and a half minutes of lung emptying, gut-busting racing on the edge. One mistake and it is game over… there is no room for error. It’s a physical and mental battle played out in front of twenty thousand adoring fans.

But racing is never easy. Qualifying this year was on the windiest day of the weekend and was a mixed bag for the INTENSE Factory Racing team, with both Aaron Gwin and Seth Sherlock puncturing in their runs and therefore not making the cut for the final.

Better news for Dak Norton and Joe Breeden. Being a protected rider (in the top 20 overall after round 1) Dak was in a good position, and it meant he could push a little, but he pushed maybe a little too hard and slid out (above), but still finished in a very respectable 23rd. All was looking good for Joe too, his 28th position also meant he qualified comfortably.

There’s no way to sugar-coat it, finals on Sunday couldn’t have really gone much worse for the team. Joe started his run off solidly, but had a nasty crash just as he entered the woods. At first it just looked like a bad cut on his arm, but after an X-ray he learnt that he had badly broken his elbow. It’s an injury that will see Joe out for much of the season. We wish him a speedy recovery.

“Ahh man it’s been a rough start to the season! I went down hard in finals suffering a Comminuted Compound Fracture to my elbow. I had emergency surgery in Inverness (hospital) which went well and I am now on the road to recovery. I have really been suffering with arm pump and despite being perfectly on my line, when I pulled up this time my forearms had nothing to give and it resulted in this. I honestly can’t believe it!” Joe Breeden

And Dak? Aaaaarrrrgggghhhhhhhh. He was on a good one. Sixth at split 2, seventh at split 3, he was heading for a really good result, and with a very good chance of a podium finish, but Lady Luck had other ideas.

“I hit my foot on the ground pedaling and it threw my focus off a bit. Then I got off-line trying to get it back in and hit the deck. Proud to be going for it, bummed to come up short.” Dak Norton

So that was it. A frustrating weekend for the team, but to be honest Fort William 2022 was frustrating for many teams and riders. Congratulations of course to all the winners. Amaury Pierron showed that he is the man to tame Fort William (this was his third win in a row in Scotland), Nina Hoffman blew the lid off the place with her dominant win in the women’s, Gracey Hemstreet threw it down in Junior women and Jordan Williams and Jackson Goldstone battled it out in junior men, with Williams just taking the win. And those two juniors are definitely ones to watch, their times would have placed them in fifth and sixth in the elite men’s field!

… and one more thing. Back in Fort William Jessie-May over at BikeRumor did a super in-depth feature with mechanic John Hall on Aaron’s prototype INTENSE M279 HP1 bike Check it out here.

Leogang (Austria) is just two weeks away… ‘till next time.