Driving into the Nevis Range car park, the atmosphere was tangible as riders suited up and performed last-minute checks on their bikes before an epic weekend of racing.
From the outset, round three of the Scottish Downhill Association series was expected to be outstanding. After two electrifying rounds in the two months previous - Glencoe, and Innerleithen respectively - riders were in the flow of the season. This round was different to the rest by hosting the 2021 Scottish Championships too. Combine the heated competition with the legendary location for round three, sprinkled with some nice weather for good measure and it was set to be a race to remember.
The weekend got off to a great start with practice on Saturday. A thick fog enveloped the top portion of the track, leaving visibility to be desired, but once you descended towards the woods, riders were able to clear the fog and catch a glimpse of the surrounding view on their way down. Track conditions were near ideal, being dry without too much dust for optimal grip. A few delays paused the flow of riders at points, but for the most part, a steady run of riders made their way down the hill, getting steadily faster as the day went on.
Come Sunday, racing got off to a roaring start with a strong showing from the Juvenile Males. Archie Ferguson stormed his way to first place with a stonker of a run that would put him three seconds ahead of second placed Creag Muir, with 5:25.0 and 5:27.9 respectively, Alan Cameron rounded out the podium with a 5:32.8. Archie was over the moon with his result, stating it was 'a dream come true' to be taking home the Scottish stripes.
For Juvenile Females, Heather Wilson set a 6:08.9 which was more than strong enough to bag her the win ahead of Jessica Wipat's 6:38.9. Unfortunately there were not enough eligible riders to fill a podium in this category, hopefully with the development of female racing it'll be a filled field come next season.
Next up was the Youth Male category. Straight out the gate, Wideopen Mag rider Andrew Georgeson laid down a hugely impressive time of 5:03.4, putting him over three seconds ahead of second place Lewis Duncan's 5:06.5. Unfortunately for Duncan, his second run was not to be a redemption, as a small miscalculation sent him nose heavy over the first jump of the infamous "motorways" which ended with him being closely acquainted with the ditch. Fortunately Lewis walked away unscathed, still finishing his run. Cory Muir took third with a time of 5:19.9, narrowly beating out Benjamin Wipat who was just 0.1 seconds behind.
Andrew had this to say following taking home the win:
"Scottish Champs on the iconic Fort Bill track never disappoints. Chuffed to bring home the jersey and get a PB on the track! Cheers SDA for putting on such a good event!"
For the Youth Females, Aimi Kenyon confidently rode her way into the lead, taking the category win with a 5:51.2, over 20 seconds ahead of second placed Nina-Yves Cameron's 6:13.1. Taking the bronze for the Youths was Freya Watt with a 8.06.5.
The next category down the hill was Junior Males. Kicking things off was 50to01's William Brodie, laying down a time of 4:51.7, a time that would have placed him high in elite. Hot on his heels was Douglas Goodwill with another impressive time of 4:56.6. Goodwill was closely followed by 555 Gravity Racing teammate Ryan Brannen, with a 4:57.4. Brodie was a bit lost for words following his efforts: "Not sure what to say, but I'm just happy to come away with the title. It's been a big year with racing world cups, so was mint to come back on home soil and win."
Junior Females was taken by Bethany McCully of Orange Fox Bikes, with her time of 6:15.3. The silver was taken by Fin Campbell and her 7:57.8. Similarly to Juvenile Females, there were not enough eligible riders to fill bronze.
In the Male Master Category, Cameron Turnbull set a 5:28.3, taking first by a comfortable margin ahead of Lewis Crolla's 5:38.0. A very evenly spaced podium for masters, as third was claimed by Ryan Smillie with a 5.48.4.
Unfortunately both Female master and Female Senior had only a single eligible rider, but that didn't stop them laying down some very competitive times! For Seniors, Tea Jensen took the gold with a 6:05.5, while Kerry Wilson took the jersey in Masters with a formidable 5:46.0. Wilson said this after taking the win:
"Just super stoked to return home to Scotland after living in France and manage to take the jersey on such a savage track as Fort Bill. Buzzing for some more Scottish racing."
For the Male Veterans, John Young claimed the jersey with a 5:21.7, narrowly scoring the win ahead of Alastair Maclennan who was just 0.4 behind with a 5:22.1. Rounding out the podium was Stephen Cousins with a 5:46.2
Bringing the heat in Elite for third place was Bike and Spanner rider Brandon Gonsales with a mighty 4:49.9. Second place was outgoing Scottish Champ Calum Mcbain, who may win the award for best champagne spraying of the weekend. Mcbain achieved a 4.49.3, just 0.6 seconds ahead of Gonsales! Storming to first place was George Gannicott, with a 4.48.7 - the fastest time of the weekend by a narrow margin of 0.6 seconds. Gannicott remarked after this feat:
"I'm stoked to bring it home really, been close a few times before so it's nice to convert it to a win!"
Fort William proved to be an exceptional location for Scottish Championships yet again, being the perfect stage for some of the fastest riders to go toe to toe. Having hosted high profile events such as World Champs in years previous it's garnered a well deserved reputation for a staple of Scottish mountain biking.
First time competitor Charlie Mciver had some thoughts following his weekend:
"[It was] memorable, because hey, it's Fort William! Such a gnarly place. [I] was nervous at first to start the weekend and try to fit in, but as soon as everyone starts riding your skill level isn't even looked at. Everyone is just there to enjoy riding bikes and you feel that when you're out there."
As is the reality with downhill, a small group of racers ended up leaving the race in an ambulance. Wishing them all a speedy recovery!
Finally, events like these owe a fair portion of their success to the dedicated marshals and medics on hand for the weekend. It takes some devotion to stand out on the hill all weekend to help facilitate these events. However, throughout the entire weekend we didn't once talk to a marshal that was not having a blast, instead they were rallying the riders and being personal hype-people for each and every racer that passed them, chapeau.