I have been coming to the Fort William World Cup since 2002 and missed only a couple of rounds in that time. 2004 when I took the year off to get married and find my focus and 2012 when I retired from World Cup photography. But here I am back at the crucible of World Cup racing, standing shoulder to shoulder with my colleagues, some who have been here before, some first timers. And then most importantly the thousands of fans who line the course and fill the finish arena to make this the pinnacle of our sport.
I arrived on Friday after a press camp to launch a slew of new Santa Cruz bikes - something I have been working on in Santa Cruz for the last 9 weeks. So arriving at downhill's best event in the middle of the 10th week on the road, for the 10th year had me filled with mixed feelings. Seeing old friends is the highlight of any World Cup for me - be it a year or a week apart - stories need to be shared, travel nightmares laughed at, beers or coffee to be had. This is what I realized I missed the most about the circuit this weekend - that simple casual camaraderie! You get to wander the pits and speak to the riders and mechanics get a feel for who is on the pace, who is hiding their pace, or lack thereof.
But trying to find the motivation to shoot my first World Cup in over a year had me in two minds. Do I leave it to the new kids on the block and just soak up the atmosphere? Or do I buckle down and get back on that horse? Well, I did both. Friday I went up in the gondola and did what I have never done before - I had a beer on the deck overlooking the top of the course and just soaked it all in. Saturday I walked the track with Rob Roskopp and talked lines, history, pal mares and general banter before settling into more beers for qualifiers. I took a handful of iPhone photos and even less Canon photos. What was I doing? Well, to tell the truth I was truly enjoying myself - but I knew I had to take some photos. I felt guilty for being here and not doing the race, racers, crowds or event justice.
So I decided to take up a variation of a challenge one of my mentors Malcolm Fearon proposed way back when - shoot a World Championships on one roll of film. Given I didn't have a film camera here it had to be done digitally, but that’s ok as this isn't a World Champs - but it pretty well might as well be given the pressure and atmosphere. I shot as if it was film - no test shots for light or panning and no deletes - just 36 shots from the start of the Junior Men's race to end of the weekend. I hit some multiple exposures - old - or I guess new habits die hard with 10fps. I did hit the shutter accidentally while climbing down the track somewhere and waste an image - and Greg Minnaar did grab my camera in the pits and take a shot. This all just adds to it I guess.
It seems apt that at the end of my World Cup career I've had to the chance to in essence go back to the beginning of my World Cup career - Stellenbosch 1997 - which I shot on film - and what started this whole crazy, beautiful life in MTB.
As I roll out of the hotel room at 1:20am to head to Edinburgh for two flights home to my girls, I realize I didn't say goodbye to a whole bunch of my friends. But then I realized we never really do say goodbye when we're on the circuit! It's "see you in a bit", "safe travels", "next time" - wherever or whenever that might be.