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Words and photos by Duncan Philpott

With Mont-Saint-Anne fast approaching here's a look back at the two most recent world cups, starting with Fort William in the UK.

My journey to Fort William started late Thursday afternoon, finishing my last exam of the year at 6:30pm and departing for Fort William a little after 7. Driving to Fort William takes the better part of 8 hours; winding out through Snake's Pass, enduring many motorway miles, surviving Glasgow and then enjoying the vista that is Glen Coe.

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Upon arrival you could immediately sense the excitement of the riders. The Pietermaritzburg course left something to be desired for some of the riders, but at Fort William there were no complaints. The riders were having fun!

Matti Lehikoinen whipping it out, he did this at every opportunity on this jump.

Danny Hart sliding around the top berms like a maniac.

Katy Curd, wide eyed as she heads into a rock garden. Unfortunately she didn't get to race 4Xor DH finals due to an injury.

When Saturday arrived, people started speculating about who would qualify first in the Men's DH. The main names floating around were Atherton, Gwin and Minnaar. Gee had a solid year last year, took the overall title, and he certainly hasn't been slacking over winter. Aaron Gwin astounded viewers when he went 6 seconds up in his first split at PMB with only Greg Minnaar posing a serious threat. Minnaar himself is always a favorite for Fort Bill because the track suits him to the ground - it requires high levels of technical ability as well as the capability to pedal HARD.

From left to right: Gwin, least stylish of the bunch, but when you put nearly 2 seconds into everyone else, no one is going to criticize you. Greg shows the best style, and he clearly enjoys himself at Fort William. Gee just gets the job done!

Men's Top 10 Qualifying Results:
1 - GWIN Aaron - TREK WORLD RACING - 4:49.730
2 - ATHERTON Gee - COMMENCAL +01.873
3 - HART Danny - GIANT FACTORY OFF-ROAD TEAM +01.874
4 - MINNAAR Greg - SANTA CRUZ SYNDICATE +02.765
5 - BLENKINSOP Samuel - LAPIERRE INTERNATIONAL +04.288
6 - LEOV Justin - TREK WORLD RACING +04.601
7 - SMITH Steve - DEVINCI GLOBAL RACING +04.636
8 - BROSNAN Troy - MONSTER ENERGY / SPECIALIZED / MAD CATZ +07.139
9 - CUNNINGHAM Ruaridh - TEAM MAXXIS - ROCKY MOUNTAIN +07.365
10 - STROBEL Luke - MS EVIL RACING +07.482

As expected, Atherton, Gwin, and Minnaar did very well but Danny Hart, only 0.001 of a second off Gee, gained the media's attention. Such a result psyched the British supporters and Danny would have to face high expectations on race day.

Could this have cost him that 0.001? All things considered, the crowd (and photographers) love it.

Troy Brosnan was another name to note. At just 16 years old, he's totally pinned. He has proved that you don't need to be a big man to carry speed on a track like Fort Bill.

With the Women, the main question floating around was how well can Rachel Atherton do? When she has her day, she seems untouchable. Having skipped Round One (due to wanting to be fully recovered from injury), expectations were high. 

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Tracy Moseley won Round One at PMB and wears the champs jersey and is a force to be reckoned with, especially on a British track.

Manon Carpenter, another Brit with a lot of talent. Racing World Cups just prior to a big week of exams isn't normal protocol for an A level student. As it stood at Fort William she was leading the Women's Youth standings.

Women's Top 10 Qualifiers:
1 - ATHERTON Rachel - COMMENCAL - 5:35.805
2 - MOSELEY Tracy - TREK WORLD RACING +00.198
3 - PUGIN Floriane - SCOTT 11 +02.912
4 - NICOLE Myriam - RIDING ADDICTION COMMENCAL +06.545
5 - CARPENTER Manon - MADISON SARACEN +07.715
6 - KINTNER Jill - TRANSITION +09.401
7 - JONNIER Sabrina - TEAM MAXXIS - ROCKY MOUNTAIN +12.761
8 - SIEGENTHALER Emilie - SCOTT 11 +16.811
9 - GATTO Micayla +18.856
10 - SUEMASA Mio +20.202

Race day at Fort William feels like no other. There is always a huge crowd turnout and if the midges (aka mosquitoes) and rain stay away, it's possibly the best round of the circuit. Fortunately, that was exactly what happened - no insect repellant, midge nets, or umbrellas were required. Instead, sun lotion and sun glasses were the name of the game.

Riders were cramming in those last few practice runs with teammates, looking for reassurance on lines and encouragement for the race.

Crowds mean one thing for CG - more appreciation of his style. At Leogang he mentioned to me he may one day backflip a jump on a World Cup DH course if it felt right. I hope to be there if he does!

The line for the Monster Energy signing session stretched all the way around the far wooden building!

With the race runs commencing, people began to cram in around the track.

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The road gap attracted a lot of crowd attention.

If you wanted to move in the finishing area it took a lot of determination. Every inch of available floorspace was occupied with vibrant fans of the sport.

With the women down the hill first, it was Tracy Moseley who won comfortably for the home crowd, knocking a whole 15 seconds off her qualifying time. Rachel Atherton put in an incredible performance considering this was her first World Cup since time off with an injury.

Women's Top 10 Results:
1 - MOSELEY Tracy - TREK WORLD RACING - 5:21.898
2 - ATHERTON Rachel - COMMENCAL +01.721
3 - PUGIN Floriane - SCOTT 11 +07.530
4 - NICOLE Myriam - RIDING ADDICTION COMMENCAL +08.251
5 - JONNIER Sabrina - TEAM MAXXIS - ROCKY MOUNTAIN +10.072
6 - KINTNER Jill - TRANSITION +15.010
7 - RAGOT Emmeline - TEAM GR +16.698
8 - CARPENTER Manon - MADISON SARACEN +18.989
9 - GRIFFITHS Fionn - TEAM GR +21.690
10 - SIEGENTHALER Emilie - SCOTT 11 +22.282

Tracy on her race run through one of the more secluded parts of the track.

The Women's podium. Here you can see how much respect and admiration Rachel and Tracy have for each other.

In the Men's downhill, Brook McDonald surprised the crowd to beat fellow kiwi Cameron Cole by just under two seconds.

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This performance was enough to fend off many previous world cup winners until 25 riders later when Greg Minnaar removed him from the hot seat.

Greg was most certainly pleased with his race run.

Brook congratulates Minnaar on his race run.

With only a few riders left to come down the hill, the next racer was Danny Hart. The atmosphere was incredible as people watched him on the big screen, unfortunately his race run tipped over the wild point and he made a few costly mistakes. It was exhilarating to watch, though!

Danny realizes he lost time on his run, and the crowd is disappointed for him.

Yet upon realization that his run was still good enough to get him second place, the celebrations begin!

Gee Atherton was next down the hill. Everyone knows he can win on his day, yet he was out of luck at Fort Bill. Up at the splits by a small margin he reached the bottom in 4th place.

With a wheel wobbling side to side in the frame Gee is visibly upset that a mechanical hurt his result.

When Aaron Gwin smashed Greg's split time, the crowd erupted to a level of noise that could be heard way up the course.

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A crash in the bottom section of the track dropped him into 5th place, depriving him of what could have been a monumental win.

Greg Minnaar jumps into celebration while at left of frame you can see Gwin, one of the few riders not applauding Minnaar, facing away in defeat.

Men's DH Top 10 Results:
1 - MINNAAR Greg - SANTA CRUZ SYNDICATE - 4:43.854
2 - HART Danny - GIANT FACTORY OFF-ROAD TEAM +01.299
3 - MACDONALD Brook - MS EVIL RACING +01.934
4 - ATHERTON Gee - COMMENCAL +03.004
5 - GWIN Aaron - TREK WORLD RACING +03.193
6 - COLE Cameron - LAPIERRE INTERNATIONAL +03.748
7 - BLENKINSOP Samuel - LAPIERRE INTERNATIONAL +04.269
8 - LEOV Justin - TREK WORLD RACING +04.331
9 - HILL Samuel - MONSTER ENERGY / SPECIALIZED / MAD CATZ +04.579
10 - SMITH Steve - DEVINCI GLOBAL RACING +05.823

After all was said and done, the Top Five riders took to the podium. Danny and Brook were so pleased to get on that box, and I expect they'll be back up there again this year.

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Expect a photo recap of Leogang soon!
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