1) No Matter Where You Live, We Can Almost Guarantee It's Far, Far Away From Fort William
It doesn’t matter whether you live in Scotland, England, Italy or Brazil. Unless you live in the village itself, you could probably get to the centre of the Earth quicker than you could get to Fort William.
The place is about a nine hour drive from London, a five and a hour train from Edinburgh and even a four and a half hour train from Aberdeen – which itself is also in the highlands. What is going on?!
We like to think the heavily impractical location only adds to the wonder of the showcase, though. It’s like venturing into some sort of alternate Narnia where instead of weird fauns and talking lions, the place is populated purely by mountain bikers, and every part of the town, including the terrain, was designed by a higher power specifically with the sport in mind.
2) It May Be Summer, But You’ll Probably See A Couple Of Snowboarders Kicking Around
In case, much like Jon Snow, you know nothing of the north, it may interest you to know that Scotland can be a rather cold place at times. And by ‘at times’, we mean for at least nine months of the year, and on and off for the rest of the time too.
This simple fact is true to the point that despite the World Cup being held in Fort William in June this year – a month that some would dub ‘summer’ – there will probably still be snow at the top of the nearby Ben Nevis, and there will also probably be skiers or snowboarders keen to make the most of it.
So, no, those guys and girls drinking beer in salopettes aren’t just another lot of mountain bikers wearing strange costumes with no relevance to the event. They’re actually here for snow sports.
3) Humans Aren’t The Dominant Species In Fort William. That Would Be The Midges
They look like flies; they bite like rabid vampire-dogs hungry for the blood of mankind. The Scottish midge is possibly the most pointless and endlessly irritable creature to roam the surface of planet Earth – and up at Fort William, they pretty much own the place.
Midge repellent is more of an essential for the big weekend than your wallet, your GoPro, your “Ratboy Rules" sign or even your underwear - particularly if you're planning on venturing into the trees.
Now take a deep breath and repeat after me: Don’t forget the Avon Skin So Soft. Don’t forget the Avon Skin So Soft. Don’t forget the Avon Skin So Soft. Don’t forget the Avon Skin So Soft. Don’t. Forget. The. Avon. Skin. So. Soft.
4) Costumes Need Absolutely No Explanation in Fort William. Don’t Even Bother Asking
Is that guy dressed as an aubergine? He is. He’s definitely dressed as an aubergine. Why is he dressed as an aubergine? FORT WILLIAM. That’s why.
It’s all part of the legend, and you’re right, it doesn’t make any sense, but after you’ve been to the event a few times, you start to make sense of the fact that the costumes often don’t make any sense. It’s all part of that famous atmosphere .
Point, laugh, and get your picture taken by all means, but try to avoid asking why that guy hanging over the railings is dressed as Saruman from Lord of the Rings. The answer won't satisfy your sense of curiosity.
5) This Is A Place Where Legends Are Made
Steve Peat taking the top spot back in 2005. Remember it? We thought so. The history at Fort William is the history of downhill mountain biking... And there’s only one more thing worth saying about the video below: Goosebumps.
6) The Race Views Are Up There With The Best In The World
Pictures always do the talking better than words when the topic is scenery. Safe to say though, with Loch Linnhe and Ben Nevis on hand, France, Italy, and the rest of Europe better take their ‘Alps’ right back to the drawing board.
7) Expect To Experience At Least Four Of The Following Weather Conditions In One Day: Sun/Rain/Heavy Rain/Hailstones/Wind/Extreme Wind/Really, Really Extreme Wind
We mentioned that you'll probably spot a couple of snowboarders around Fort William if you headed there this June, when it is by every definition except the weather, summer.
It’d be unfair to say that it’s just cold in Scotland at this time of year though. Sometimes it’s 20 degrees – or “taps aff" as the natives describe it – other times it’s “pishing down" with rain, other times the wind will blow so hard you’ll literally be taking one step forward and about seven steps back, and other times, you’ll be greeted by hailstones bigger than Danny Hart’s balls.
The strangest thing about all this? More often than not, you’ll see a fair few of these extreme, end of the spectrum weather conditions occur in the same day. It’s more common to see four seasons in one day at Fort William than it is at a Crowded House concert.
8) The Finish Line Atmosphere Is Second To None
The Fort William atmosphere is famous around the world, and the central hub of all of it is right at the finish line, where a mix of young and old, dressed up and suited up, super stoked and slightly-intoxicated fans produce more-noise than an orchestra-backed Slipknot tribute act.
It’s been described as ‘special’, called ‘electric’, and summed up as ‘a bunch of stoke-driven mountain bikers who have forgotten their age and lost their shit’. However you describe it, there’s nothing quite like it anywhere else in the world.
9) It Was The Setting For Braveheart
We’ve already established that no matter where you live, you’re really far away from Fort William. So, when you do make the trip, particularly if you’re coming from out of the country, you want to get the full highland experience.
Well, don’t worry there. Because Fort William not only boasts Ben Nevis, shit weather and more midges than the Queen has corgis, it was also one of the settings for Braveheart – the most Scottish film ever made, starring Caledonian-icon Mel Gibson.
That’s right, Braveheart was largely filmed in Glen Nevis, just a short walk from the town. *Screams Freedom for a notable period of time, draws strange looks from the rest of the office in return*.
10) The Course Is Freakin’ Savage
The Fort William course is not only the longest on the UCI World Cup calendar, measuring up at a massive 2.82km, it’s also one of the roughest and most demanding.
The course has been on the circuit since 2002, only missing out on a World Cup stop when it hosted the World Championships, and parts of the trail have been unchanged in that 13 years period as well – for a good reason.
The terrain is gnarly; when the riders aren’t getting their arms rumbled by the savage rocks and roots, they face drops of over four metres and rides down gradients of up to 61 percent. We can barely walk down a hill that steep never mind pin it on a bike.
Still not excited? Well, don’t just take our word for the state of the course. Here’s the course preview from Claudio Caluori and Manon Carpenter. If you’re not stoked after watching this, you need to get your head checked...
11) The Unpredictability
From Steve Peat’s famous win at the third attempt in 2005 to Troy Brosnan becoming the first rider ever to win at the first attempt on the course last season, Fort Bill is a monster that it takes a whole lot of talent to tame.
The sheer brutality and technicality of the course means that even the best riders can slip up, and while it’s usually one of the bigger names that takes it, there’s always a few surprises in one way or another.
Who’s going to come away triumphant this year? With a field as strong as the pro scene is these days, your guess is as good as ours...