The organiser behind the Fort WIlliam World Cup speaks to BikeBiz

Fort William: ‘We’ve had five years of sun. This year was payback!’

EVENT PROFILE: UCI Mountain Bike World Cup at Fort William

The Fort William World Cup draws fans, world-class riders and global media. Since 2002 the much loved event has generated over £30 million for the local economy, but like all outside events, it can occasionally be held hostage by the weather. This year, for instance, a bit of rain hit the event.

“A bit of rain is a slight understatement,” Mark Jardine, of event organiser Rare Management, corrects BikeBiz. “For the past five years or so the weather has been excellent, with lots of sun. This year it was payback time. But we survived – fitter and stronger!”

Jardine’s not wrong, though even the unseasonably wet and windy weather of the 2015 event couldn’t halt an upwards trajectory. But let’s dwell on the conditions – the weather made the build-up difficult, including the preparation of the course.

A glimmer of metaphorical and literal sunshine was shining through for the Sunday forecast, so the event team – the organisers, UCI, the venue and the TV companies – opted to go for a single day of training, qualification and racing on the Sunday with no DH action on Saturday if the weather was as bad as expected.

PIC CREDIT: Charne Hawkes

Sadly the forecasters were spot on but the resilient Fort William spectators made the most of the day with the British Trials Championships, Scottish Power Mini DH, Danny MacAskill’s Drop and Roll Tour, the World Cup Village and BUFF 4X Pro Tour. This attracted the usual crowds, seemingly oblivious to the rain, with Saturday numbers only down by a few hundred on 2014. Staffers worked around the clock Sunday, but it all paid off and the weather broke in time for the Finals.

“It was a tough weekend for everyone but we all faced the challenge and made it happen,” says Jardine.

“Numbers on Sunday were the highest since the World Championships in 2007 and would have been even higher if the forecast had not put off many planning to come for the day.”

It’s been part of a steady progression since 2002, barring a “spectacular blip in 2007 when we hosted the week-long World Championships.”

“Spectator numbers have climbed steadily, with a hugely loyal fan-base. In every aspect it has continued to move forward – at-event features and side events, facilities for spectators, course developments, quality of TV production, economic impact. Media coverage has moved more online, with a live Red Bull Media House webcast growing yearly.”

But there are challenges for an event located far from the UK’s South East. Jardine explains: “Traditional press exposure seems to be getting harder – partly because of the difficulty in getting London-based journalists to come so far north. Generally, anyone who attends is amazed and impressed at the scale, excitement and atmosphere of the event.”

There are other challenges, like bringing specialist event equipment big distances. Then there’s travel distance for teams and spectators, reluctance of southern media to travel and so a difficult sponsorship sell too. “So essentially, all related to remote location. Apart from these it’s great and the location is what makes it special.”

Clearly immensely proud of the event, Jardine finds the shortage of mainstream coverage baffling: “Bearing in mind that Mountain Bike Downhill is probably the most consistently successful discipline in cycling, the lack of mainstream coverage – or even acknowledgement of the skill and fitness of the top athletes – continues to be depressing. When the sport attracts 9,500 people into a car park in the Highlands, doubling the local population, it should deserve a bit more recognition. But then we’re biased.”

Main pic credit:

This month the BikeBiz Regional Spotlight is focused on Scotland and the North of England.

This article first appeared in the August edition of BikeBiz. Which you can download or read online for free.

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