It was three years since the last UCI World Cup races on Aonach Mòr – won by Pierron and Rachel Atherton (GBR) – and almost two months after the opening round of the 2022 Mercedes-Benz UCI Mountain Bike World Cup at Lourdes in the wet – when Pierron won from Finn Iles (CAN) and Loïc Bruni (FRA); and Camille Balanche (SUI) won from Myriam Nicole (FRA) and Tahnée Seagrave (GBR).
A huge crowd welcomed the return of top-level racing to the longest course of the season. The weather conditions were typically challenging for the 18th UCI World Cup event held in the Highlands venue.
“Legendary, winning Fort William for the Syndicate team!” said Nina Hoffmann. “A perfect run, the fans are amazing. You have to not care about conditions, trust your bike, trust your tyres.”
“Winning is sweeter over here… the British are crazy fans, just insane,” said Amaury Pierron. “It was windy at the top so I gave it everything I had. I was talking to myself ‘come on come on’.”
Juniors: British – Canadian battles
Lourdes winner Gracey Hemstreet (CAN) took a second successive victory in the Women Junior competition with a 5:37.496 run at Fort William. Fastest qualifier Phoebe Gale had the best of the top half of the course, but finished 2nd, almost 3sec back. Fellow Briton Aimi Kenyon took third place.
Jackson Goldstone (CAN) beat Jordan Williams in qualifying by 0.659 sec, but on race-day the Briton reversed the order, sneaking into first place by 0.038 seconds. Australia’s Remy Meier-Smith finished third, 12sec back.
Women Elite: Nina smashes it!
The women faced a slick, slippery surface that was more difficult than in the morning practice runs.
In qualifying, Nina Hoffmann had been the fastest all the way down until getting a puncture just ahead of the final section, to finally record the eighth qualifying time. She put it all together in amazing style the next day. The Maribor 2020 UCI World Cup winner went more than 6sec quicker than 2020 UCI World Champion Camille Balanche’s qualifying run (the Swiss rider’s first ever fastest qualifier!).
Into the last three runs, UCI World Champion Myriam Nicole (FRA) – who had only recently got back on a bike after crashing at Lourdes – kept things smooth and took 2nd, 7sec down on Hoffmann. Second fastest qualifier Valentina Höll (AUT) was on the fastest pace on the first section but lost front wheel grip and slid off.
It came down to Balanche, wearing the no 1 plate of series leader, who pushed all the way, but finished 3.6sec back to take 2nd place.
It was a second UCI World Cup win for Hoffmann, followed by Balanche and Nicole.
Balanche retained her overall 1st position on 435 points, 65 ahead of Nicole.
It would be hard not to share in Hoffmann´s happiness after her spectacular winning run today!— UCI MTB (@UCI_MTB) May 22, 2022
Let´s give a grin with gold gal 😆 pic.twitter.com/VZn86DoXQx
Men Elite: Pierron makes it three in a row
Laurie Greenland (GBR) qualified fastest two seconds ahead of fellow Briton Charlie Hatton with 40-year-old UCI World Champion Greg Minnaar (RSA) – and seven-time winner in Fort William – third. Series leader Amaury Pierron qualified fourth fastest. Practice and qualifying took its toll, with Lourdes podium pair Bruni and Iles amongst those unable to race, and more riders crashing in the final.
The rain and wind that had abated during the first part of Sunday’s competition returned for the final 10 riders, who had the difficult task of shifting Frenchman Thibaut Dapréla from the hot seat. Only 15th in qualifying, the Frenchman gave a superb demonstration the next day, going faster than Greenland’s fastest qualifying run.
Dapréla remained comfortably ensconced in the leader’s position until his compatriot Pierron, with the leader’s no 1 plate, went smooth and fast in 4:37.115, hitting first by almost 0.5sec. With Benoit Coulanges in third, France had the fastest three riders with three riders left: Minnaar, Hatton and Greenland..
Minnaar’s dream of an 8th win in 18 Fort William UCI World Cup races faded as he came in 6th, before Hatton finished 14th.
All down to his British compatriot, Greenland… who went green on the first two sectors. But small mistakes cost dear, and he finished 3rd. In 18 races, there has still only been two British winners at Fort William.
Pierron, meanwhile, now has three Scottish victories in a row! The 2018 UCI World Cup overall winner extends his lead in the 2022 overall points, with a total of 455, well ahead of Greenland on 289.