Scotland’s mountain bike racing community has received a major boost after a Highlands race consolidated its reputation as one of the best in the world.
The Fort William Mountain Bike World Cup has been named the best downhill event by cycling’s governing body, the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI).
Organisers said the accolade highlighted Scotland’s “world-class reputation” as a bike-friendly destination and are expecting a boost in ticket sales for the event.
The course, a high-speed descent down the Nevis Range and the slopes of Aonach Mor, is viewed one of the highlights of the European mountain bike racing calendar.
This year’s event drew more than 20,000 fans, who watched Britain’s Rachel Atherton and South Africa’s Greg Minnaar win the women’s and men’s events.
The organiser of the Fort William race, Mike Jardine, said the UCI’s praise was proof of the hard work and enthusiasm of everyone involved.
He said: “We’re absolutely thrilled to have won international recognition as the UCI’s best World Cup event for 2016.
“This accolade is a huge boost to the event’s profile and cements Scotland and the Highland’s world-class reputation and status as a bike-friendly destination for visitors from across the globe.
“This year’s event was very special and surpassed all our expectations. The award is testament to the hard work of all of our partners, sponsors, riders, volunteers and fans who continue to make this event a truly legendary and unique experience for all the family.”
Those behind the event – the only UK leg on the UCI’s Mountain Bike World Cup circuit – have won 29 UK and international awards since 2002, including induction into Mountain Biking Scotland’s Hall of Fame.
It is the tenth time that the Fort William event has claimed the prestigious prize, ensuring the uncompromising circuit is renowned the world over.
The event is estimated to have injected around £33 million into the regional economy since its inception, a windfall that demonstrates the sport’s growing appeal, according to Stuart Turner, head of EventScotland.
He said: “It’s great to see that the accolades just keep coming for the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup in Fort William, which has undoubtedly been one of the leading events to take place in Scotland for a number of years.
“Its selection as the Downhill World Cup of the Year, as well as its induction to the Scottish Mountain Biking Hall of Fame, is indicative of its popularity among the mountain biking fraternity and the general public.”
Thomas MacLennan, chairman of Highland Council’s Lochaber committee, said: “Highland Council has supported the event from year one. It’s been an inspiration to local kids who have since gone on to become some of the top riders in similar events across the world.”