The Fort William venue already attracts elite competitors from around the world, and around 250 riders from 25 countries are expected to compete today and tomorrow. Thanks to the new funding of £111,629, it will soon be able to offer green (beginner) and blue (intermediate) downhill tracks as well.
Grants from Highlands and Islands Enterprise (£40,372) and West Highland Wheelers (£3,000) will help to fund the project, which will also include the development of a jumps-and-skills area for training. It is hoped that the provision of tracks for all ability levels will both increase recreational use among existing cyclists and encourage more young people to take up the sport.
“We are delighted to secure this funding from sportscotland, which will help us to build easier trails for young and old, complementing the current World Cup and Red downhills, and giving us all sorts of trails for all sorts of cyclists,” said Damian Forster, Nevis Range’s cycle-track supervisor. “It will allow all levels of cyclists to test and improve their skills in the one location and will take this site to the next level.”
Sportscotland chair Louise Martin said the investment was part of the national body’s mission to increase participation across the age and ability range.
“We are delighted to be supporting Nevis Range Development Company as it strives to enhance the reputation and accessibility of the site and cement its World Cup status,” she said. “Sport Scotland is committed to maximising the opportunities for people of all abilities to be involved in sport, and this investment shows our commitment to help develop and support a world-class sporting system at all levels, which will also inspire future generations to be the best they can be.”
Preparations for next year’s Commonwealth Games in Glasgow have already produced significant benefits for the sport in Scotland. The Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome on London Road has encouraged more participation in track cycling, while the Cathkin Braes mountain-bike range on the southern edge of the city should also be of benefit for generations to come.
“Scottish Cycling welcomes sportscotland’s investment in the Nevis Range trails,” said Craig Burn, the governing body’s chief executive. “Cycling continues to grow in popularity and our membership is going from strength to strength.
“Having local, safe and accessible cycle sport facilities, as well as those that host major events, is what will continue to support this growth and provide an invaluable resource for Scotland’s cyclists and visitors to Scotland. Scottish Cycling is passionate about riding bikes. We want to spread this passion throughout Scotland and get as many people involved in cycling as we possibly can.”
The new funding follows an investment made by sportscotland three years ago. That helped the development of the black (World Cup) run and the renovation of the starter hut.
This weekend’s competition is the first event of seven in the 2013 downhill World Cup, with qualifying taking place today then the finals tomorrow. The 2.8-kilometre course down the face of Aonach Mor, the ninth highest mountain in the United Kingdom, descends 555 metres.
Among the main contenders in the men’s event is Gee Atherton, the world downhill champion three years ago and bronze medallist in both 2011 and 2012. As if cycling at full-pelt down precipitous slopes was not demanding enough, the 28-year-old has just completed a video in which he was pursued, with bait strapped to his back, by a peregrine falcon.
The three-minute video, shot in Antur Stiniog in north Wales, was produced in association with Red Bull and BBC Earth Unplugged. It took nine cameras to shoot, including one which charts the chase from the bird’s-eye view. “It was really hard to concentrate knowing the falcon’s razor-sharp talons were just centimetres from my head,” Atherton said. “I had the advantage of numerous jumps, drops and turns throughout the course. However, the falcon’s agility was hard to beat.”
Atherton’s younger sister Rachel is the current world No 1 and among the favourites for the women’s downhill. The 25-year-old was second last year and third as long ago as 2008, but has never won in Fort William.
The weekend will also include competition in the 4X Pro Tour, in which riders race in groups of four around a man-made track. The action begins with a time trial, from which the top 64 qualify for head-to-head races. The top two from each race go through to the next round, until the final is reached.
• For a full schedule of the weekend’s competition see www.fortwilliamworldcup.co.uk