7 things spectators should know before heading to the 2023 Downhill World Championships in Fort William
Mountain biking enthusiasts have been making the pilgrimage to the Highlands for the annual UCI Downhill World Cup since 2002.
An important location in the mountain biking calendar, Fort William will host the 2023 UCI Downhill MTB World Championship which promises to be bigger and better than ever.
Running from Thursday August 3 until Saturday August 5, instead of the annual Fort William World Cup, Nevis Range will welcome back the World Championships for the first time since 2007 as part of the first ever multi-discipline UCI Cycling World Championships.
Nevis Range is an iconic location for mountain biking, having hosted every UCI Mountain Bike World Cup since 2002. The infamous 2.8km track was first created by locals in the 90s, and it has the only mountain gondola in the UK. Located on Aonach Mor, visitors can expect stunning surroundings including lochs and glens.
The Glasgow Cycling World Championships aim to celebrate the power of the bike, whether that’s a full suspension mountain bike or an aerodynamic track bike, bringing together fans of each discipline and allowing them to experience the unique aspects of the events.
As such, it’s likely the 2023 Downhill World Championship will attract new spectators to the sport who are looking for a taste of the action – which both the riders and the rowdy audience can provide in abundance.
Whether you're a Fort "Bill" Mountain Bike World Cup veteran or a first time fan, here are 7 things spectators should know before the UCI MTB Downhill World Championship.
Wear sensible shoes only
Perhaps advice that seems obvious given the location of the Downhill event, visitors should make sure that they are wearing sensible footwear – so leave your flip flops at home.
Even with the gondola, the Nevis Range is not a forgiving location. Aonach Mor is the UK’s eight highest mountain and spectators should consider the steep, rocky and often muddy landscape which will need to be covered when looking for the best position to watch riders hurtling down the track.
Watch out for the weather and remember your suncream
It doesn’t matter that Fort William is in the Outdoor Capital of the UK, it’s still in Scotland. Expect the unexpected, especially in a country which is known to experience four seasons in one day.
Whether there's glorious sun or dreich rain, the weather can make or break the MTB Downhill World Championships. Be safe and make sure to pack appropriately, including both suncream and a cagoule.
Don’t leave the house without midge spray
Speaking of our country’s unique quirks, it would be impossible to forget about midges.
Scotland is home to an estimated 180,750 trillion Highland midges, and all of them are capable of leaving you with an itchy and inflamed bite to remind you of that fact.
The shady woods which are so well suited for spectators are also the perfect area for midges to swarm. So, unless you want to end your World Championship weekend resembling a chicken pox patient, make sure you’ve triple checked your supply of midge spray before you leave the house - we also have some top tips for those who would like to be extra vigilant.
Gear up for a gondola queue
So you’ve bought your ticket for the Downhill and spent a little bit of extra money for a gondola pass to save yourself some trouble. However the Nevis Range gondola doesn’t just serve visitors, it is the primary way riders, staff and media reach the top of the course – all of whom are given priority.
Expect queues throughout the World Championship and plan accordingly, especially if you would like to catch action from the beginning of the track. Keep your ticket handy as it will be scanned while you wait to board and be aware that no spectator bikes can be taken up the gondola.
Keep some cash at hand and download your ticket BEFORE you arrive
It’s all too easy to spend with a tap these days, a trend which you will be able to continue during the Cycling World Championships.
But for those attending the Highland leg of events, it is worth keeping cash at hand as phone signal is notoriously spotty and the closest cash machines are in Fort William proper. With this in mind: download your digital tickets before heading to Nevis Range. You definitely won't want to miss out on any of the action.
Plan ahead and prepare for the lack of parking
Fort William is used to hosting Downhill events, but the scale of this year’s World Championships will be unlike ever before, especially as they take place during peak summer season.
There will be a number of road and parking restrictions in place across the Championship including no access to Nevis Range parking and shuttle buses in operation. Plan ahead and don’t be surprised if you’re stuck in traffic at some point.
Secure your bike
As the goal of the new Cycling World Championships is to ‘celebrate the power of the bike’, there are a number of schemes and initiatives encouraging people to cycle to the event. An extended bike park has been created at Nevis Range and ScotRail’s Highland Explorer service, which has specifically been designed to transport sporting equipment such as bicycles, will be running for those using public transport to attend.
The bike park is controlled by event staff, so take a suitable bike lock along with you and be aware that it will operate a bike and rider identification system to ensure that your (undoubtedly valuable) mountain bike stays safe while you're cheering at the finish line.
Organisers and security are actively working to prevent theft, particularly after the 2022 UCI Mountain Bike World Cup which saw bikes and equipment worth £70,000 stolen from one Californian team.
Finally, have fun
This point hasn't been counted in our guide, but if you're heading to Fort William for the World Championship it's worth making the most of your time there.
There will be a food village with plenty of places to eat and drink, an Expo area with brands to explore alongside merchandise stands and big screens so you can take in all the action.
The Downhill crowd is famously enthusiastic and are likely to be the wildest of the entire 2023 UCI Cycling World Championships. Give in to the atmosphere, take along a cowbell and join in where you can – especially if you’re among those gathered at the finish line for the finals.
Before and during the Championship there are also a number of fringe events taking place, so be sure to keep an eye out. Outside of the event, there is plenty to see and do around Fort William and Lochaber. If you're not over mountains after the Championship - and you're not heading south to catch more of the action - why not climb Glen Coe or Ben Nevis? There's also the Ben Nevis Distillery, West Highland Museum, Jacobite Steam Train and more.
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