UCI Mountain Bike World Cup - Fort William 2013

Every year, since2002, the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup has visited Fort William, in the Scottish Highlands. And every year, the top riders declare it to be the most demanding course on the circuit. Some courses have lots of rock gardens, some have lots of trees and roots to contend with, while others have long open sections requiring lots of pedalling. Fort William has the lot! As one pro described it to me "Fort William really sorts the men from the boys! If you're going to show up - be on your game or don't bother!" He should have said it also sorts the women from the girls, as the women are every bit as competitive (and almost as fast) as the men. The top riders take 4 1/2 minutes (give or take) to get from the top to e bottom of Aonach Mor - one of Scotland's highest peaks, right next to Ben Nevis.
This is the place where legends are made - Steve Peat, Gee Atherton, Rachel Atherton, Tracy Moseley, Greg Minaar, Sabrina Jonnier, Aaron Gwin and others have all ridden to victory on the most demanding course on Earth. I have seen riders at the start in torrential downpours, while they cross the finish line in blistering sunshine - add that to the mix and you can imagine the incredible potential for photographs.
I've photographed Fort Bill (as its nicknamed) for several years now - even before turning pro - and every year the course changes to keep riders (and photographers) on their toes. Whilst 2012 saw nothing but rain, 2013 was the complete opposite with scorching heat, dust galore and the ever present Scottish Midgie (a sub-species of insect, native to the Highlands of Scotland with a voracious appetite - face them without industrial-strength repellent AND mosquito-proof clothing at your peril!).
With riders reaching speeds of up to 50km/h, bobbing and weaving, drifting round corners, leaping over unbelievable gap-jumps and drops which would make an Alpine mountain-goat start crying for its Mummy - the challenge for a photographer to freeze these riders pin-sharp, well exposed and in a shot which is composed to be aesthetically pleasing is incredible. That pro-rider might just have been talking about photographers as well as riders when he made those comments - "... be in your game or don't bother!" For the last couple of years I've trusted my beloved Canon 7D's armed, mostly, with their L-series lenses to get the shots for me and this year was no different. One body had the 17-40 f4 and the other donned a 70-200 - with my Rokinon 8mm fisheye getting occasional use when it suited the shot. Thankfully, as their was so much light, we regularly saw shutter speeds of 1/2000 sec and upwards - fast enough to freeze the action nicely.


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