I just came across this bit of writing I did along the way in Europe when I was following some mountain bike racing. I thought, Maybe I should throw this up on the site… So here it is. Hope you enjoy. I threw some photos that I could find easily from the events in here as well. I have so many photos from this trip but these are just a quick smattering to go along with things.
Twenty two hours and I am at another counter, this time I am finally getting a rental car, not another plane. I took off from Denver Tuesday and now it is Wednesday in Milan Italy. I flew here a bit spontaneously in order to travel through Europe and go to the World Championships in Livigno Italy. From there I planned to go to the World cup finals that are conveniently the following week in Scotland.
“Would you like insurance” the desk clerk asks, “YES!” I said as I recap all the stories I have read about driving in Italy.
6 crazy hours later and we arrive in Livigno; we descend into this town via a mountain pass. It is beautiful and the venue is visible from all parts of town. We fumble around the town in our Fiat Punto and stumble across our hotel. In our journey to Livigno, we took several wrong turns that worked out well. Even though they cost us about 2 hours of travel time we also drove through some beautiful mountain passes we would not have seen otherwise. We learned that if you ask an Italian for directions they say the equivalent of “It’s just over there” and wave their hand in the direction that you need to go.
The venue was great and the courses were fast. The DH course was fast enough that every rider was in a skin suit, which is not something you typically see! Practices went by and we saw a helicopter over the XC course covering the races. You never see a helicopter at a NORBA event. Not recently anyway! The XC race was broadcast live and highlights were shown again when I got back to my room that night. The crowds were arriving in droves. This town is situated in a bowl of mountains. Mountain passes are about the only way to arrive in this town and the nearest airports are four hours away, but that didn’t stop the spectators. Walking though this small mountain town was amazing, the spectators were everywhere! The streets were all packed and the cars had to slowly creep through. This town was also known for its Tax Free status and the visitors were definitely taking advantage of this! This town was making out because of the popularity of this sport. DH, MTNX and XC all had fans there and most of the fans were at all the events.
The DH race began and the Helicopter was out. The fans were out as well with Horns Bells, whistles and whatever they could use to make noise. The racing was intense as the riders descended at very high speeds. I spoke to a few riders who said they weren’t used to going that fast. As the riders got faster they suddenly stopped. It turns out the top 10 women and top 10 men had their entire run filmed by the camera. This added wait time between runs, but it was incredible. In the end the fastest Man was Fabian Barrell. The fastest Woman was Anne Caroline. Fabian leapt off the stage during the awards and crowd surfed away! The crowd at the stage was packed.
MtnX was also incredibly fast. 4x Phil built this course just as had most courses this season. The course followed long stretches of fall line and the racing was stepped up because of the speed. Incredibly the police (who obviously don’t do much traffic control in Italy) decided they needed to control something. They held up the race as they tried to arrest some top notch photographers for being to close to the course. But matters were soon straightened out and the racing began. There were a few big crashes including Procomp’s horrible crash which resulted in a compound fracture. The crowds here were amazing. I have seen a course lined with people before, but I have never seen it packed on both sides top to bottom. The spectators were about 10-15 deep in areas. The cheering, the applause, the OOhhs and Ahhhs. It doesn’t seem like much but it is so alien when you are used to a typical NORBA crowd, which usually consists of all the riders mom’s and dads and a some friends as well. I was distracted from the racing a few times just looking at all the spectators and their energy level.
In the end the fastest riders were Americans, Lopes and Kintner, both seemed unstoppable in each of their runs and both proved they were the best in the world!
On the way back to Milan the next day, my navigator sleeping in the passenger seat, I began to think about Ft William. They told me that Livigno was the smaller of the two events, what should I expect in Scotland?
We hop off the plane and walk across the runway in Glasgow with only 2 more hours of travel until we arrive in Ft William. Again it is a rental desk that we are standing in front of but this time they don’t seem as welcoming. Turns out they “don’t seem to have our reservation.” Luckily one of the five other rental companies happened to have a car and it turned out to be cheaper than our quote anyhow. When we walk out of the terminal and begin to walk across the street and there is a note on the ground. “Look Right” Well this is a good time to remember that the cars drive on the wrong side of the road here. When we get to the rental car it is even more apparent since the steering wheel is also on the wrong side. Our traveling Duo, Fraser from Transcendmagazine.com and I turned to a trio with the addition of Brady from Hcor.net. This was great, until we began loading our travel gear, camera gear and laptops into this poor little Ford Fiesta. We figured it all out however and moved on to the driving. It takes a lot of thought to stay on the left side of the road but we managed.
The Drive to Ft William was narrow, winding and scenic. It was a great drive with rolling green hills and clouds that touched the top of most of them. We arrived in Ft William and the town was packed, we found our bed and breakfasts and prepared for the week.
When we arrived at the venue it was apparent from the pits that something big was going to happen here. Trucks kept arriving as big screens, timing equipment and displays, and a redbull DJ Pinzgauer arrived with more companies filling the pit area. This was going to be big. The terrain was a lot different here. The land was soft and grassy the woods were lush and tough to negotiate and there are bugs…and they are not normal bugs. These are called Midges and they made us leave early the first day to find some sort of protection from them.
The course was all perfect, too perfect. It seemed strange that the course could be so perfect with perfect dirt, perfectly arranged rock gardens and berms and then only one foot to either side there is 3 inches of mud that covered the rest of the mountain. However this course was designed by the worlds best and built using rocks and dirt from outside of the area that could stand up to the conditions and still stay ride-able. This is a great course. It has speed, technical sections, muddy sections, jumps berms…it has it all! When I go to races I typically hike a course the first day and decide on a few places that I wanted to shoot, but this course had dozens! It also had rain, and clouds. In fact they had a helicopter at Ft William that never left the ground because of the clouds. The practices went by and the riders loved the course. However I didn’t hear much from Peaty during the practice, he would look at things, and ride by but didn’t say much. He really wanted to win this year and everyone knew it. On Friday the spectators started to arrive, the crowds were getting thick and the hillside was alive with spectators. People of all shapes and sizes were traipsing up and down this mountain and it was great! I got talking to different people, some didn’t ride at all, but all of them knew about the riders. It was like asking a Football fan about his favorite player, these fans could tell you all about the riders. I had no idea fans like this existed. In the US we have Superfan, he is devoted to the sport and goes out of his way to know the riders and cheer them on, but in the UK this was normal. Everyone was superfan! The fans were from all over Europe as well. People traveled hundreds, some even thousands of miles to come to this event. The town was packed, every sign said “No Vacancy.” There was live music downtown and huge crowds everywhere. This was much bigger than a US race, even the Angelfire world cup!
When the race arrived the crowds brought their horns, they had bells and whistles some just had beer cans filled with rocks, but they were crowding the course like you see on television when you see clips from the tour. Everyone was close; the riders could feel the energy and pushed their limits. In the end Peaty took the title and Minnar took second.
The MtnX course became crowded as the fans packed in. People climbed trees to get a peak. Kids asked the riders for parts of their bike after the race. It was awesome. Riders were signing autographs and putting on a show. Lopes showed up in a Plaid hat/wig that covered his helmet. Streakers ran down the course and there was general good natured mayhem in the crowd. The races went on and as the heats progressed the crowd got louder and louder. The fastest riders took their final run and Live Ove Nordmark and Jill Kintner took the win.
On my way home all I could think is that this is how bike racing should be in the US. The sport is exciting and so impressive to watch, this is the kind of energy and enthusiasm that the riders deserve. I can see the sport is building in the US and I can’t wait to see the spectators line the course tape.