After training all week during the driest conditions on record, the wet weather returned for round three of the RockyRoads UCI Mountain Bike World Cup presented by Shimano in Fort William, Scotland. The wet and muddy conditions did not stop the World Cup leaders for both the men and women from padding their leads in the standings, as Aaron Gwin (Trek World Racing) and Emmeline Ragot MS Mondraker) held off all challengers to record victories. Both spent much of their respective races sitting in the Hot Seat, after encountering problems during qualifying.
In qualifying, the course was so dry that organizers resorted to wetting down sections of the run that was become extremely loose and washing out. However, overnight the always threatening Highlands rain moved in, and continued to fall more or less steadily throughout racing, backing off occasionally, only to return. The men also had to contend with mist on the open slopes of the upper section of the course, at times so thick that it became almost impossible to see more than ten metres ahead. Proff as to how porr the conditions were could be seen in the winning times: neither Ragot nor Gwin came close to the fastest times set in qualifying.
Ragot started halfway through the women's field, after a flat in qualifying put her well back in the field. Rachel Atherton (GT Factory) set the fastest time in qualifying, a blazing 5:15.146, but early riders were having trouble getting under six minutes in race day conditions. Celine gros (Team Morzine-Avoriaz/Haute-Savoie) was the only to do so before Ragot took a staggering 28 seconds off to claim the Hot Seat.
As rider after rider came down, none could get within ten seconds of Ragot's time until the final two riders. Myriam Nicole (Commencal/Riding Addiction), the second fastest qualifier, came in 9.416 seconds slower than Ragot, so it was up to Atherton, the winner of round two a week earlier. Atherton came through the top split over a second and a half faster than Ragot, but lost nearly two and a half seconds by the second split, recovering slightly by the finish to end up 1.315 seconds behind. Nicole took third.
"It was a long time that I was waiting, but I just tried to stay mellow," agreed Ragot. "I had a good feeling on my bike, but it was pretty muddy conditions and you have to go fast but not slip on the rocks, so it was hard conditions."
Ragot now leads the women's standings with 570 points, followed by Atherton - who missed round one - with 450 and Nicole at 441.
The men also struggled with the wet and slippery conditions, and it was until there were less than 30 riders remaining that the five minute barrier was broken by young British rider Greg Williamson, at 4:57.864 . Williamson held onto the Hot Seat through seven more riders before Gwin obliterated it, knocking 9.654 seconds off the leading time - a time still nearly six seconds slower than Marc Beaumont's leading qualifying time.
As the race counted down to the final ten riders, they began chipping away at Gwin's lead, but it wasn't enough. Greg minnaar (Santa Cruz Syndicate), the winner of round one, was five seconds back, a resurgent Sam Hill (Monster Energy-Specialized) at three and a half seconds, and Gee Atherton (GT Factory) a second closer. Only world champion Danny Hart could get within a second, after leading at the first split, but even he was 0.834 seconds back, giving Gwin his second consecutive victory of the season.
"I didn't know if it would be enough," commented Gwin, who had crashed in qualifying. "That was a hard run, I didn't have much left at the bottom. It wasn't the best weekend for me, but I managed to pull it together. I can't believe it really."
Gwin now leads the standings with 650 points to Minnaar's 565, with Atherton at 495.