Who better then to tell us which riders have the best chance of conquering the famous Fort William track in Sunday's finals. Extreme sat down with Rob here in Fort 'Bill to get his thoughts ahead of the biggest race of the year.
Q. Two races in, it’s been a bit of a rollercoaster season so far. How have you enjoyed the first two races?
“Round 1 was good and it was great to see Aaron Gwin come back. A lot of people had written him off really and I was glad to see him get back on top. He probably took the pressure off himself with that win.
“Australia was just a mess in the second round. It was one of those races when it’s difficult to gauge how hard to go in those conditions but Gee [Atherton] took the win and said it was one of the biggest victories of his career.
“We’ve got a good championship coming together. There’s so many fast guys now it’s impossible to say who’s going to win.”
Fort William is a classic and that’s the only way to describe it
Q. Last year was a bit of a two-horse race between Stevie Smith and Gee Atherton, but 2014 feels different. How competitive is it this year?
“It’s an interesting time. Gwin is back on it, Greg [Minnaar] is still super quick and reigning world champion. Defending champion Stevie Smith is coming back from injury and Josh Bryceland is having the year of his life. He’s had the talent for a long, long time but now he has the fitness and the confidence to go with it. He’s the most rock and roll thing about MTB!
“There’s so many young guys coming through. Smith is the first of those young guns to really come through and be consistent. One young kid for me you have to look out for is Loic Bruni. He could win a World Cup anytime.
"Watch out for Danny Hart as well. He’s another one of those youngsters who just needs to win a World Cup and puts a lot of pressure on himself.”
Q. We’ve just come from a new race on the tour in Cairns. Fort Bill has been around forever though – how big is this race?
“It’s the biggest weekend fan wise. More spectators come here than anywhere else. We’ve been coming here for 13 years and everyone still comes up here!
“The course is brutal and then you’ve got the amazing finish area which I would say is the best finish area in the world, certainly for noise and atmosphere. It’s a classic and that’s the only way to describe it.”
Q. Does the atmosphere with the home fans help or hinder the British riders?
“It will lift them but there’s also more pressure on them. I raced here and you would always lift your game and dig a bit deeper. If you’re British up here you can’t even ride up to the lifts without people stopping you but that’s part of it.”
If you want to win here you have to go dangerously quick
Q. You’ve ridden the course many times and it has built up quite a reputation over the years. What’s the Fort William track like?
“Physically, it is long and hard. It’s hard on your upper body and hard on the lungs with the pedalling. It’s brutal on the bike and it’s a tough old track.
“It’s a hard one to get right. On the top section it’s all about carrying really good speed through the turns. If you can carry it onto the straights it’s fast and if you want to win you have to go dangerously quick.”
Q. Gee Atherton won the elite men’s race in 2013. Who’s your money on this year?
“If you put me on the spot - Gee has a good chance. He won last year, and won the last round in Cairns. It’s his home race and he knows how to do it and there’s a good chance he’ll get it. But you can never say in this sport. You might see someone that’s never won a world cup before winning.
“Smith has no pressure on him. He’s coming back from injury, he’s totally fit but he’s out of the series realistically and he said he’s just going to enjoy each race now, which I think makes him even more dangerous. He’s going to come back hungry and it’s a big one for him. He’s fresh and I’ll be surprised if he’s not on the podium.”
Q. And what about the overall title for 2014?
“I would have gone for Smith, Gee or Minnaar again at the start of the year. Bruni will do big things this year and maybe Neko Mulally. Those two kids are stepping it up.
“But it changes every year. The old guard are always getting attacked by the young guys coming through. Until they can find the confidence and the level where they don’t make mistakes, then it’s always going to be like that because experience is key.”
Q. In the elite women’s event Rachel Atherton has been dominant for a while now, winning back-to-back World Cup titles. Can anyone beat her?
"Rachel is the one to beat in the women’s race. Manon [Carpenter] is getting better and better and getting closer and closer to her and she is really on form at the moment.
“Probably only her and [Emmeline] Ragot can beat Rachel. Ragot is wild and really exciting to watch. Myriam Nicole could be amazing and Tahnee Seagrave is stepping it up a bit. Jill Kintner is riding well and she could do well here.
“If you look at the times Rachel is a long way ahead but they can beat her and if they can get close to her they could really put the pressure on her.
“At World Cups Rachel’s biggest enemy is herself – she puts so much pressure on herself and she is expected to win, and she expects to win, which is quite a nice position to be in."
To watch the action unfold live, with Rob Warner on the mic, see the live Red Bull TV link here.