AS Fort William prepares for its biggest annual event, nothing better demonstrates the growth of professional mountain biking than the career change recently undertaken by one of the event regulars.
A feature of the UCI Downhill Mountain Biking World Cup for many years has been the sight of Blairgowrie man Stefan Morrocco high on the Nevis Range filming the action and he has been well rewarded for his recent decision to turn his hobby into his job.
As the sport becomes ever more professional, the 37-year-old believes he is the first person to travel with a downhill mountain biking team to be their video analyst. "I'm quite excited about the way things are developing because this is what I want to do," he said. "I'm getting to do video, there's an element of science and it is sports-related, so those are three elements I really enjoy."
Loading article content
The approach from the MS Mondraker team was made soon after he decided that there was an opportunity to be pursued as the sport grows and took the initiative.
"I went full-time eight months ago, but have been filming mountain-biking for about 12 years," said Morrocco. "I always had an interest in sports science and saw that there was a gap in the market so I wanted to be the first in there and get established.
"I went to two World Cup events - at Fort William and Leogang in Austria - last year, produced some demos and sent them round all the teams. There was interest from a few but Mondraker came in and offered me a deal to work exclusively for them because they could see how that could give them an edge."
His role is a natural development in a sport that requires fearlessness and supreme conditioning as well as technical understanding, all of which he fully understands having competed at domestic level when he was younger.
"Others do analysis using Go-Pro [cameras inserted into their head-gear]," Morrocco explained. "They can see the track in front of them so can analyse their own performance but they don't have someone sat on the hill which means I can film specific points on the course and compare how our riders are dealing with it with their rivals. It also means we can help them with their riding technique. It's not often the riders get the chance to compare themselves and the way they ride with others."
Already they believe they have gained useful knowledge that will allow riders to improve their competitiveness. "Markus [Pekoll, one of the team's top riders] identified that he wasn't sprinting nearly as quickly as everyone else and we've done some analysis on that. The footage I produced showed where he could work on his technique," said Morrocco.
At the moment his contract is on a consultancy basis, allowing him to develop his wider video analysis and events coverage business, Morrocco Media, which the former environmental consultant set up on a part-time basis two years ago.
However, his involvement with the team is already taking him across the globe. He travelled with them to the World Cup opener in Pietermaritzburg in South Africa and, while the second race in Cairns in Australia's Northern Territories proved a little too remote, he will be with them all the way as they move on from Fort William to Leogang next week, then to North America next month for races in Canada and the United States, before finishing the schedule in Meribel in France. "It is all fresh for me this year, apart from Fort William and Leogang," said Morrocco.
Yet when it comes to mountain biking he believes there is no place like home. "In terms of atmosphere, the Fort William event is the best on the world circuit," said Morrocco. "The domestic audience is great because the UK is so big into mountain biking and the organisers put on a good event beyond the mountain biking itself."
Given the level of interest there is in the sport across Britain he believes the sport probably deserves more media attention than it currently receives, but draws parallels with another of his sporting loves in suggesting that has the potential to change.
"I used to do triathlon as well and it's a bit like that," he said. "Triathlon is getting a bit more coverage now because the BBC has picked it up, but we used to have the top triathletes in the world and never got any coverage. I don't know why that is but mountain biking now has Rachel and Gee Atherton who are both British and at the very top of the sport."
Thousands are expected to flock to Fort William this weekend with practice sessions taking place tomorrow, qualifying on Saturday and finals on Sunday.