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Spectators steal focus for Troy Bresnan

IT is all downhill from here for Troy Bresnan.

Troy Bresnan careers down the Fort William course to clinch victory in round three of the Downhill World Cup. Picture: Ian G MacLennan
Troy Bresnan careers down the Fort William course to clinch victory in round three of the Downhill World Cup. Picture: Ian G MacLennan

That comes as a necessity for the Australian rider, the winner of the third round of the Downhill World Cup series at Fort William yesterday, with his entourage packing up quickly and heading out to the next stage in Leogang, Austria this weekend almost as soon as the rider had made his way from the podium.

Yet it is a comment too on the unique experience he encountered while hurtling down the face of Aonach Mor; the rocky, rutted course made to feel distinctly Caledonian by those who chose to inhabit the sidelines. Flags, banners and colourful patter all adorn the 9000-strong throng of fans who found a suitable vantage point in every nook and cranny of the Nevis Range. Someone dressed inexplicably as a Christmas Tree would also be posted at the bottom of the winner's circle.

He would stand, arms spread wide by his costume, to help welcome each rider down. Second-place Sam Hill and British rider Danny Hart, who finished in third, were both afforded a rapturous reception into the enclosure, while Bresnan also enjoyed a particularly warm embrace.

As the final rider to descend the course, the Australian was aware that his time could not be beaten and was duly hugged by team-mates and competitors alike. When he then turned to salute the crowd, Bresnan was faced with a schiltron of high-fives. And the Christmas tree, appearing particularly festive amid all the revelry.

"My confidence was high, but the track at Fort William is one of the toughest," said Bresnan, still 20 but a former World Junior Champion. "You've got to give it everything you've got. For me to come out on top shows that even the young guys can do it.

"The fans here are another story, there are so many lined down the whole track and the roar as I came down on to the finish line meant I couldn't focus. I had to just keep peddling until I was over the line."

He would follow the practice of those in the elite women's competition who had raced earlier, although the acto of pedalling had felt more of a slog to Manon Carpenter. The British rider has taken possession of the overall World Cup leaders' jersey - edging ahead of compatriot Rachel Atherton in the standings yesterday - but her run in Fort William was complicated by a flat tyre suffered during her final descent.

Instead French rider Emmeline Ragot stormed her way to the win with a flawless run, beating compatriot Myriam Nicole in second spot as Australia's Tracey Hannah finished in third. "I haven't had a puncture in a race for a very long time and I couldn't believe it when I realised that my tyre was flat, it went down so fast I thought 'no way'," added Carpenter.

There was a similar look of disbelief in the features of Greg Williamson, the rider who was born in Inverness 22 years to the day. His arrival at the bottom of the course - with a time which would be good enough to take ninth place - incited an ad hoc rendition of Happy Birthday from spectators.

"It was unreal at the finishing line when the crowd was singing to me," he said. "My ride didn't feel too fast and that's how it goes when you are having a good run."

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