It is an event that normally attracts thousands of spectators to Lochaber – but if the Fort William Mountain Bike World Cup takes place this year there will be no crowds.
That was the news from organisers today as they offered a full refund to ticket holders.
The downhill event is the only one of its kind in the UK and normally takes place at Nevis Range, where some of the best downhill riders in the world plough down the side of Aonach Mor.
Riders descend into the finish area in the mountain resort where under usual circumstances they are welcomed by thousands of spectators.
Earlier today UCI Mountain Bike World Cup organisers confirmed that if the event takes place at Nevis Range, Fort William on the scheduled dates of May 22-23, it will be without spectators.
A spokesman said: “Whilst we all desperately want a return to the usual Fort William crowds and the amazing atmosphere they create, despite the progress of vaccination and planned easing of lockdown restrictions, the reality is that the World Cup on May 22 and 23 will not be possible with spectators in attendance.
“Spectators have been at the heart of every World Cup and have made it the much admired classic it has become. A closed event will never be the same – but as with every other sport, if the competition is to take place it must be under very different conditions.
“We continue to work with the UCI and relevant authorities to find a way of running the World Cup behind closed doors but this still presents numerous challenges that are, as yet, unresolved.”
All existing ticket holders will be contacted separately. They will be able to claim a full refund or carry forward to 2022 when there will hopefully be a full return to normality and crowds cheering on the best riders in the world.
Last year’s event was cancelled due to the pandemic. Organisers took the decision to call it off shortly after the United Kingdom went into lockdown in March.
It was the first time the event has not gone ahead since it was first staged in Fort William in 2002.
Fort William is a place of pilgrimage for British mountain bikers.
Competitors need huge physical strength to master the 1.6mile-long downhill track with its long pedalling section on the motorway.
The last time the race took place in 2019 atrocious weather at Nevis Range did little to deter tens of thousands of spectators crowding into the venue throughout the event.
If the race goes ahead without spectators in 2021, it will be the 19th time in the Highlands.