Reece Wilson’s mind will be firmly on the track when he is greeted by a home crowd at this weekend’s Mercedes-Benz UCI Mountain Bike World Cup at Fort William.
Wilson, who hails from the Borders, will be backed by hordes of friends and family that will be among more than 21,000 spectators expected to attend the two-day event.
It will be Wilson’s first World Cup return to Aonach Mor since winning the MTB World Championships in Austria in 2020.
Trek Factory Racing rider Wilson is determined to remain focused on the task at hand amidst the fanfare that will greet him.
Wilson said: “I’m not going to lie, I’m very nervous about it.
“When I arrived on Wednesday, even then I couldn’t eat my breakfast. It’s hard to get sleep when it’s like that.
“It’s a nerve-wracking race to come to. I have school teachers coming to watch, and close friends and family.
“It’s basically an annual holiday for them but when I get to see all their faces I get to realise they are actually there to see me do well.
“It shouldn’t feel like that, but you do feel a bit of pressure as you feel you could make or break their weekend.
“For as exciting as it is, it makes an already difficult week even harder. I will just need to balance those emotions and embrace it.
“You need to be able to put that emotion to the side and treat it like any other race.
“I’m going to pretend I’m in sunny Italy or somewhere else, and everybody just happens to be at this race.”
Preparation key to success
After finishing seventh in the opening World Cup event at Lourdes in France, Wilson insists his mental preparation will be key ahead of this weekend.
The 25-year-old added: “The number one thing for me this weekend is to keep on top of emotions, and control those nerves.
“I need to make sure I’m eating plenty, and getting plenty sleep.
“I need to stay as relaxed as possible.
“If I’m doing all that, I know deep down for a fact I can be a guy that can win at this race.
“The track suits my style. If the weather turns pretty miserable, that normally favours the brave.
“I enjoy the wind and rain, and the challenge of this track. The result will be what it will be, as it is with racing.
“I have seen in the past that you can get flats, or snapped chains. Anything can happen.
“If I tick my boxes and keep my emotions in a box, I will stay calm and keep a smile on my face and see what Sunday brings.”
Highs and lows at Aonach Mor
Since his first experience of the Aonach Mor track as a junior in 2013, Wilson has become highly familiar with his surroundings.
His World Cup highlight in the men’s downhill category came in 2018, when he secured a fourth-placed podium finish.
Wilson is determined to etch a fresh memory, having finished in 58th place when the event was last staged in 2019.
He added: “I have had a lot of great memories at Fort William. The very first one was when I was a junior and had just starting mountain biking.
“I was invited by Ruaridh Cunningham to come up for a Scottish development junior programme day.
“I got to ride with Joe Connell and Ben Cathro. There were a lot of, at the time, top World Cup guys.
“As a junior I was a little bit starstruck at getting to ride the World Cup track for the first time with those guys.
“With their experience being passed down, my first memory of Fort William was such a good one.
“The track is a bit of marmite – you either love it or you hate it. It’s a very difficult track to feel comfortable in.
“It’s not a track with much flow, and it’s very difficult to ride. I have always enjoyed the challenge. It has either treated me very well or very badly, that just seems to be how Fort William goes.
“You need a bit of luck on your side with the weather, and the wind on the top.
“When I saw it on the calendar I was very excited. Last time I was here in 2019 it didn’t go very well, so I’m looking to get some redemption on that this year.”