Scots trial for world's best riders28 | 04 | 2011

    IN A SPORTING WEEK which will be dominated by the Champions League semi-finals, the races for the Premiership and the SPL, plus the build-up to the Formula One grand prix in Istanbul, the picturesque Highland town of Fort William will also be the centre of world attention.

    Of course Fort William is known for its shinty team and as an important base for hillwalking and climbing — it does, after all, sit snuggly beneath Ben Nevis — but it also hosts the revered Scottish Six Days Trial (SSDT), the world's most intense and challenging multi-day trial. Just for good measure, it's also the oldest surviving motorbike trial competition in the world.

    The riders will be faced by a series of tasks which require the fine mastery of power control from their bike's engine, the balance of a tightrope walker and the bravery of the bravest. This is not a sport for the weak or the timid.

    And when the first of the 275 riders fires up their trial bike on Monday before heading off for the first of six long, weary and demanding days — each covering up to 100 miles and 30 sections of obstacles, including flowing streams strewn with slippery boulders — it will mark the centenary of the event.

    Organised by the Edinburgh and District Motor Club (EDMC), the world famous event, naturally, attracts the best trial bike riders from around the world. This year there are riders from as far away as Australia, as diverse as Israel, plus others from Canada, Italy, Andorra, Austria, Germany, Norway, plus the traditional huge contingent from Spain and Belgium.

    "It's a unique event"

    "It's a very, very special event," Clerk of the Course Mark Whitham, the man who has overseen the growth and planning of the event for the last eight years, admitted. "It's a unique event simply because we use the natural terrain to test the riders, plus it's held in spectacular scenery which is the best in the world."

    Whitham heads up a group of around a dozen people who mastermind each annual test, but come Saturday, when the crews start arriving, they will be joined by "at least another 100 volunteers".

    One of the principal draws of the event — the first Scottish motorcycle trial, which started in Edinburgh and ended in John O'Groats was held in July 1909, two years before the creation of the EDMC — is the fact it runs over thousands of acres of privately-owned land normally closed-off to the public.

    But as the growing demands of environmental agencies and green lobbies increases, the need for the organisers to ensure as little damage as possible is done to the landscape becomes more of a priority. But it's one Whitham and his merry crew of volunteers relish.

    "It's the way of the world now," he continued, "but in all honesty, because we work hand-in-hand with landowners, estate managers and farmers, we've always looked after the land."

    Lampkin's nightmare appearance

    If the past nine or 10 months have been busy for Whitham — the organisers begin preparation for the following year's event in August — the six days from next Monday morning are frenetic. But while he will be masterminding the placement of more than 100 marshals each day, and ensuring the event runs like clockwork, the riders will be faced by a series of tasks which require the fine mastery of power control from their bike's engine, the balance of a tightrope walker and the bravery of the bravest. This is not a sport for the weak or the timid.

    If anyone encapsulates everything which is required of a Scottish Six Days Trial Rider, it's Dougie Lampkin. The legendary Yorkshireman — 12-times FIM Trial World Champion — has won in the Highlands five times, but he returns after a nightmare appearance 12 months ago.

    "My bike suffered a fault on the first day and that basically scuppered my chances of even a podium, let alone a win, really before the event had got into full swing," he explained.

    "This year I've been meticulous in the way the Gas Gas bike has been prepared and now I have it set up to my specification I'm heading into the SSDT confident I can take the win."

    "Local knowledge will prevail"

    One man though equally determined to deny Lampkin the victory, and become the first Scot to win the SSDT since Bob MacGregor in 1935 is local hero Gary MacDonald.

    The 27-year-old from Kinlochleven is desperate to mark the 100th anniversary of the event with only the second-ever Scottish win, and the man who makes his living as a joiner is hoping local knowledge will be his secret weapon.

    “I always go to the SSDT thinking I can win,” MacDonald admitted today. “There are a lot of really good riders this year. The guys like Dougie Lampkin, Alexz Wigg, James Dabill and newcomer Jack Sheppard are all professional riders, whereas I'm a joiner by day and trials rider at the weekend.

    “The Scottish Six Days is a long event and involves miles of riding between sections and is unlike any other on the international calendar. Anything can happen and luck always plays its part. I know the area well and I know what to expect. That local knowledge will hopefully be a real advantage.”

    Six days after setting out on Monday morning MacDonald, and the rest of Scotland, will know if that local knowledge has delivered a centenary celebration.

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    Jim McGill

    Caption: Kinlochleven's Gary MacDonald in Scottish Six Days Trial action

    Photo: Eric Kitchen

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