MOUNTAIN biking should be taken as seriously as other sports in Scotland and introduced to school kids as part of the curriculum.

That’s the view of Chris O’Brien, managing director of Nevis Range, which is due to stage the first event in the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup series this weekend.

The Fort William event will be broadcast for the first time on Warner Bros Discovery+ channel, potentially bringing it to a wider, more diverse global audience.

While praising Red Bull TV for its previous involvement, O’Brien welcomed the Warner Bros development as “very exciting”. As well as being live and on-demand on Discovery+, the two-day event will also be on Eurosport.

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O’Brien said Warner Bros’s involvement was “absolutely massive” news.

“It will bring the event more to the general public and not before time,” he said. “Mountain biking should get much better TV coverage – it’s something I have been banging on about for years. I have always felt if we could get BBC coverage or something like that, it could take biking to the next level. Having Warner Bros on board is part of that journey.”

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O’Brien said mountain biking deserved far more publicity in Scotland, not least because of its economic value.

“When you look at it financially, the amount of people biking in Scotland takes it to a similar level to golf in terms of spending – it is huge,” he said. “It is staggering in terms of bike shops and bike tracks alone.

“Plus we have this incredible event in Fort William every year and Nevis Range also hosted the UCI Cycling World Championships last August.”

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Scottish riders are among the best in the world and in recent years, the country has produced male world champion Reece Wilson and top female riders Mikayla Parton and Louise Ferguson, both of whom honed their skills at Nevis Range.

O’Brien said Scotland already had a significant presence on the mountain biking international stage and the sport should be taken as seriously as others in Scotland, considering the profile it can have.

“Look at the money that’s spent on the sport and can you ever put a price on national pride and having a Scottish world champion? I don’t think you can,” he said.

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Scotland is recognised as having single-handedly pioneered the trail centre concept and offers some of the best amenities and most integrated trail systems on the planet, with many countries modelling their versions on them. Strava rates it in the top 10 destinations in the world for mountain biking.

At the last count, the sport was worth nearly £300 million per year for the Scottish economy and there are an estimated two million trips to the Scottish outdoors per year on a mountain bike, with many bikers heading to the purpose-built trails.

Yet while places like Andorra include mountain biking as well as snowsports in the school curriculum, this has not been the case in Scotland so far.

“At this point, we have had a few very difficult years for snow but if you look at Andorra, snowsports are part of the curriculum but so is mountain biking, and we should be doing that in Scotland, particularly in the Highlands,” said O’Brien.

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The last time the World Cup series was staged at Nevis Range in 2022, the centre welcomed more than 20,000 people. O’Brien said organisers were hoping this event would be even bigger.

“We are really looking forward to it and we are going into it with a bit of curiosity because this is the first one we have done with Warner Bros,” he said. “It will be very different from a TV perspective. We are changing some of the layout for the event and made some changes to the course that people won’t have seen before which we are keeping as a surprise.”

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The biggest names in downhill mountain biking are due to meet for the first time this year at Fort William and the event at Nevis Range is the only opportunity to see athletes from all over the world go head-to-head on British soil.

It takes place just before the Scottish Six Days motorbike trial at Fort William but O’Brien said fears of an accommodation crisis were unfounded, with places in hotels still available for this weekend, although these may sell out over the coming week.

Scotland’s Ruaridh Cunningham, whose legendary Junior title win was at Nevis Range in 2007, is returning to Fort William for the event as head of gravity for WBD Sports.

He said: “This year’s running of the UCI World Cup in Fort William is set to be one of the biggest in its history, for a lot of reasons. It’s such a physical and unforgiving track and to have it opening the season in front of that famous crowd will be incredible. As a proud Scot and someone who was lucky enough to have had success there, I know how it feels to be in that finish bowl and I can’t wait for race day.”

The 2024 UCI Mountain Bike World Series season is set to feature 15 race weekends spanning various mountain bike disciplines and will take riders to 10 countries across Europe, North America and South America.