Leogang World Cup race report
Another weekend of epic results.
Arguably the most scenic location on the World Cup circuit, we found ourselves slap-bang in the middle of mountains, lederhosen and cows. Situated amongst the lush pasture lands and rugged mountain peaks of the Austrian Alps, is the small town of Leogang, the home of the 2012 World Championships and this years fourth round of the UCI MTB World Cup.
Looking beyond the round at Fort William, the team were keen to set a few things straight. With previous good results here in Leogang, including Manon’s 3rd place at World Champs, they were all keen to make a mark and leave the first half of the season in a good place.
Influenced by the main-line nature of the Bike Park, the track builders at Leogang had tried to make it a little different for the World Cup this year. With some considerable changes in the top section of the track, loose off cambers and man-made rock gardens have been introduced to spice it up. Although the changes were welcomed, most of the riders do prefer the more natural terrain to man-made stuff. The team were expecting alterations for the whole track after hearing the news but the bottom section was the same flat out bike park, with berm turns and gas to flat jumps. Although this can be determined as ‘easy’, at World Cup race speed, nothing is easy!
The name “qualifying” can be miss-leading, for the team now it’s all about points and putting together two solid race runs on a World Cup weekend, not just their final run. As they’re all protected top twenty riders, this means they go to the final regardless, so can relax, focus and go for the points that add up to the all important World Cup overall position at the end of the year.
Manon, still confident in her form, despite the issues of Fort William, was keen to lay down a marker and did just that, setting off first as series leader, she set a time that was never bettered and as the final woman crossed the line, she topped the scoreboard, with the nearest sitting almost 5 seconds off her pace. Intentions for Sunday were clear…
Kazu was looking wild in practice all week and really enjoying the track. You have to push hard in Leogang, times are super tight and the dry weather meant there were less challenges to split the times of the top World Cup riders. As Kazu hit the wooden kicker coming out the woods that launched the riders into the open and towards both the sky and the landing of the following tabletop, he got out of shape, not able to make a save he found himself headfirst into the gravel of the landing, less than ideal you might say! Unable to continue he pulled himself to the side of the track and was helped down the hill. With a nasty cut to his knee and a bashing to his pride he came back to the pits and would have to sit out the race on Sunday. A tough outcome to his European Vacation but a lot of lessons learned all the same and as always, that Kazu smile had not been dislodged! He will be with the team again for Mt St Anne but first he heads home for June to defend his titles in Japan.
With the weather changing all week, finally it was good to see it had settled on sunshine for Sunday’s finale: dry tyres out, shades on and we were away.
As always, Manon was first up for the team and was ready to repeat her qualifying success. She made this intention clear, flying through split one with the fastest time and still building momentum into her run. Looking strong she pedaled hard at every opportunity. Dropping into the woods, Manon attacked the final technical rocks and took on the staircase drops with ease, using a high line normally favored by the top men and carrying the speed through the turn before dropping into the finish area and hitting the last tabletop at full speed, well and truly finishing the job off with a sprint to the line. Stopping the clock 2.7 seconds up on second placed Rachel Atherton and 4 seconds up on 3rd placed Myriam Nicole.
“It feels amazing! Last weeks final result was a major disappointment but it gave me the confidence and determination to come here and get the job done. I really wanted to show my qualifying run wasn’t a one off and put a strong final together. So happy… Well chuffed.” Manon
Sam, next then and by his own admission he’d struggled in the week to come to terms with the faster, loose gravel sections of the track. He started strong never the less and his split time was on the money. A small dab off line in the rooty steep turn, in the last woods, was the only visible error to his run, on the big screen at the finish area and he crossed the line into second place, just hundredths of a second off the top step. Eventually finishing in 15th place, a solid performance, Sam looked at the positives and will head to Mt St Anne keen to show his true talent on a track that suits him well.
“It took until practice on race day for me to be comfortable pushing hard on this track, sometimes it takes a little time to get the set up and the speed together and I will take the positives from this race. On a kind of ‘off’ day I’m 15th, a result I would have been stoked with last year and times are super tight here so any mistakes are magnified. Can’t wait to get to ‘Saint Anne now, I love that track.” Sam
Matt was last to go for the team and was keen to put in a strong performance. He knew he needed to push hard on this track and really hang it out to ensure the top ten ride he wanted. He did just that, smooth and strong in the top of the course he past split one and two with the fastest time, pushing on in the lower sections he let it all hang out and crossed the line into the hot seat. Crossed his fingers and watched the rest of the top ten guys come down the hill. He was rewarded with a fantastic 6th place ride. His best of the season and his best career World Cup placing, just three tenths of a second off his first World Cup podium, this really was as close as it gets with the top twenty riders separated by only 5 seconds.
“I needed that result today, to prove to myself I’m on the right track. I know I have the speed and I’ve just been a second or so off the top ten pace until now. This one will give me the confidence to push on and go into the second half of the season looking for that podium ride” Matt
The icing on the cake was taking the team win on the day and coupled with that the leading team in the overall standings. A great way to head into the July break from World Cup racing, time to recover then build on a strong foundation laid down by the team at this mid-way point. Still lots of work to be done!
Next up for the team is back to the UK to catch up with the Madison Saracen Development Team boys at Llangollen BDS, before the highlight on the UK calendar, the British National Championships, which these days is far from an easy ride with so many top 20 World Cup riders fighting for the win.