This weekend the Downhill World Cup circus moved on to Leogang, Austria. The bike park style track had been roughened up with some new rock sections, and great weather on race day meant high speeds and tiny margins. Here are my highlights...
Day of the rat!
It’s been a long time coming for Britain's Josh Bryceland (Santa Cruz Syndicate), but Sunday saw the one they call ‘Ratboy’ finally win his first World Cup. All year people have been saying "this'll be the year", and they were right! After qualifying in third place Josh came down into the hot seat with just two riders to go – Aaron Gwin (USA, Specialized Racing) and Loic Bruni (France, Lapierre Gravity Republic). Gwin burst out of the start gate but rolled his tyre off the rim within the first minute, putting an end to his day. Just one rider left – could Bruni do it? Up at the first split, it wasn’t looking good for Bryceland. Up at the second split, and it looked like Bruni would get it. But then, in what looked like the last place on the track you could possibly crash, Bruni did. He hung it out, rode on the edge and it cost him. Every rider at the finish was over the moon for Bryceland and within seconds he was on Steve Peat’s shoulders being carried around the finish. A great day for British downhill and a deserved victory for Josh.
26 ain't dead
Many thought the Santa Cruz Syndicate had missed a trick by choosing to stay on 26in wheels this season while nearly every other major team moved to 650b. Well, Bryceland took his 26in wheeled bike to a convincing win and showed the wheel size still has a place on the World Cup circuit. Ironically, Leogang is a simple track with long straight sections that should theoretically suit bigger wheels. Don’t sell your V10 yet, kids!
A true sportsman
Though Sunday wasn't kind to Aaron Gwin, it showed him in a very good light. After puncturing, most riders cruise to the bottom due to the risk of crashing – but not Gwin. The American rode down on the rear rim at speeds a lot of people wouldn’t reach in normal circumstances, showing his sheer determination to get every point possible. He also hung around to congratulate Bryceland. Gwin lost the points lead yesterday and now sits 30 points back. The series now moves to the place of his famous top 10 debut back in 2008, Mont-Sainte-Anne in Canada, where he'll try to get his run at the overall title back on track.
The straightforward style of the track meant Leogang was one of the closest races in recent years. In qualifying, 15 seconds was the divide between first and 80th, so riders were, on average, just one-fifth of a second apart. In the finals, Troy Brosnan finished nine-thousands of a second off Greg Minnaar, so they almost crossed the line together! Leogang might not have been the most exciting track to ride, but it produced some exciting racing.
Second win for Madison Saracen
The UK based Madison Saracen squad were the fastest team at round one and won the prize again on Sunday. Manon Carpenter captured another win, and at the same time extended her points lead. Sam Dale finished 15th and Matt Simmonds achieved a career best sixth place. He’s getting closer to the podium every year and sooner or later he’s going to get on it! Sam and Matt both seem well suited to the faster tracks, so their success looks to continue when the series returns to Mont-Sainte-Anne for round five.
Specialized keep the lead
Aaron Gwin may have lost the leader's jersey but it hasn’t gone far because his teammate Troy Brosnan (Australia) has inherited the lead. The inconsistency of this year's series continued in Leogang and there are now no riders who've made it on to every podium – which, from a fan's perspective, makes the racing much more exciting! Compare this to last year, when after round four Gee Atherton (Great Britain, GT Factory Racing) had the points lead after never finishing outside the top two (although he'd later lose it to Canada's Stevie Smith). Gwin is still in touch and now Bryceland isn’t too far away either.
Minnaar's hectic day
Greg Minnaar (South Africa, Santa Cruz Syndicate) got back to his old ways in Leogang and finished second to his teammate Josh Bryceland. It was good to see Minnaar doing well again after a rough few races. His result also means that the top two bikes on the straightest track of the year had 26in wheels. Minnaar has many commitments off the track as well as on it and after the race he had to take a helicopter to the closest airport so he could make it to London by 8.30pm for a charity dinner! The Syndicate team are definitely the rock stars of the pits at the moment.
Another odd day for the Juniors
For the second week in a row, someone unexpected won the junior race – Amaury Pierron of France. The youngster also finished on the podium in South Africa but hasn't yet signed to a big team. Taylor Vernon (Great Britain, GT Factory Racing) finished second, showing he continues to get better every week. Loris Vergier (France, Lapierre International) and Luca Shaw (USA, Specialized Racing) have been the two to beat this year, and somehow one overtook the other on track yesterday. Loris had a big crash in his run, suffered a concussion and ended up cruising down the hill. He got caught by Luca, who shouted at him to get out the way, but Loris couldn’t hear. He eventually pulled over and Luca finished in third place. Loris has kept the points lead but Luca is getting closer as the series leaves Europe and heads to his North American homeland.
Problems at the top
Sam Hill (Australia, CRC-Nukeproof) and Gee Atherton are names we're used to seeing at the top end of the results sheet, but ended up finishing 10th and 12th respectively. Gee had an unlucky match-up with one of tunnels mid run, while Sam didn’t look at home on the track like he did last week in Fort William. It seems the days of the same riders being on the podium every race are coming to an end, and these two are feeling the harsh reality of that.
Watch the highlights from Red Bull TV:
Watch the full replay here: