The UCI Mountain Bike World Cup moves to Austria this weekend for round three of the 'gravity' events, one week after racing in the Scottish Highlands at Fort William. Downhill (DH) and four-cross (4X) racing are returning to the ski resort of Saalfelden Leogang for the second year running, and this year also acts as a trial run for next year's world championships.
First up will be the four-cross qualification and seeding runs this evening, followed by downhill qualification tomorrow afternoon and the four-cross final tomorrow evening. The weekend wraps up on Sunday with the downhill final. The tracks are already wet and muddy, and the expected rain will keep them that way. Over 400 riders from 31 nations have already arrived, to prepare for the start of competition tomorrow.
The 450m four-cross track was designed by World Cup pro Guido Tschugg, and features enough obstacles to challenge any rider. After a stepdown from the start gate and two sweeping berms, the riders hit a series of jumps, followed by a rock garden and wooden bridge, before a final corner and sprint to the finish line.
Anneke Beerten (Milka-Trek) is the overwhelming favourite for the women's race, coming off two straight wins, although British rider Joey Gough showed that she's fast enough to challenge Beerten out of the start gate.
Men's World Cup leader Jared Graves (Yeti Fox Shox) is always a favourite. However, he showed in Fort William that he isn't unbeatable, with last week's winner Roger Rinderknecht able to capitalize on Graves' mistakes to move to within 25 points of the lead. Another Swiss rider, David Graf, is tied with Rinderknecht, and former World Cup champion Michal Prokop is only 10 points further back.
Jared Graves (Yeti Fox Shox) will be gunning for the win in the four-cross after disappointment at Fort William
The downhill course drops 524m in just 2.6km, for an average of 20 percent, making this one of the steeper runs on the World Cup circuit. After traversing the side of the mountain out of the start gate, the riders drop straight down for nearly a third of the course before another traverse back across the ski slope and into a long technical wooded section full of roots and mud. Riders are commenting that the track is more groomed and bikepark-style than last year, with some of the natural terrain dumbed down. This course will require both strong technical skills and power to do well.
World champion Tracy Moseley (Trek World Racing) is having a strong start to the season, with two straight victories giving her a commanding lead in the World Cup standings over Floriane Pugin (Scott 11). However, Moseley's countrywoman and fierce rival Rachel Atherton (Commencal) returned to competition at Fort William and, while finishing second to Moseley in the final, beat her in the qualification round.
The men's competition is much closer than the women's. Defending World Cup champion Greg Minnaar (Santa Cruz Syndicate) took over the lead in the standings by winning last weekend, but round one winner Aaron Gwin (Trek World Racing) is only 47 points back. It'll also be interesting to see if the two young newcomers to the podium last week – Danny Hart (Giant) and Brook MacDonald (MS Evil) – can repeat their breakthrough performances again.
One other rider to watch out for if it gets sloppy is world champion Sam Hill (Monster Energy-Specialized-Mad Catz), who missed the Leogang round last year due to injury. “The track makes a real technical impression," he said today. "But the riders’ fitness will definitely also play a large part. I think this track has something for everybody.”
“I know that the track in Leogang is nothing to sneeze at," said Austrian national champion Markus Pekoll. "Especially if it should rain, the technical parts will become quite a challenge. The constant change between technical sections and pedaling hard will surely be quite demanding for most riders. However, I’m really looking forward to the spectators who will hopefully show up in masses to cheer me and the other riders on!”
Saalfelden Leogang is looking forward to some world class action and lots of spectators over the next three days
This article was originally published on Cyclingnews.com.