The latest UCI Mountain Bike World Cup round kicks off in the small Austrian town of Leogang this weekend, so expect plenty of thrilling downhill and four-cross action.
It's the first World Cup at this venue, so when they arrived earlier this week many of the racers didn't know what to expect. First impressions gathered during training appear promising.
Cedric Gracia (CG Racing Brigade), who inspected the downhill yesterday afternoon, said: ”If you want to compare the track to a better-known one, then I can only think about Fort William.
"That means pretty fast sections, also some to pedal, as well as a lot of turns. But the root sections at the bottom and especially the fast berms in the upper section of the track make the difference. They let you keep the speed and have fun on the numerous small doubles up there!”
Greg Minnaar (RSA|Santa Cruz Syndicate) will be looking to extend his lead of the series – he's currently 15 points ahead of closest rival Gee Atherton (GBr|Commencal), while Cameron Cole (NZl|Maxxis-Rocky Mountain) and Aaron Gwin (USA|Yeti-Fox Shox), who currently lie third and fourth in the overall standings, will be hoping to continues their most successful World Cup seasons to date.
The big news will be whether or not Sam Hill (Aus|Monster Energy-Specialized) is back on track after a crash at the last round in Fort William, Scotland left him unable to compete in the final. Many eyes will also be on crowd favourite Steve Peat (GBr|Santa Cruz Syndicate), who has so far failed to replicate last year's amazing performances when he won two World Cup rounds and the World Championships.
In the women's race, it's looking like the usual battle between Sabrina Jonnier (Fra|Maxxis-Rocky Mountain) and Rachel Atherton (GBr|Commencal) this year, following the latter's return to racing after a year off due to injury, with the Frenchwoman currently leading the series by 15 points. However, Tracy Moseley (GBr|Trek World Racing) can never be counted out, and plenty of Jonnier's countrywomen are snapping at her heels, including Floriane Pugin (Fra|Scott 11) and Myriam Nicole (Fra|Commencal Superiders).
As for the 450m-long four-cross course built by pro rider Guido Tschugg, World Cup leader Jared Graves said: ”The track is unique and very challenging. It looks really good and is definitely a type of course I'd like to see more often – the bigger gaps are really nice. I'm looking forward to the qualifying and the race.”
Graves leads the series by an incredible 125 points after just three rounds, so the fiercest battle is likely to be for second place, between Joost Wichman (Ned|RSP 4 Cross Racing Team), Tomas Slavik (Cze) RSP 4 Cross Racing Team, Michal Prokop (Cze) Agang Racing and Michal Marosi (Cze) RSP 4 Cross Racing Team. Dan Atherton (GBr|Commencal) will be hoping to follow in his siblings' footsteps and get back onto the podium.
In the women's race, Jana Horakova (Cze|Duratec) leads the series by 30 points after her win in Fort William but faces strong challenges from the likes of Anita Molcik (Aut|Yeti), Anneke Beerten (Ned|Suspension Center), Fionn Griffiths (GBr|Norco World Team) and Sarsha Huntington (Aus).
Four-cross qualification takes place from 6.30pm CET today, with downhill qualis from 2pm tomorrow followed by four-cross finals at 7pm. Downhill finals start at 1.15pm on Sunday, with the first men setting off at 2pm and expected to reach speeds of up to 80km/h.