Not a whole lot to report on Leogang, other than some track changes and a few absences. First off… the DH track.
In 2010, the first year Leogang stepped up to the World Cup Circuit, it was widely regarded as an “old school” track. The trails being used were converted bike park trails and had been ridden hard. Like really hard. It was all about big berms in the open, a bunch of bike park (i.e. short) tables on a fire road linking the berms and the woods, and what single track there was in the woods was worn down to arm-thick roots and load of rocks. But mostly roots.
Flash forward to now. Not much has changed. Like an aging actress, there’s been a nip here and tuck there but she’s still berms at the top and woods below linked with a table top strewn ‘motorway’. So, basically business as usual. However, the tables have all been artificially ‘lengthened’ with wooden booters placed in front of them, which will allow riders to carry more speed as now they can clear to transition and pump vs. landing flat. The old rock strewn double-droppish section lined with safety netting has been replaced with a couple big turns, too. But that’s the sum total of the course changes.
Riders to watch: in the men…not Danny Hart; safe to say that unless you’ve been living under a rock, Hart’s shoulder injury and subsequent season ending surgery is old news. Other than Hart, all the usual suspects should be in attendance: Gwin, Gee Atherton, Minnaar, Hill, Steve Smith, Brook Macdonald… you know—literally, the usual suspects. Gwin won here last year during the World Cup… But Minnaar took the IXS Cup here this past May… And Steve Smith is on a roll following the Whistler Crankworx (notching dominating W’s in the Garbanzo DH, Air DH, and Canadian Open DH). Even though Minnaar, Smith, Bulldog, and Hill are all legit threats, given how dominating Gwin’s been all year, only a fool would bet against the American.
The race that’s gonna be a knock down drag out will be the Junior DH title: Loic Bruni’s been dominating all season, so in some ways this is his race to lose; but Richey Rude has been right behind him all season long. Leogang’s got some pedaling sections to it, so if Bruni falters at all, Rude’s going to be stepping into rainbow sleeves.
For the ladies, a few faces are missing: namely Tracy Hannah (broken femur at Val d”Isere), Myriam Nicole (broken collarbone at Crankworx Whistler), Emilie Siegenthaler (Scott 11—also a collarbone), and Jill Kintner (broken arm at Windham; she may have raced the pump track at Whistler Crankworx, but she’s not cleared to ride DH yet). Contenders, then: Florian Pugin took this race last year, and Rachel Atherton took it during the IXS Cup before Val di Sole… On both occasions Emmeline Ragot was also on the podium. Hmmm… Pugin is coming off of some tough luck at Mt St Anne and Windham, and the time off may have her a bit rusty. And as much as I’d like to see Ragot duke it out with Atherton, Ragot is coming off of a sore shoulder and may not be full strength, whereas Rachel Atherton is injury free for the first time in forever, so the nod has to go to Atherton. For the junior women…I don’t think anyone’s going to edge out Tahnee Seagrave—she’s 16 and absolutely killin’ it.
| Look for the crowds at the finish in Leogang to be about double what they were last year. World Cup racing is one thing, World Champs are something else entirely.|
| Wandering off course at Leogang has it's own risks for both riders and spectators alike. The upper section of the track is lined with pastures and the local farmers aren't keen on having their fields trampled or the livestock agitated. The fences are supposed to be turned off, but as more than one person has discovered in years past, "supposed to be" and "are" off are two different things.|
| Danny Hart: Timeless. But out for the Worlds and out for the season.|
| Will this be Minnaar's race? He won here this past May against a full field-minus Gwin, who opted instead to contend for a race in the US instead.|
| Gwin has proved to be a tactician unlike any seen since the glory days of Nicolas Vouilloz. One of his strengths is to look over the track and assess exactly where he's made mistakes in qualifying, and where he can find lost seconds. The one thing that may mess with that mojo, though, is that the World Champs doesn't have a qualifying run. There is a timed run the day before the big dance, but there's no guarantee that his competitors are going full tilt as there are no precious UCI points on tap for "winning" that timed run. Consequently, it will be an inaccurate tool for Gwin to use to assess his competition. In short? Don't read too much into those timed runs when they get posted on Saturday. Particularly Gwin's.|
| Gee Atherton has podiumed here at Leogang but never on the top step. However, Gee is making this World Champs a priority; he skipped out on Crankworx in Whistler--traditionally a bit of a vacation for the Atherton clan--in favor of training.|
| It won't be all fun and games for Mitch Ropelato at this year's World Champs. The call up to the "A" squad with Sam Hill and Troy Brosnan on Monster Specialized will demand a sharper focus.|
| And let's not forget that the focus here at World Champs won't all be up on the DH and 4X tracks; Evan Warner of SRAM will be here to defend his title from Boxxer Worlds last year. Only time will tell if 'Cougar Candy' can take another win.|
| It will be Justin Leov's last World Champs as a racer--Leov has announced his retirement effective at the end of this year's season. It's been a great ride, Jusso; you will be missed.|
| Rumors swirl about Peaty possibly retiring at the end of this season, too. If that's the case, give this legend a bit of extra cheering during his run as it will likely be his last time contesting for the coveted rainbow stripes. To put his time racing into perspective, Nico Vouilloz, shown here wishing Peaty well at Champery last year, officially 'retired' from World Cup DH racing a decade ago. These two regularly battled it out in the mud of the World Cup in the mid 90's until Nico's retirement in 2002.|
| Rachel Atherton was in Whistler, but kept the racing to a minimum, focusing instead on a relaxed mindset for racing in Leogang. Given her technical handling and her ability to hammer the pedals, the odds favor Rachel.|
| Another great rider we will see contending for rainbow stripes here at Leogang for a final time is Sabrina Jonnier. Sabos's time racing DH has earned her 5 World Cup overall titles and 2 World Championship titles. You, too, Sabo, will be missed.|
| Tracey Hannah won't be racing here in Leogang as she is still recovering from a broken femur suffered in Val d'Isere. Best wishes to her, Emilie Siegenthaler, Myriam Nicole, and Jill Kintner to come back next year just as strong.|4X
| Emmeline Ragot took time to train at Whistler during Crankworx, but competed only in the Enduro Open and the Garbanzo DH in order to minimize the risk of aggravating her sore shoulder so close to World Champs and with the World Cup overall still undecided. The pedaling sections at Leogang aren't likely to favor her taking a third World Championship title against a dominant Rachel Atherton, but then again, the odds weren't in her favor in '09 in Canberra, either.|
The 4X Pro Tour saw Thomas Slavik and Anneke Beerten dominate all season long. But it was an Olympic year so a lot of top names were either focusing exclusively on BMX or mixing and matching. Consequently, making a call on a winner here in Leogang is damn near impossible as those Olympic BMX focused racers (like David Graf and Roger Rinderknecht) are coming to Leogang with ‘bomber’ fitness and clear focus. As a result, I’m going to say it’s anyone’s race amongst the top riders for the men and the women.
One thing that will make this track one to watch is the course make over from none other than Guido Tschugg. The man can build, that’s for sure! This track is now an entirely different beast compared to the track that was here last year. The basic skeleton is the same, but the track is now bigger, meaner, and worthy of being called a World Championship track... Among the changes? A 52-foot set of doubles. Yes, the 4X will be a wild one in Leogang.
| David Graf could be a wild card winner for the 4X in Leogang. Graf is fresh off the Olympics, and the training for that has him in arguably the best shape of his life--a key to that ever important first gate. That fitness was on display at the final race of the 4X Pro Tour in Willingen following the London Olympics, and Graf mowed down the competition, qualifying first and taking the win in the final.|
| It's going to be odd seeing a 4X World Champs without Jared Graves smashing the opening gate and gunning the hole shot. Next to Lopes in his prime, Graves was the best bet for a win anytime he stepped into the starting gate.|