Cruising down the German autobahn it was hard to believe we were already on our way to the last race of the season. This was it, the last of six World Cups, neatly packaged into four months. It's been a non-stop whirlwind tour but the team has loved every minute.
Leogang was home to the 2012 World Championships and the organiser always puts on a great show, so this was guaranteed to be a fitting end to an exciting year of racing. The Austrian track is a deceptive one! Set at a bike park it's easy to be caught out by the berms and little jumps thinking it's going to be easy. But, after a day of World Cup practice, the ruts and braking bumps started to appear and the amount of pedaling between the jumps on the mid section of the track hit home. Then, once your mind and accuracy had been tested at the top, your lungs and legs tested in the middle, it was time for the bottom woods, where roots, off cambers and a new rock garden await...
After a week of rain, the Leogang track was well watered and ready to be destroyed. Friday practice started in the rain but finished in the sun, this meant equipment and tyre choice was changing as fast as the weather! We looked at the forecast through the week and it showed sun would grace Sunday's final. Manon, Sam and Harry were loving the conditions and like most riders, were secretly hoping the rain would carry on and once again spice up the race day action as it did just a week a go in Hafjell
Qualifying day was Saturday as this was a DH-only weekend, so the week was flying by. Soon enough it was time for the mechanics to make the familiar trip up the hill, with wheel bag, pump, umbrella, warm up bike and turbo, Alex and Martyn leave the tent each weekend, done up like a pair of pit ponies! Putting in countless hours of preparation for the team, it must sometimes feel like a thankless task, working on the bikes all morning, then heading up the hill to miss the action in the afternoon. They are as dedicated as the riders and truly deserve a mention and our praise for all that they do. Thank you boys!
An uncharacteristic mistake on the top section cost Manon a little time but she managed to hold down 4th place in qualifying, knowing she had more in the tank for Sunday. With steady runs for both the boys, both qualifying comfortably, it seemed everyone wanted to save the best for last and hope that all guns would be firing for the season finale.
Just as the Austrian weather man promised, the clouds parted and the sun shone through towards the end of Saturday and through into Sunday. The track was drying fast on the steep sided hill and it was action stations in the pits, with a role reversal of the previous week, we were now reaching for the dry tyres and prepping for a race day in the sun. There would be no holding back today!
Finals time : Manon set off out the gate and looked strong, ticking off each rutted turn she looked determined as she flashed through split one with the fastest time and held the advantage to split two. Jumping the table top in the arena and sprinting for the line, she put herself into the hot seat, only bumped down a chair when Atherton and Ragot finished the day off with a one-two. Still young, still learning and still getting stronger, Manon has had an incredible year. Showing consistency and speed beyond her years and standing on the World Cup podium to take third place on the day and third place in the overall standings. She already has her sights set on better things for 2014.
Harry was first man up for the team and put in a run that had him smiling as he took off his helmet to recover. The time stood strong as the rest of the field came home and would have seen him finish off his season with a fine top 30 ride... We say 'would' as unfortunately the UCI disqualified him for running outside a course tape. This was near the bottom of the track where the tape was on the floor and he was an inch the wrong side of it for around two bike lengths, gaining no advantage from his slight mistake. The UCI rule allows for this but they did not see it as acceptable and sadly their decision held.
So this just left the big man, Sam Dale, to bring it home for the team and finish the season off. As the course cut up and roughened throughout the men's race, Sam found it hard to get into a rhythm, loosing time at the top of the hill and fighting just a little too hard at the bottom to try and pull it back. Despite this he managed a decent 34th place and with times tighter than ever before in the stacked men's race he wasn't far off the pace. So now both men head into the winter knowing they have to work hard on every aspect of their racing and preparation to find those vital tents of a second on the hill come 2014...
So that's it, boom! Another season done, a great season for the team and as you expect in the world of racing, a roller coaster ride of ups and downs to keep things interesting along the way and make the victories even more special. Thank you to everyone who has supported the team this year, you're a big part of the success and we all appreciate the hard work that goes in to make it happen. Exciting times now as we take a deep breath and dive into preparation for 2014......Watch this space!