Leogang proved to be one of the shocks of the season last year. Riders rolled into Austria expecting the usual mix of high-speed straights and bike park berms but the course builders had other ideas. Instead of carving the second wall ride, riders flew into a steep, rutted woods section that finally utilized the incredible potential for technical tracks this mountain has to offer.
This section, combined with October Alpine weather resulted in carnage. We're used to riders being separated by milliseconds at this venue but instead, the field was blown wide open and staying upright was more of a priority than going fast.
Well, rain is forecast again this year. While that might mean an element of chance gets thrown into the results sheets once more, we've tried our best to predict who we think will be the fastest racers on Saturday.
When Vital MTB took a survey of racers at the Schladming NotaRace
about who would win in Leogang, one name cropped up more than all the rest - Loris Vergier. Vergier wasn't the most consistent racer in the truncated 2020 season but on his day he was probably the fastest. He took two wins in three days in Maribor and also topped the qualifying sheets for the first race in Lousa.
He made the move from the Santa Cruz Syndicate to Trek
in the off-season and it's clear he has been able to slot into his new program with ease as he took the win at the Coppa Italia in Sestola
then recorded consistently fast times at the NotaRace last week. Aaron Gwin
Simply put, there's no racer better at Leogang than Aaron Gwin. He's only been beaten on this track four times in World Cups and in all but one of those defeats, he still finished on the podium. The one time he didn't finish on the podium here he got a puncture, rode the course on his rim
and still looked frighteningly fast. I mean, come on, he's even won here with no chain
While it's true that Gwin's stint with Intense hasn't been his most prolific, it's probably also been the most disrupted period of his career. In 2019, he was dealing with pre-season injuries, stolen bikes and then a further couple of injuries as the year progressed, while last year COVID threw everyone's preparations out of the window. Despite this streak of bad luck, Gwin still has podiumed both years and for 2021 is coming into the year disruption-free. It's clear from social media that he's been testing and tweaking his bike thoroughly and this seems to be producing some strong off-season results. We wouldn't be surprised to see Gwin back to his best this weekend. Matt Walker
2020 may have seen Matt Walker take the title of the World Cup's Mr Consistent. In just three years since becoming an elite rider, he has shown that he has not only the relentless pace but also the mental fortitude required to be a regular name at the top of the timesheets.
Last year, Walker finished in the top five in qualifying and finals at every single race and took the overall title without ever winning either. Now, as the top rider on his team following the departure of Danny Hart, he'll be eager to continue that hot streak in 2021.WomenVali Holl
2020 was supposed to be the breakout season for Vali Holl. After two years of undisputed dominance in the Junior Women's category, this was her chance to show that she could mix it with the Elites too. Unfortunately, it wasn't to be. A nasty crash in practice saw her go over the bars on the canyon gap
and that was the abrupt end of her season before it even began.
In 2021, Vali can press the reset button and try again. We've seen no evidence she won't be right up there once again and she seems to have settled into her new Trek set up
as well. Don't be surprised to see a fired-up Vali aiming for redemption this time around in Leogang.Marine Cabirou
With two wins and two second places, Marine Cabirou was the pick of the bunch in the women's field last year. Despite battling through bouts of COVID
earlier in the year, she took the overall at a canter with a lead of 50 points over compatriot Myriam Nicole.
This is a bit of an outside pick as Leogang has never been a favourable course for Cabirou and in fact, she's never finished better than fourth in her seven races here. What she will have on her side is a boatload of belief and strong pre-season form that includes a win at the Copa Catalana. Cabirou will be looking to get her title defence off to the strongest start possible so expect to see her near the top of the timesheet on Saturday.Tahnee Seagrave
Tahnee Seagrave's last visit to Leogang ended in muddy misery like so many others but take a closer look at the splits and you'll see she was flying last year. She had a lead of more than 1.5 seconds through the top half of the track in finals, which may not sound like much but don't forget that the bike-parky nature of Leogang means that gaps here are usually razor thin.
Tahnee has previous success in Leogang too. She earned her first-ever World Cup win here in 2017 and has collected three other podiums at this venue too. After spending 2020 rehabbing from breaking her tibia and fibula, she'll be raring to go and fighting fit this weekend.
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