Thursday Jun 12, 2014

UCI World Cup Downhill 2014: Leogang Preview

If you are still recovering from the downhill drama that unfolded in Fort William last weekend, we don’t blame you.

It was one of the most exciting races in recent memory with podium changes galore, almost as many flat tires, a first-time winner in Specialized Racing's young Australian Troy Brosnan, and some serious speeds.

But whether you are ready or not it’s time to dust yourself down and get ready for the second World Cup Downhill in as many weeks as the tour heads to Leogang, Austria this weekend. Here's our full preview of Round 4.

The Course

 Stevie Smith tackling one of Leogang's rock gardens in 2013 

The Leogang bike park has hosted the World Cup for the last four years, but it will be remembered mostly for staging the epic final day of the 2013 series. Stevie Smith snuck in and stole the overall title from under the nose of Gee Atherton with a famous last minute comeback in Leogang. With the World Cup as tight as ever there will still be plenty at stake on Sunday.

The track is generally considered slightly more mellow than some others on the tour, but a few adjustments to the 2014 course could change that. The smooth bike park trail means the opening section is fast and flowing, if very off-camber, before high speeds give way to technical roots and rocks in the narrow wooded area. The final third sees the riders return to the bike park for a fast finish full of big airs with some blind landings.

The weather could play a huge part in determining the winner of Round 4 as rain is forecast for most of the weekend in the Austrian Alps. Below is Claudio Caluori's new track POV - and one blind transfer claims a victim!

  Leogang course preview POV  

The Contenders

Aaron Gwin

We haven’t seen a double winner yet this season and it is probably about time that changed. Aaron Gwin won the opening round of 2014, survived in Cairns and then claimed 4th in Fort William. He has been consistent, played it safe when needed and turned it on when he has sensed a win. If the weather holds, look to the American to continue a great fortnight for Specialized Racing and make the top three.

Stevie Smith

The defending champion returned from injury in Fort William after missing the opening two rounds and put in a decent performance to finish 6th, moving up one place from qualifying. With the overall title out of his reach in 2014, Smith will be desperate for race wins and what better place to get back on the podium than the track where he won it all last season?

Loic Bruni

The young French rider is one of many future stars who are still looking for their first World Cup win. However, he will be inspired by Troy Brosnan’s shock debut victory in Fort William. Bruni finished second here last year, losing out only to the overall winner Stevie Smith, and will see Leogang as his best chance to top the podium this year. Of all the riders tipped to top the podium for the first time this season, Bruni is probably the most likely to do it in Austria.

Women

Rachel Atherton

Rachel Atherton took a massive blow to her hopes of another world title when she was disqualified in Fort William for allowing a spectator to help her with a puncture. It makes for a great overall race but Atherton won’t take losing ground on her rivals lightly. She secured her World Cup title here last year, although Emmeline Ragot beat her to the win, but she will be hungrier than ever before to get back on the podium in Round 4.

Manon Carpenter

While Manon Carpenter doesn’t strike you as fiercely competitive as Atherton, she will be equally determined in Austria after suffering a puncture of her own last weekend. It was particularly disappointing for the Briton as she dominated qualifying. She will be pleased however by the fact that she took the race lead in Scotland and, as one of few riders considered capable of toppling Atherton, she will be going all out for her second victory of the season in Leogang.

Emmeline Ragot

Another rider with the ability to push Atherton all the way for the overall title, Emmeline Ragot showed she means business with victory in Fort William last weekend. The French rider won’t be losing too much sleep over her rivals' mechanicals in Round 3 after picking up one of her own in Round 1 and will now be targeting the consistency she needs to stake a genuine claim to the World Cup title.

The Verdict

 Troy Brosnan shocked many with victory in Fort William last weekend 

We all know that Downhill Mountain Biking is unpredictable but Fort William was just ridiculous. Both the men’s and women’s events are both wide open with anyone capable of winning World Cups – and the same goes for the overall.

In the women’s race as usual it’s between Atherton, Carpenter and Ragot for the win – but this season it’s impossible to predict who will actually top the podium.

Atherton hasn’t been at her best in 2014 after suffering with a consistent illness and Carpenter and Ragot have sensed their time to shine could be now. Tracey Hannah collected a positive result in Scotland and Myriam Nicole looked fast before she ran out of legs on the long Fort William track.

The men’s race is even more difficult to forecast. Troy Brosnan shocked everyone to get his first win and scared even the most knowledgeable downhill fans out of making any solid predictions.

Gee Atherton wasn’t happy with 5th in Round 3 and will be gunning to return to the podium while Aaron Gwin will surely make it four podiums out of four this year, if not take the win.

Stevie Smith could harness his memorable win here last season to inspire him to another victory, Brosnan obviously can't be overlooked, while Danny Hart, Josh Bryceland and Loic Bruni are all on the cusp of getting their first World Cup wins.

Either that, or anyone of 30 or more riders could prove us all very wrong! Enjoy! To watch the action unfold live with Rob Warner and Red Bull Bike click here.

 Rachel Atherton and Stevie Smith celebrate World Cup titles in Leogang last year 

Channels: Mountain Bike

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