Leogang, Austria, is a new venue on the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup, but it is already receiving praise from riders. The site will play host to round four of the four cross series and round three of the downhill competition, as the gravity racers complete their round of spring competitions before national and continental championships start to take place.
The four cross course was designed and built by German professional racer Guido Tschugg, and is proving to be a hit with the riders already, with some good line options and overtaking sections. Unfortunately, Tschugg won't get to race on his creation, since he crashed and fractured his ankle in Willingen, Germany, last weekend.
Men's World Cup leader Jared Graves (Yeti Fox Shox) said, "The track is unique and very challenging. It looks really good and is definitely the type of course I would like to see more often - especially the bigger gaps are really nice. I'm looking forward to the qualifying and the race."
On the women's side, Czech rider Jana Horakova continues to lead the series, with 220 points, but will be absent as she shifts her focus to the BMX World Championships. This leaves local Austrian star Anita Molcik, only 40 points back, with the chance to take over the lead. Molcik is sure to benefit from local support, while defending World Cup champion Anneke Beerten (Suspension Center) is still looking for her first win of the season.
On the men's side, World Champion and defending World Cup champion Graves has opened a commanding lead over his two RSP 4 Cross rivals Joost Wichman and Tomas Slavik. It is unlikely that either could overtake Graves with a win in Leogang, but it would put them back into contention.
The downhill is also drawing praise, and it will take a complete rider to do well here. It is a mix of different courses - steep in places (like Champéry), slippery rooty sections, like the Schladming course it replaces, and a middle section with grass banks, plus manmade turns and jumps. The 2,600-metre run drops 524 metres from the start to the finish. There has been considerable rain over the past week, but organizers have been working hard to keep it rideable.
"If you want to compare the track to a better-known one, then I can only think about Fort William," said Cedric Gracia. "That means pretty fast sections, also some time 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."
The women's competition is neck and neck between rivals Sabrina Jonnier (Maxxis-Rocky Mountain) and Rachel Atherton (Commencal). Each has a win in the first two rounds, and Jonnier leads by a slim 15 points. Floriane Pugin (Scott 11) is also still in contention, just 75 points behind Jonnier.
For the men, it is similarly close, with Greg Minnaar (Santa Cruz Syndicate) leading another Commencal sponsored Atherton - Gee - by the same 15 points. Again, each has a win apiece, and the pair are well ahead of third placed Cameron Cole (Maxxis-Rocky Mountain). Another rider who can't be counted out is Sam Hill (Monster-Energy-Mad Catz-Specialized), who will be looking to return to competition after missing the second round in Fort William, Scotland due to a training accident.
Action begins Friday evening with the four cross qualifications.
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