Words: Mike Rose
Photos: Nathan Hughes (unless stated otherwise)

Round 2 of this year’s Downhill World Cup visited the Austrian alpine perfection of Leogang. With back to back races the INTENSE Factory Racing (IFR) team barely had time to eat their first Wiener Schnitzel before they were back at it again and on track walk.

Photo: Seb Schieck

But let’s rewind a little. IFR team rider and ‘Enduro specialist’ Seth Sherlock (above) had already raced the first three rounds of the newly named EDR series (formally the EWS). So far June had been busy, it looked like this: EDR Finale, followed by DH1 in Lenzerheide and now DH2 in Leogang. Three weekends of solid travel and racing, but to make things a little crazier Seth decided that he would try to race both the EDR and the Downhill World Cup in the same week. As far as I know no one else was doing this!

Photo: Seb Schieck

Leogang was the first time that we saw all four MTB disciplines together at one World Cup event (DH, Enduro, XC and XC short track). The schedule wasn’t designed so that a rider could race more than one discipline, but somehow Seth and the team made it work, but it was ridiculously tight. A huge day on the bike on Thursday racing EDR (above), followed by DH training and qualification on Friday (below). Something had to give… and it turned out to be Seth’s wrist!

On Friday morning Seth had this to say: “Great times racing the Leogang Enduro World Cup yesterday! Was a hard battle with the wrist injury honestly but it still ended up being a fun day. P32 overall, my best elite result yet! Happy with the progression and really happy with a couple of stage top 20s, just have to pick up the pace on the janky euro stuff and I’ll be right in the mix.”

A few hours later and the story was a little different, “Injury update… went for a couple of practice runs for downhill today, really wanted to try and do both the enduro and downhill at this round, but my wrist was feeling too crappy to ride so I decided I better go get another X-ray. Well the X-ray came back and sure enough I’ve been racing with a broken scaphoid since my crash in Port Angeles a month ago! Bummer for sure.”

With team leader Aaron Gwin out through injury, and Seth pulling out pre-qualifying, it just left Dak Norton and Joe Breeden flying the IFR flag. There’s no doubt that Joe’s time racing for IFR has not been easy. We know that he is a super talented rider, but injuries and just basic bad luck have held him back. Leogang was an altogether different story. In the intermittent rain in Friday’s qualifying he made it safely down in 32nd position, well inside the 60 rider cut-off.

In Saturday’s semis the field was cut again, this time to 30 riders. Joe’s time of 3:09.732 was enough for him to make it into the main event in 30th position, and importantly, securing some very valuable points for the overall.

As all this was going on Dak was also calmly making his way into the main event. He got caught in the rain and the tricky track conditions in qualifying, coming down in 57th position. He was protected into the semis, so it didn’t really matter where he finished in qualifying. Sixteenth in the semi (and the joint quickest time through the speed trap) put him safely into the final. So the IFR team were in a good position, both riders in and some prime-time TV exposure on its way.

Watching Joe come down the hill as the first rider in the final was a great sight. As he crossed the line he seemed a little disappointed with his time, he knew that it was slower than Finn Iles’ semi winning run. My feeling was that he just wanted to get down the hill in one piece, make it across the line and score some points. In reality (and as long as he didn’t get injured) he had nothing to lose, safe in the knowledge that he was going to finish in the top 30 no matter what.

“Another great building week, stoked with the progress and happy to put that into my results.” Joe Breeden

I can only really speculate on Dak’s run, but from looking at the first two splits he was down in 17th, and that is always going to be hard to claw back. Fastest through the speed trap (again), he pulled back some time to finish in 14th position, 3.122 seconds off the winning time. Solid points to go towards the overall for Dak, but I don’t think he’ll like the fact that he was outside the top 10. Dak sets himself high standards and we know he will want more.

Dak now sits in twelfth place in the overall standings, which once again means that he is protected up to the semis at the next round in Val di Sole in less than two weeks (July 1st). Joe will be happy with his progress, and he now sits in 40th. And of course huge congratulations to the two Austrian local heroes, Vali Holl and Andi Kolb, who took the wins on home soil, with all the pressure that can bring with it. Until next time.