Words: Mike Rose
Photos: Nathan Hughes

It feels like we have been waiting for ever, but finally Downhill World Cup racing is back. After the postponement of the original round 1 in Maribor, and then the cancellation of round 2 in Fort William we have all been hoping and dreaming that Leogang would stay on the calendar… and it has.

The whole INTENSE Factory Racing (IFR) team of Aaron Gwin, Neko Mulally and Seth Sherlock have made the trip over from North America to the picture-perfect Austrian Alps. Everyone was hoping for good weather, but there was a definite feeling of déjà vu as the heavens opened for day one’s practice session.

The course has remained largely unchanged from last year’s World Championships, some sections had been smoothed out a little, and the lower wooded section (which caused so much trouble) had bedded-in and looked a little easier to ride. But all that changed as the unpredictable Austrian alpine weather did its thing. Bright sunshine one minute, then torrential rain the next, meaning that the track dug-up very quickly, with massive ruts appearing and sections becoming almost unrideable. The mud constantly changing consistency from sticky to near liquid.

The two key sections of the course are the notorious stump field higher up and (as mentioned) the wooded section towards the finish. Both sections have multiple lines that you have to thread your way through, and both become extremely difficult to ride when they are wet. In these circumstances the racer’s mindset becomes that odd combination of committed yet calculated, having to weigh-up risk against reward. Riders have to race smart, especially as this is the first major race of the season.

Friday’s qualifying was once again hit and miss when it came to the weather. Pouring rain for the top 10, then bright sunshine for some of the later starters, and everything in between. It really was a case of just getting on with it, whatever ‘it’ may be. They were very difficult conditions for everyone. The good news is that Aaron qualified for Saturday’s main event, but unfortunately both Neko and Seth missed the top 60, so they will not be racing. Seth was only three positions off qualifying, which is very positive for his first elite (senior) World Cup. Neko unfortunately crashed and had a mechanical, which ended his hopes of qualification. We must give credit here to Troy Brosnan, he absolutely nailed the wooded section and put in a time almost 7 seconds ahead of the rest of the field. And watch out for Thibaut Daprella, the Frenchman was up on Brosnan’s time for the first three splits. Phenomenal race runs under such conditions. Let’s see what tomorrow brings.

1. Troy Brosnan 3:34.139
2. Danny Hart 3:40.873 +6.734
3. Thibaut Daprella 3:41.068 +6.929

18. Aaron Gwin 3:45.133 +10.994
63. Seth Sherlock 3:56.902 +22.763
73. Neko Mulally 3:58.214 +24.075

The live feed starts tomorrow (Saturday 12th) at 13.45 CET/12.45 BST, and you can watch the main event here.