Höll and Kolb make it a historic double in Saalfelden Leogang

Saturday, 17.06.2023

Höll and Kolb make it a historic double in Saalfelden Leogang

Valentina Höll and Andreas Kolb strike gold in Austria at the UCI Downhill World Cup.

Valentina Höll takes a clean sweep on home turf
Riders would have to contend with a rapidly drying course after yesterday’s rain showers that disrupted both Junior finals and Elite qualifying, with the bike park sections returning to their high pace of earlier in the week. The lower woods would take longer to dry and offered a treacherous ride for those heading down early.

Reigning World Champion Valentina Höll (ROCKSHOX TREK RACE TEAM) made good her qualifying win by backing it up with a five second win in the semi-final. German National Champion Nina Hoffmann (SANTA CRUZ SYNDICATE) would put aside her knee injury to finish one better than her qualifying in second with a small crash towards the end of her run. Switzerland’s Camille Balanche (DORVAL AM COMMENCAL) would miss out on silver by 0.025 of a second.

There wouldn’t be much time to ponder the semi-finals run as the finals were calling. The sun came out and riders would be back to the top of the hill to go again. 

Nina Hoffmann (SANTA CRUZ SYNDICATE) would go off track in the woods, throwing away nearly a second advantage at split three. Once the dust had settled, World Champion Valentina Höll (ROCKSHOX TREK RACE TEAM) would take the win in Leogang in imperious form, four seconds to the good, making it a clean sweep of race runs this weekend. But it would be Switzerland’s Camille Balanche (DORVAL AM COMMENCAL) who would have to settle for second but would take the leader’s jersey from Atherton. Rachel Atherton (CONTINENTAL ATHERTON) would occupy the third step on the podium and would have to wait to match Anne-Caroline Chausson’s record.

Valentina Höll had this to say about her win: “Leogang is such a hard race for me, last year was a disaster. I’ve never been so down or doubted myself more. The years before I had an injury, then a crash in the last turn. Every time I was so close... After Lenzerheide I was lost, I didn't know what to do. It all just clicked this week. All my friends are here, everyone I love is here, so I am so stoked that they are all with me. I have massive expectations of myself to do it here finally, it feels so good. My bike was going so much faster in the finals, my mechanic did a really good job making my bike much firmer but that helped me go faster and carry the speed to the finish.”

Camille Balanche spoke after her run, saying: “Vali was faster everywhere today. It was a hard track for me as it's shorter and easier than it used to be. I struggled to find time in the woods. I'm super happy that I had three good, consistent runs. I was in the top two so I can't complain. I just want to keep being consistent and keep pushing, eventually the win will come.”

Rachel Atherton had this to say after her run: “It's such a hard track here in Leogang. I really struggled with the track. The rain didn't help either. This morning I cried, I wasn't having a good time. It's a hard track so I'm stoked to have a good run. The sun's come out, the crowd was so amazing cheering the whole way down. I only planned to do these two World Cups, then I don't think I'll do any more. Think I'll go home and have a rest.”

Results Downhill Elite Women Top 5:
1.    Vali Höll (AUT | ROCKSHOX TREK RACE TEAM) 3:23:222
2.    Camille Balanche (SUI | DORVAL AM COMMENCAL) 3:27:525
3.    Rachel Atherton (GBR | CONTINENTAL ATHERTON) 3:30:556
4.    Monika Hrastnik (SLO | DORVAL AM COMMENCAL) 3:30:825
5.    Phoebe Gale (GBR (CANYON CLLCTV FMD) 3:31:074

Overall World Cup Standings Top 5:
1.    Camille Balanche (SUI | DORVAL AM COMMENCAL) 680 Points
2.    Rachel Atherton (GBR | CONTINENTAL ATHERTON) 616 Points
3.    Vali Höll (AUT | ROCKSHOX TREK RACE TEAM) 592 Points
4.    Nina Hoffmann (GER | SANTA CRUZ SYNDICATE) 430 Points
5.    Monika Hrastnik (SLO | DORVAL AM COMMENCAL) 380 Points

Andi Kolb makes it an historic Austrian double
The Elite Men’s semi-final saw the same drying conditions with the rider who’s always first on track Ronan Dunne (CONTINENTAL NUKEPOOF FACTORY RACING), Ireland’s National Champion keeping the hot seat warm with half the qualifying field gone. It would be a long wait for the early starters who had to wait to see if they’d make the finals cut as the fastest riders started their runs. Fastest qualifier Davide Palazzari (ROGUE RACING – AFTER SKULL TEAM) would crash out on the first straight and would not make the semi-finals cut as a result.

It would be Specialized Gravity one-two in the semi-final, with Canada’s Finn Iles getting the better of his teammate Loïc Bruni, the World Champion losing his chain and having to settle for second, almost a full second adrift. Third place went to Australia’s Troy Brosnan (CANYON CLLCTV FACTORY TEAM).

The wind and rain would stay away for the Elite Men’s race after 60 riders were clipped to 30 for the finals run. The woods would no doubt be in perfect form for the fastest men on the planet. Could the Specialized Gravity team close out the first two steps of the podium or would another rider step up for finals? 

Come finals time, it would be the Irish keeping the hot seat warm. Oisin O’Callaghan (YT MOB) started the trend with Ronan Dunne (CONTINENTAL NUKEPROOF FACTORY RACING) taking his place. USA’s Dakotah Norton (INTENSE FACTORY RACING) would be the first to go inside the time of Finn Iles’ (SPECIALIZED GRAVITY) qualifying time. The track was clearly getting faster as the world’s fastest lined up at the start. 
After all thirty riders had crossed the line, it would be European Champion Andi Kolb (CONTINENTAL ATHERTON) who was the fastest rider on the hill today, taking his maiden win on home soil, as the only rider to go under the three minute mark and first ever Austrian taking a UCI Downhill World Cup win. Andi wrote mountain bike history! Just 0.6 seconds separating him from second place Loïc Bruni (SPECIALIZED Gravity). Jackson Goldstone (SANTA CRUZ SYNDICATE) looked to go better than the Austrian but overcooked it into the final turn but would still take his first Elite podium, finishing third.

Andi Kolb spoke about his winning run, saying: “It's hard to talk to be honest, it's so emotional for me. It's my ninth Elite season, it took me ages to get here, and I will never forget this day, it's unreal. I don't know where I found the time. I made a few mistakes, but I was going so fast and just kept pushing. The bottom woods were insane, the crowd, that's why we go fast. When I saw Vali take the win by four seconds, I just went for it.”

Here’s what Loïc Bruni had to say about their finals run: “I'm super happy to finish second to be honest, I rode on the limit and I'm not so proud of some of my sections, but I was happy to make it to the finish. My run started so well, I hit everything perfectly. Then I was maybe going too fast into sections, and maybe didn't manage that so well. I messed up the sections before the motorway, then flat-landed the big jumps and just tried to go flat out to the bottom. I hit a hole towards the bottom and my rear brake lever rolled on the bars. I struggled from there, I was in survival mode. I'm really happy for Andi, he's been slowly coming to the top. Him winning here is beautiful, you have to give it to him. It's also another solid day for me, so I'm happy.”
Third place Jackson Goldstone said: “This was amazing. I felt good all week from the first lap. It was definitely one of my best race runs I've ever had until that last corner where I slid out. I just overcooked it. I can't be mad at the result; it was an amazing race and I'm stoked for Andi. I need to iron out the small mistakes I guess but I'm so happy to be on the podium.”

Results Downhill Elite Men Top 5:
1.    Andreas Kolb (AUT | CONTINENTAL ATHERTON) 2:59:335
2.    Loïc Bruni (FRA | SPECIALIZED GRAVITY) 3:00:015
3.    Jackson Goldstone (CAN | SANTA CRUZ SYNDICATE) 3:00:246
4.    Finn Iles (CAN | SPECIALIZED GRAVITY) 3:00:786
5.    Luca Shaw (USA | CANYON CLLCTV FACTORY TEAM) 3:01:048

Overall World Cup Standings Top 5:
1.    Loïc Bruni (FRA | SPECIALIZED GRAVITY) 595 Points
2.    Finn Iles (CAN | SPECIALIZED GRAVITY) 494 Points
3.    Loris Vergier (FRA | TREK FACTORY RACING GRAVITY) 486 Points
4.    Andreas Kolb (AUT | CONTINENTAL ATHERTON) 476 Points
5.    Jackson Goldstone (CAN | SANTA CRUZ SYNDICATE) 441 Points

The UCI Mountain Bike World Cup in Saalfelden Leogang continues on Sunday with the Cross-country Olympic races of the U23 riders, before the Elite Women’s race at 1 p.m. and the Elite Men’s race at 3:30 p.m. will end the World Cup weekend with two more race highlights.