Spectacular Race Action at the Out of Bounds Festival in Saalfelden Leogang
Perfect summer weather, a revised race course layout and an electric atmosphere provided the perfect ingredients for close racing and a spectacular weekend for fans and riders alike. In the end the final day saw an Austrian Junior-Sensation win her home race, a speechless Frenchman taking his second World Cup win and the return of one of the sport’s greats to the top of the podium.
After four action-packed days with countless events, the final day of the Out of Bounds Festival started with the Junior Women Finals of the Mercedes-Benz UCI Downhill Mountain Bike World Cup. After winning her first two World Cup races in spectacular fashion, all eyes were on 16-year-old local Vali Höll, who was looking to make it three world cup wins in a row at her first home World Cup. Edged on by the crowd, Höll attacked the 2.3-Kilometer-long Speedster hard out of the gate. Not even a crash half-way down the course could slow her down as she sped across the line a whopping 15 seconds clear of her closest rival to take the win ahead of Nastasia Gimenez (FRA) and Ottilia Johansson Jones (SWE) with a time that equalled her crash-free qualifying time. Following straight after the women, the finals of the Junior Men turned up the heat in dramatic fashion as Kye A’hern (AUS) edged out Frenchman Thibaut Daprela by a mere 0.05 seconds in what is one of the closest World Cup finishes ever.
“I had problems with the Track the last two days but today in training I felt really good and I just wanted to have fun. I unfortunately crashed during my race run. Everyone on the side of the track yelled “Keep your breaks open!”, so I did and then unfortunately slid out. I just thought “Damn, why in Leogang of all places”, but it was all good in the end. I am super stoked!”
As the day heated up, it was time for the finals of the Elite Women. Veronika Widman (ITA) set the first quick time of the day but staying nearly 10 seconds outside of the fastest Qualifying time by Tahnée Seagrave (GBR), it was clear Widman’s time would not last for long. Rachel Atherton (GBR), who crashed during qualification started earlier than she was accustomed to, but seemed completely unfazed pinning it through the difficult grassy off-cambers straight out of the gate. Riding at an insane pace, Atherton left the gate open for the top-qualifiers with a small stall in the technical woods towards the bottom but still crossed the finish line 13 seconds faster than Widman.
Fourth last to start was the winner of the first World Cup in Losinj and overall points leader Myriam Nicole (FRA). Smashing the top section with a blistering pace and creative lines, Myriam was close to Rachel’s time before she went into the lead in the technical wood section. Going into the notorious step-section just before the finish area, Nicole scared the crowd with her back tire sliding out on a drop, but managed to just avoid going over the bars. Nicole might have avoided a crash but the time lost meant that she blew her lead, finishing by a mere 0.6 seconds behind Atherton. The next three women on course Monika Hrastnik (SLO), Emilie Siegenthaler (SUI) and Tracey Hannah (AUS) could not match the speed of Nicole and Atherton, so all eyes were on last year’s winner and the fastest woman in qualifying Tahnée Seagrave. Seagrave started hot out of the gate but slid slightly off line on the grassy off-camber. Trying to make up time, Seagrave pushed it hard on the motorway. Too hard as it turned out, when she overshot a jump and landed outside of the tape resulting in disqualification and Rachel Atherton’s first win in over a year.
„It’s been a really hard week... I’ve felt pretty sore since Fort William. When you have crashes, you start to get scared, but today I just wanted to ride and finish without a crash. It was really strange starting so early, but in a way, quite nice. I was in the mix with the girls and it was cool to sit in the hot seat and have a chance to watch the race. I am so relieved really. Leogang was loads of fun and maybe I’ll come back in a few weeks for a holiday.”
Closing out the action-packed weekend with a bang were the Elite Men. With less than a second separating the Top 4 in qualifying, the stage was set for a nail-bitingly close race. Cheered on by the thousands of fans lining the track nestled in Bikepark Leogang, Charlie Harrison (USA) set the first benchmark time with less than 30 riders left at the top. As rider after rider failed to beat Harrison, his time started to look better and better. It wasn’t until Michael Jones (GBR) hit the track, that Harrison’s time started to be threatened. Choosing creative lines and carrying massive amounts of speed, Jones made his way through the difficult off-camber section at the start. Keeping speed across the famous Motorway and into the technical woods above the finish line, Jones steadily increased his lead eventually crossing the line and taking over the hot seat with a gap of 1.5 seconds.
Sliding around the hot seat nervously, Jones watched the next 7 riders failing to beat his time. It wasn’t until defending Leogang champion and overall series leader Aaron Gwin (USA) dropped into the track on his quest to an unprecedented fourth victory in a row. Hitting the newly shaped top section with new found confidence after struggling with a dislocated thumb, that kept him from practicing for much of the week, Gwin’s split times showed up green right from the get-go. Making quick work of the many jumps on the motorway and the following difficult wood sections, Gwin crossed the line 1.8 seconds ahead of Jones. The Top 10 qualifiers were up next but despite their best efforts, Gwin’s time held with Laurie Greenland (GBR) and Troy Brosnan (AUS) coming closest being 0.7 and 0.8 seconds down respectively.
With only three riders left on top and Gwin’s time starting to look unbeatable and Amaury Pierron (FRA) hit the track. Coming off his first-ever World Cup win in Fort William the week before, Pierron attacked the course with confidence and was ahead at the first split. However, he fell behind Gwin on the second split before pulling back time on the high-speed motorway section. Blasting through the technical bottom section, Pierron’s split times started to show up green again and sure enough he crossed the finish line 0.5 seconds ahead of Gwin. After a small mistake put Brook MacDonald (NZL) out of contention, it was all down to the fastest qualifier, Luca Shaw (USA). Shaw’s first splits showed him to be only a fraction behind Pierron’s time and after the motorway they were separated by less than a hundredth. Coming in hot towards the roar of the thousands of fans at the finish line, disaster struck for Shaw as he got unstuck on a root and was sent into the trees lining the track. Unscathed but with a lot of time lost, Shaw crossed the line and a speechless Amauray Pierron celebrated his second victory within a week.
„Winning here back to back after Fort William is just awesome. I am so happy for the whole team, but feel super sad for Luca, as he once again had great pace. I am sure he will have more luck in the future. I made a couple of mistakes up top, in the first corner and just before the motorway. I had to give everything to up the pace and it worked. I am super happy.”
Four action-packed days have come to an end with the Mercedes-Benz UCI Mountain Bike Downhill World Cup. The weather, the races, the contests and side events made the Out of Bounds Festival better than ever. 23,000 spectators not only enjoyed the main events, but a whole host of amazing side-events such as a kid’s pump track contest, the Hogmoa Team Challenge, spectacular Freestyle Motocross shows, an open- air concert and several parties. Bike fans can also look forward to another highlight in Saalfelden Leogang as the UCI Downhill Mountain Bike World Championships will be held in Bikepark Leogang in 2020.
A full replay of the live-broadcast of the Mercedes-Benz UCI Downhill Mountain Bike World Cup is available Red Bull TV on-demand and free of charge on redbull.tv/uci with commentary in various languages.