Tracey Hannah and Loic Bruni emerge victorious at World Cup in Saalfelden Leogang
Next to the spectacular racing at the third stop of the 2019 Mercedes-Benz UCI Downhill Mountain Bike World Cup, the 25,000 mountain bike fans who made the pilgrimage to the Epic Bikepark Leogang were treated with sunshine, warm temperatures, spectacular views and a stacked program of side events. On the final day of the weekend, it was Loic Bruni (FRA) and Tracey Hannah (AUS), who emerged victorious in the dress rehearsal for the 2020 UCI Downhill Mountain Bike World Championships.
Following several days of high-speed action, adrenaline and countless side-events, the racing on the final day of the Out of Bounds Festival 2019 kicked-off with the Junior categories. On the Junior Men’s side, Thibault Daprela (FRA) continued to demonstrate his strong form by taking his third World Cup win of the year in front of Kye A’Hern (AUS) and newcomer Matteo Iniguez (FRA). In the Junior Women’s category, the eyes and hopes of the local crowd were especially focused on local hero and all-out favorite Vali Höll (AUT). Höll found herself in an unusual position at her home World Cup following a difficult weekend in Scotland’s Fort William, that saw her missing out on the win for the first time since she stepped onto the World Cup stage. Unfazed by the pressure, the 17-year-old qualified first in her field with a time that would have seen her in 5th place in the Women Elite qualifications. On race day, the young Austrian backed up her strong qualifying result with a pinned run that saw her 18.7 seconds clear of American Anna Newkirk in second and with a time that would have put her in third in the Elite field. Norway’s Mille Johnset rounded out the Top 3 in the Junior Women’s field.
“I’m really relieved and happy. It was so hard today. It dried up so much and there were deep holes filled with dust everywhere. It was super slippery and hard to ride. I’m really happy, that I made it down nicely. Last weekend I rode really shitty, so I’m stoked to win like this at home in front of my friends and family.”
As the alpine summer sun heated up, it was the Elite Women’s turn to tackle the difficult, fast and - most of all – dusty track. 11th-place qualifier Kate Weatherly (NZL) set the first benchmark of the day with a committed and strong run. As more and more regular Top 10 riders like Veronika Widmann (ITA), Monika Hrastnik (SLO) or Mariana Salazar (ESA) struggled to come close to Weatherly, her time looked increasingly strong. It wasn’t until the Top 5 qualifiers started to drop in, that split times started to show up green. Marine Cabirou (FRA) was red hot out of the gate, opening up a gap of 1.5 seconds by the first split and extending the gap to a full 5.5 seconds by split 4. However, with only three turns left before the finish straight disaster struck for Cabirou as she got caught out by the dusty and slippery conditions and slid out on one of the last turns. Quickly back on the bike, Cabirou limited the damage, crossing the line only 0.2 seconds behind Weatherly.
Opening up the race for the Top 3 qualifiers and race favorites, Nina Hoffmann (GER) got her seventh career World Cup under way. Highly motivated after her career-best 3rd place finish just a week prior, Hoffmann looked fast and aggressive right from the start. Entering the motorway section in the middle of the track with a lead of four seconds, Hoffmann aggressively attacked the many jumps, looking fast and loose all the way into the last wood section. Going deep on the large final jump, Hoffmann crossed the line nearly seven seconds quicker than Weatherly. Shifting around nervously in the hot seat, Hoffmann then looked on as defending World Champion and 2018 Overall World Cup winner Rachel Atherton (GBR) set out of the gate, attacked the first corners and crashed. With the overwhelming favorite out of contention and only the fastest qualifier, Tracey Hannah (AUS), left at the top, both Hoffmann and Weatherly were already looking at their career best results. Hannah, unaware of Atherton’s crash, came out of the gate in full attack mode. Risking it all and clipping several poles, the Australian made her way through the top section and entered the motorway narrowly ahead of Hoffmann. In a nail-biter of a finish after losing time on the motorway and the following extremely steep and dusty ‘Roots of Asitz’, Hannah crossed the line just 2.1 seconds ahead of Hoffmann. Weatherly celebrated her best-ever results with a third place, while Cabirou and Widmann rounded out the podium in fourth and fifth. Thanks to her victory and Atherton’s misfortune, which saw her finish in 15th, Hannah now leads the Overall Ranking by 150 points.
“It was wild and so loose. I think I clipped every single pole that I could find at the top. I knew, I had to get the bottom section super smooth to make up for the time I lost at the top. Rachel hasn’t started in any of the World Cups I have won in the past, so it feels great to finally be good and strong enough to give her a run for the money.”
Frenchman Florent Payet got the Men’s race started in a big way. Starting second after narrowly qualifying in 59th place, Payet set a time, that the next 31 starters couldn’t match. The first rider to threaten the Frenchman’s time was Reece Wilson (GBR), who crossed the line a full 1.5 seconds faster. Wilson’s time in the hot-seat didn’t last long however, as Matt Walker (GBR) managed to push the Scotsman out of the hot seat by the slimmest of margins. Walker then barely had time to get comfortable himself, as it then was Charlie Harrison’s time to shine. The American, who had his best World Cup results to date with a 5th place at the season opener in Maribor, was quick out of the gate and nearly lost it all in the first few open off-camber turns. Harrison managed to just about hold it together and was rewarded with split times showing up green all the way down to the finish line, which he crossed 1.5 seconds in the lead. The American’s time proved hard to beat as rider after rider, including big names like Luca Shaw (USA), Brook MacDonald (NZL), Gee Atherton (GBR), Finn Iles (CAN) and Laurie Greenland (GBR), all crossed the line in the red. That is until the reigning UCU World Champion took to the track.
Loic Bruni (FRA) was lightning fast out of the gate and already opened up a gap of over 0.7 seconds by the first split. Conquering the difficult and crucial ‘Woods of Fame’ with his unique, composed style, Bruni extended his lead across the motorway and entered the final wood section with 2.5 seconds to spare. Not holding back in the slightest, Bruni made quick work of the last technical sections, went deep over the finish line jump and crossed the line with a lead of 3.2 seconds. Bruni’s time looked hard to beat, but the ten fastest qualifiers were still waiting to take their turn on the Epic Bikepark Leogang’s legendary ‘Speedster’.
Bruni’s time stood the test against the likes of Mark Wallace (CAN), Greg Williamson (GBR), four-time Leogang winner Aaron Gwin (USA), Danny Hart (GBR) and reigning Overall World Cup Champion Amaury Pierron (FRA) and looked increasingly unbeatable. With only the Top 3 fastest qualifiers left at the top, World Cup Series leader Troy Brosnan (AUS) took to the 2.2km-long track. After the first three splits the Australian was dead-even with Bruni, but in the technical and dusty ‘Roots of Asitz’ Brosnan lost just a fraction of second. A small mistake, yet enough to see him slip into second place, 0.7 seconds behind Bruni. Directly following Brosnan, Loris Vergier (FRA) was within a second of Bruni’s time before he slid out and crashed in sight of the finish line. There was only one rider left to challenge Bruni now. 21-time World Cup winner and three-time World Champion Greg Minnaar (RSA).
Following an injury-riddled 2018 season and a botched qualifier that left him watching the finals at the season opener from the side-lines, the 37-year old veteran set out to prove, why he should never be counted out. Entering the ‘Roots of Asitz’ 0.7 seconds behind Bruni’s time, Minnaar found half a second to make up and the large crowd in Saalfelden Leogang knew, it was coming down to a heart-beat finish. Racing along the final section of the track and almost sending the final jump to flat, Minnaar crossed the line in the second place, 0.3 seconds behind Bruni, who celebrated the fourth World Cup victory of his career. Troy Brosnan finished in third and retains the lead in the overall ranking by a mere 5 points in front of Bruni. Danny Hart and Aaron Gwin rounded out the podium in fourth and fifth.
“I struggled to find grip in the dry dust, but I somehow managed to hold on. I pedaled everywhere I could, because I knew that every little detail counts on this track and in the end it was enough. It’s crazy. I was so nervous on the hot-seat. Especially with all the guys getting close to my time. I know it’s exciting for everyone when it’s this close, but in those moments, I really wish I could be anywhere else.”
Racing wasn’t everything the fans enjoyed over the weekend, as the Out of Bounds Festival in Saalfelden Leogang once again combined the World Cup with a stacked program of spectacular side-events. In addition to the large Team & Expo Area, the 25,000 fans in Saalfelden Leogang were treated with several spectacular Freestyle Motocross shows, an Open-Air Concert by Californian Band ‘John Diva & the Rockets of Love’ and a number of parties.
After successfully hosting the World Cup for seven consecutive years, Saalfelden Leogang will play host to the UCI Downhill Mountain Bike World Championships from September 4 to 6, 2020.
Missed the exciting and spectacular race action in Leogang? Fear not! A full replay of the live broadcast of the Elite Women and Men’s races is available on-demand and free of charge on Red Bull TV including commentary in various languages: https://www.redbull.com/int-en/tv/
News about the Mercedes-Benz UCI Downhill Mountain Bike World Cup and biking in the Saalfelden Leogang region in general can be found on www.mtb-weltcup.at.