Amidst the soaring peaks of the Austrian Alps is a race track like no other. In short, when it comes to going fast on a downhill mountain bike, Leogang is a temple of speed.
In the women’s race, it was anyone’s guess as to what lay in store. The reigning champ, Myriam Nicole, and the widely acknowledged queen of downhill, Rachel Atherton, had each had troubles in qualifying. Tahnée Seagrave, the winner of the last round in Fort William, had qualified fastest and was to be the last woman down the hill.
Atherton set about Leogang with gusto and set the time to beat. Nicole was faster, visibly attacking, but there were mistakes within sight of the finish and she was relegated to second. Seagrave was on the pace but was deemed to have left the track on one of the straights and was subsequently disqualified to leave Atherton celebrating a return to winning ways for the first time since Lourdes in April 2017.
She said: “It means a lot. I just thought if I had forgotten how to do it. It has been a hard weekend, I have been really struggling. I am just happy to be in one piece. I never thought I would do it after my qualifying crash.”
In the men’s race, all the pre-race talk had surrounded a rider who has over the years become synonymous with the Leogang Bike Park; Aaron Gwin.
The American, racing with a dislocated thumb, was shooting for a chance to become the first ever racer to have four consecutive wins at one track. His splits went from good to great as seconds were cleaved from the clock and the lights turned green. It was a typically heroic effort from a rider already rated by many as one of the very best that the sport has ever seen.
Frenchman Amaury Pierron had tasted his victory for the first time at the last round and was hungry for more. Crucially, he nailed the woods sections which represent perhaps the best opportunities to eek back time in Leogang.
He crossed the line and pivoted back towards the clock to see once again he had gone quickest. Fastest qualifier Luca Shaw could not prevent him another victory. The only difference between the two weekends being that he would now leave the venue with the Mercedes-Benz UCI World Cup overall leaders jersey on his back.
Pierron said: “I just had to be flat out, it was super hard on the body as you are already smoked mid-race! To win two in a row is more than awesome. This is crazy, just a dream.”