The first World Cup DH race in central Europe this year took place last week in Leogang, Austria. The first time I visited this town was about five years ago on a Uni ski trip to Saalbach, just over the hill.
Words: Ben Arnott (Trek World Racing)
One hungover morning on the aforementioned trip we eased our way up some lifts, deciding we should take the cruisy route to Leogang to try and feel a bit better before hitting anything challenging. I remember sliding off the last lift up to the top of the hill that the World Cup Downhill track is on and being hit with the sobering view of the rocky vista of mountains that flanks Leogang’s north side. It’s pretty breathtaking the first time you see it, so much so that last year when we arrived for our first times, Matt Delorme (Trek World Racing photographer) was even more excitable that usual (which is difficult) at the thought of the ‘golden hour’ shots he could sit out on his balcony and poach.
Welcome to Leogang
The track gets a lot of complaints about being too ‘bike park’ and not gnarly enough for a WC, but selfishly I want the race to keep coming here, and I think a lot of the WC staffers would agree. For me, it’s simply the best one to work at. The hotel we stay each year is 50 metres from the pits, and each night we are served a five-course meal of all-local cuisine. The gondola goes from the edge of the pits and is a seven-minute trip to the top, so it’s really easy to time getting up there for quali and race. Finally, there is a massive play park at the top of the track, where the riders warm up on their turbo trainers. I’m pretty sure it’s for kids but the mechanics seem to enjoy it, and it’s a funny scene at the top with riders warming up, focused and going through their lines in their heads, while mechanics push each other on the swings.
This year we had the first day off while Sander drove the truck down from Scotland. I can see why to an outsider this job could sometimes seem like a holiday but a race week is pretty full-on and it is always good to get a break between races. Ely and I had a think about what we could do, without bikes, and decided that trying to walk up to the top of the aforementioned rocky vista would be a plan. Brook had organised a visit to Red Bull Hangar 7 later in the day (more on that later) so Ely and I set off in the morning with that in mind, armed with nothing more a bottle of water, camera, a bag of Haribo Sour Snakes and a child-like sense of adventure. After encounters with electric fences, alpine cows and some big ant hills we got about half the way up before we hit the time limit we’d set to come down to make our afternoon trip. Turns out our eyes were a bit bigger than our legs but the views up there were pretty amazing and if we go there next year we have a plan to get to the top.
That afternoon we drove the hour to Salzburg, famous for being Mozart’s birthplace, the setting for a lot of The Sound of Music and, a bit more relevant to us, the home of Red Bull. At Salzburg airport they have a hangar called Hangar 7, which is packed with all sorts of machines that Red Bull athletes have used to do their particular thing. It was very cool to look around, and Brook managed to get us a tour of Hangar 8, which is out-of-bounds to the public. In this hangar they service and restore all of the Red Bull planes and helicopters. An ex-Red Bull WRC mechanic turned plane mechanic showed us around and patiently answered all of our questions. It was the first time for a while I’ve felt proper job envy! It was an amazing experience that left me wondering how many cans they sell to be able to afford even one of those planes? Must be a few!
Back to Leogang
After setting up in record time with the help of our Local Support guy Chris, a Trek employee from Switzerland, we got the gondola to the top of the hill to get our yearly apple strudel from a restaurant up there. This thing is about the size of a brick and it’s one of the rare instances where we see Road Manager Paul Schlitz indulge in something sweet and unhealthy. Paul is 40-something but shreds the gym every morning at 5 a.m. while we’re away, so his taking part in this ritual is a sign of how good it is (even though he probably makes himself sick into the toilet after eating it).
The track at Leogang is pretty kind to bikes and it’s a relief to be changing a lot less wheels than at Fort William. On tracks like this where there are less damaged parts to be changed we can spend a bit more time fine-tuning the bikes for the riders and tracks. Greg (Williamson) was looking for a more positive feel from his brakes and less fade, so we swapped to resin pads from the stock metallic pads and I tried some new bleed methods, until we got them feeling how he wanted. Now that I know what that is, I can get his brakes on his home bike and USA race bike to feel the same way, which I think is pretty important so all his bikes feel the same in order that no time is wasted getting used to a different bike. Unfortunately Greg caught his hand pretty hard on a pole at the side of the track in quali and was finding it hard to pull the rear brake, so we had to compensate for that slightly on race day.
Laurie’s (Greenland) practice was pretty complaint free, and we were working with Fox to get his suspension to where he wanted it, which culminated in a rear shock with a higher compression tune and some more air in the fork, for the smoother bike park style track. Swapping the shock gave me an opportunity to use a new tool that I designed and had a friend machine for removing the shock hardware, which fills me with glee every time I use it.
Swapping the shock gave me an opportunity to use a new tool that I designed and had a friend machine for removing the shock hardware, which fills me with glee every time I use it.
The mechanics’ arms race continues for the smartest time saving tools and I’m sure the other guys will have something to rival it by the next race! Unfortunately in his race run Laurie had a big crash after a G-out and as a result buckled his rear wheel, which ended his run. Greg had a good run despite struggling with his sore hand and ended up in 28th. The team had a great race in general though, with both Brook Macdonald and George Brannigan on the podium in 4th and 5th respectively. It’s always good to get a podium and two is a gift.
After some beers in the pits all that was left was to pack down the tent until the next time we’ll use this setup which will be Meribel in August. Before that I’m off to Whistler for a week holiday before heading to Mont St Anne for the first North American WC of the year. I’ll report back shortly after my first visit to this classic venue.