Improbable Perfection - Leogang World Cup 2016 finals
All the action from a hectic race
Ground conditions were at their least predictable for Leogang 2016 World Cup finals. Heavy rain overnight gave way to blue skies come race time, and with it came the drying, but still ever-so-greasy track. Many fell foul of similar conditions in Saturday’s qualifying round, but that certainly wasn’t going to stop anyone giving it 100% in finals.
Words: James McKnight Photos: Seb Schieck
Proceedings kicked off with the Junior Men, who were gunning from the get-go and rode with the track at its wettest.
Winner of qualifying, Elliott Heap couldn’t pull things together for finals and slipped back to fifth. The USA’s Nikolas Nestoroff stepped it up one from qualifying and into fourth – Shaun Palmer’s mentoring clearly working out.
One name that was more-or-less expected on the podium was Finn Iles, but after his crash early in his qualifying run would he be too hesitant to make Leogang his third victory of his first season racing World Cups? Well, judging by the gap he put into third-placed Sylvain Cougoureux from France, Iles clearly wasn’t holding anything back. The Canadian rode a superb race, but his time simply couldn’t hold up when third-placed qualifier Gaetan Vigé came storming down the mountain.
Vigé put in an inspired ride on a changeable course to take his first World Cup win. Later in the day, a fellow Frenchman would nearly do the same in the Elite ranks.
Leogang 2016 and Rachel Atherton stormed her finals run to make it a record-beating 10 consecutive World Cup wins, and in doing so increasing her World Cup Win tally to 30. 30! In this sport of variables, where a rider could puncture, crash or simply have the weather come in at any given moment, that figure is simply gobsmacking. Atherton is in a league of her own.
But that’s not to knock the rest of the field – to see the likes of Tahnée Seagrave absolutely sending the final table on the course, or Miranda Miller smashing turns, or Tracey Hannah slaying the steep lower tech is to understand the full accomplishment Atherton has made in bettering any and every attempt at toppling her from the top step for the last 10 World Cups.
Having watched a flawless and commanding ride from Tahnée Seagrave it did look for a moment as though Atherton might have to settle for second. Seagrave was fast, focused, impressive, inspired… I have no explanation for the five seconds she lost to the winner. One thing’s for sure, and that is Tahnée’s future World Cup win.
Canadian Miranda Miller stepped things up here, with an awesome ride to bronze. Tracey Hannah and Manon Carpenter kept things consistently in the top five, in that order.
By the time the Elite Men took to the Austrian mountain, the track was nearly completely dry in places, yet still slick enough in others to produce one or two high profile spills. The likes of Bryceland, Jones, Shaw and Fairclough were but a few of many who went down in the grease.
Excitement was high from early in finals as Dirt-Propain’s Phil Atwill took to the hotseat, where he’d stay for a long period until the big hitting top-20 began to make their mark.
Mik Hannah was happy with his return to form and 11th place – throwing a suicide no-hander on the massive table to celebrate. The Brits once again proved how they love the mud and ruts, with Joe Smith (9th), Bernard Kerr (7th), Greg Williamson (6th) and Danny Hart (4th) making Britain the most predominant in the top 10.
Things really hotted up with Troy Brosnan’s scorching run to take over the hotseat from its occupant at the time, Greg Williamson. Brosnan kept it lit to the line and his ensuing celebrations – he skipped around the entire finish arena high-fiving anybody and everybody – alluded to the near-perfect run he had just executed.
Did Troy think he had it in the bag? Well if he did, the feeling wouldn’t last too long as a Frenchman by the name of Vergier, Loris, had something to say. Over two seconds up by the short second split time was utterly incredible. His mentor and teammate Loic Bruni has clearly been passing on some winning knowledge. Vergier lost time on conservative lines in the lower reaches of the course, but the green light stood as he crossed the line and the young Specialized rider rode to his career best result.
As in the women’s, it did for a moment look like the underdog might just take it. Vergier sat in the hotseat with a look of disbelief as Aaron Gwin failed to better his first two splits. Just imagine what must have been going through Loris’s head (and imagine he’d followed up his injured teammate’s Cairns victory with his own here).
Unfortunately it wasn’t to be quite the fairytale it first appeared, as a relentless Aaron Gwin stepped things up a notch further into his run and laid down frankly insane lower sectors, crossing the line over three seconds clear of Vergier. The entire top 10 was separated by only 10 seconds.
From being on a back foot to sprinting ahead while the rest remained stationary, Gwin once again crushed his competition, with a friendly smile of course. Gwin emanates confidence – definitely not in any sort of cocky way, just calm composure and a great temperament that translates into sheer speed.
Is there any stopping Gwin and Atherton?