No Damp Disposition

Aaron Gwin stamps his mark on Leogang Qualifying 2016.

Words: James McKnight Photos: Seb Schiek

Elite Men

It was pretty much written from the start: Aaron Gwin’s dauntless presence during Leogang 2016 practice was a sign of something big in the bag… However, the qualifying run of a young Frenchman by the name of Loris Vergier – a man as modest as his famous mentor – hinted that he might just have an answer for the American’s almost infallible confidence.

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WC_Leogang_2016C22A3276

The young Specialized rider from the south of France came ever-so-close to toppling the characteristically cool Gwin, going 1-1-1 in the first three splits before catching a struggling Josh Bryceland (who had reportedly fallen twice in the unpredictable ‘Gang-grease), who he was forced to chase to the finish line.

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WC_Leogang_2016C22A3521

Whether Vergier would have bettered Gwin’s time is of course an unanswerable question, but he will ride into Sunday’s finals safe in the knowledge that he is capable of great things. Loris’ previous best finals result is 4th in Windham 2015, his best of 2016 a 7th in Cairns… we’re gunning for him.

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WC_Leogang_2016C22A3532

With rapidly changeable course conditions and equally fickle weather, it’s perhaps understandable that parts of the men’s results sheet look somewhat upside down and inside out; in addition to Bryceland, other big names such as Thirion, Fearon and Greenland fell foul of the tricky ground conditions. But those who were up there at the sharp end of things have been promising from the get-go; Mike Jones’ miraculous escape from injury in his Fort William finals run crash did nothing to harm the young Welshman’s confidence, and his punishing of the Leogang track throughout practice alluded to his top-three speed.

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WC_Leogang_2016C22A2342

Danny Hart is apparently going for the record number of practice runs in one World Cup season – the Redcar Rocket doesn’t seem to stop! Danny’s approach seems to be working just perfect, following up his Fort William podium with a fourth-place qualifier here.

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WC_Leogang_2016C22A3354

Last week’s winner and 2012 World Champion on this very track Greg Minnaar rounded out the top-five. We can’t leave it there though… Dirt favourite Brendan Fairclough is on fire at the moment and edging close to the podium. Sixth place for Brendog!

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WC_Leogang_2016C22A2174

For the Elite field on the whole it would appear that the conditions appeal to a certain type of rider on average. That is, a British or French one. About 26% and 21% respectively of the top 80 Elite Male qualifiers, in fact. No other nation comes close.

A quiet one for Brosnan today but he'll no doubt bounce back for Finals
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WC_Leogang_2016C22A2067
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WC_Leogang_2016C22A4078
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WC_Leogang_2016C22A3366
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WC_Leogang_2016_82A0831

Elite Women

If the men’s pole position qualifier was almost a pre-written story, the women’s was positively set in stone. Rachel Atherton laid down a time faster than 32 of the Elite Male finishers, some 8.5 seconds clear of second-placed Tahnée Seagrave. That is no mean feat – Tahnée was absolutely ripping and sent the motocross-sized final table as big as anyone. It was a British 1-2-3, with Manon Carpenter rounding things out and the only female to beat Atherton in any sector of the track (between splits 2 and 3).

It wasn't a perfect run in Leogang but the record books will only remember the record-breaking win
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Probably the standout women’s result came for Miranda Miller, slotting into fourth place in front of a class crowd. The Canadian is undeniably talented on a bike and hopefully we will see that come together for a finals result reminiscent of her podium in Mont Sainte Anne last year. 2015 Junior World Champion Marine Cabirou looks to be close to realising her potential here too – fastest in the speed trap and top five in the same sector, although a messy run put her in 10th at the finish line.

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WC_Leogang_2016C22A3178
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WC_Leogang_2016_82A0740
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WC_Leogang_2016_14_4113

Junior Men

Well we haven’t half saved the best for last (if you’re British). CRC-Nukeproof’s Elliott Heap’s riding has shown great promise ever since he came into the spotlight riding unhinged on a trail bike for the lens of Tom Caldwell in 2015. The skill is clearly there, and his first-place qualifier here shows signs of things to come.

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WC_Leogang_2016C22A2342

The French duo of Sylvain Cougoureux (1st at splits 1 and 2) from Les Gets and Gaetan Vigé from massively-less-rainy southern climes gave France a strong Junior presence. The UK’s Matt Walker kept it consistent in fourth – the Madison-Saracen rider, who sits in second place in the overall, will be gunning for another podium come finals on Sunday. The USA’s Nikolas Nestoroff rounded out the top five.

Never discount the Frenchies in these conditions
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Series leader Finn Iles lost time early in his run, putting the talented first-year Junior into sixth on the line, but his sector times showed he has the speed of Heap. Will Iles snatch the finals win from Heap for his third of the season? With such tumultuous conditions and the rain coming down hard on the eve of finals, who is to say?

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WC_Leogang_2016C22A3065

It sure is going to be one exciting race on Sunday!