Race Report: Mud Race in Leogang
The last race of the iXS European Downhill Cup season invited the downhill elite to Leogang in Austria. The EDC has been a fixed part of the Biketember Festival for a few years now and celebrated its 10th anniversary with Leogang’s number one bike park this season. It was a special event for all of us, but especially for Markus Pekoll (AUT - MS Mondraker) who decided to officially end his career with this last race, honoring both Leogang as a venue and the iXS Cup with his choice.
The organizers and their team already hosted the World Cup this year and, therefore, added a few extras to their already excellent track, making it more than worthy for the most demanding and most popular races of the downhill discipline. With a total length of 2 300 meters and an overall 480-meter descent it really deserves the title “alpine”! Unfortunately, the riders again had to face wet and extremely difficult conditions this weekend, but looking back at the season as a whole, they really should have gotten used to it by now…
325 riders from 28 nations registered for the last race of the season, including the scene’s crème de la crème. Next to the prospect of some last points for the EDC rankings and the title coming with it, the race also adds to the UCI rankings, making it even more popular to the downhill elite. Some of the EDC favorites are also among the top of the UCI rankings with Jure Zabjek (SLO - Unior Tools Team) in tenth or Eleonora Farina (ITA - GB Rifar Mondraker ASD) in fourth place. But, of course, this weekend’s main focus was still on the 2017 crown! While Jure Zabjek and Monika Hrastnik (SLO - Blackthorn) already entered the race super relaxed as champions, their competitors were eager to complete the podium and the stage was set for an exciting race!
Friday morning started with a track walk through thick mist. The riders examined the track closely, ever looking for the best and fastest lines and possible obstacles before they entered the first 6 hour-training session.
For Saturday the weather forecast was rather sobering, but in the end the weather was not as bad as anticipated. With rather low temperatures and only a little rain, the qualification runs seemed to be save, but the overall atmosphere got noticeably more serious among the riders all the same.
At the end of the day Eleonora Farina set the best time among the Elite Women category, while Valentina Höll (AUT - Sram TLD Racing) set the fastest female result of the day with 4.21,807 minutes – more than 2 seconds faster than Farina! In the Elite Men category Loris Revelli (ITA - Argentina Bike De Vinci Italy) set the best time of 3.46,983 minutes.
Sunday morning started similar to Saturday: the track was still wet and temperatures kept low. There it was again: the typical Leogang-weather! It almost seemed like a Deja-vu of the previous two years. Fortunately, however, the course is so steep that you can’t get stuck even once it turned into a muddy mess. Let’s just say, after this weekend, both the riders and their bikes were definitely looking forward to a good cleaning…
As usual, the Pro Masters category opened the race on Sunday afternoon. Fabrizio Dragoni (ITA - Alessi Racing Team) went fastest with 3.56,014 minutes, only split seconds faster than Luis Ribeiro (POR - Penacova DH U.D.Lorvanence) in second place. Willi Lützeler (GER - Cube) completed the podium in third, which made him Pro Masters EDC champion 2017.
In the U17 Female category Valentina Höll finished even faster than in the quali with 4.13,689 minutes, pushing Anna Newkirk (USA - Team Project) to second place with an incredible 15-second gap. Ottilia Johansson Jones (GBR - Propain Gravity Juniors) finished in third place. In the male counterpart of Höll’s category Jules Picod (FRA - Les Gets) again took the lead, pushing Janosch Klaus (SUI - Team Project) to second place, which still brought him the title. Yannick Baechler (GER - IDirt Racing Team) completed the podium.
At this point the weather changed for the worse, adding even more rain to the already rather unpleasant mix. Fortunately, the European Series has a Super Final, which provides the top 30 riders with the chance to compete under relatively homogenous conditions in a short period of time without having the overall conditions influence the result to badly.
In the Elite Women category current European Champion Eleonora Farina just repeated Saturday’s result and finished in first place with a time of 4.17,528 minutes. This season she took part in three EDC races and three times she finished fastest in both the quali and her race run. However, three races were not enough to take the crown and instead Monika Hrastnik was rewarded for her constantly high level of performance, when she finished in third place in Leogang. Sandra Rübesam (GER - Nukeproof Factory) finished in second place, which brought her the third place in the EDC rankings.
Once more we should mention Vali Höll’s result at this point: she once more set the fastest female time of the day and the stage is set for the next season! After Austria said goodbye to Markus Pekoll, they might have a new promising downhill rider among the world’s elite. The last five years and the iXS Cup perfectly prepared Valentina Höll for what is up next: the World Cup!
After the female finals, the Junior category crowned Till Ulmschneider (GER - SRAM Young Guns) fastest rider of the day, while Luca Henzi (SUI - Hot-Trail Racing) finished in second place, followed by EDC champion Rudi Pintar (SLO - Sinter Brakes Team) in third place.
Last but not least, all eyes were finally on the Elite Men Super Final! 32 riders fought for the last points for the rankings this season. Basil Weber (SUI - Team Project) was the second riders to start down the hill and set a promising time that brought him some time to spend in the Red Bull Hot Seat. It was not until Andrea Kolb (AUT - MRC Saracen Racing) crossed the finish line that someone reached Weber’s time. After that it all went down incredibly fast: Jure Zabjek – completely relaxed with the title already in his pocket – beat Kolb’s time, then Ondrej Stepanek (CZE - CTM Racing Team) beat Zabjek’s setting a new best time of 3.41,297 minutes.
In the end Stepanek won, followed by Zabjek in second and Joshua Barth (GER - Solid Reverse Factory Racing) in third place. Thus, the podium of the rankings completely went to Eastern Europe this season with Zabjek as champion, Stepanek as vice champion and Rastislav Baranek (SVK - Kellys Factory Team) in third.
The first iXS Series 2017 is in the books and we’re now looking forward to the final races of the German Downhill Cup in Thale and the Swiss Cup in Bellwald. The tenth season of the European Cup has now officially come to an end and has once more proven its role as a stepping stone to the World Cup!