The third round of the 2021 Mercedes-Benz UCI Mountain Bike World Cup in Leogang (Austria) this weekend will open competition for gravity specialists, while cross-country athletes will confront each other for the third time this season.
The five remaining confirmed rounds of the series will be hosted in some classic European venues before moving to Snowshoe, (USA) for the final round, as in 2019. Meanwhile, the round in Fort William, Scotland (GBR), was postponed from May with a new date to be decided.
There’s a feeling across mountain biking that 2021 is an opportunity for change, which has been confirmed in the first two UCI World Cup rounds for XCO.
At Albstadt (GER) then Nové Město Na Moravě (CZE) we saw first victories for Victor Koretzky (FRA) and Tom Pidcock (GBR), and two for 21-year-old Loana Lecomte (FRA). France 3 - Rest of the World 1.
The Netherlands’ Mathieu Van der Poel leads the XCO standings but is currently racing in the Tour de Suisse so will not be present in Leogang. Neither will Great Britain’s Tom Pidcock, also supposed to be racing in Switzerland but currently nursing a broken collarbone. Their absences cold lead the way open for another victory for Koretzky, and a move up the standings for Swiss riders Nino Schurter and Mathias Flückiger… without overlooking reigning UCI World Champion Jordan Sarrou (FRA).
In the women’s racing, while Lecomte has shown great form early on and leads the overall standings, competition is tough, not least from American Haley Batten and Lecomte’s compatriot Pauline Ferrand-Prévot.
Meanwhile in the downhill competition, with little racing across 2020 it’s tough to assess form.
Austria hosts a round of the DHI Mercedes-Benz UCI Mountain Bike World Cup, at the Epic Bikepark Leogang, for the 10th time. It’s home of the 2.5km ‘Speedster’ track, where, across the weekend of 12-13 June, the top riders can hit 65km/ph. With its new technical section, it’s predominantly natural, with root passages, an extremely steep area, a bridge and a huge gap. This year a limited number of spectators are welcome with tickets available from the Out of Bounds festival site.
Early June 2019, the last UCI World Cup raced at Leogang, saw Elites victories for Loïc Bruni (FRA) and Tracey Hannah (AUS) who both went on to become overall UCI World Cup winners that year. Since then Hannah has retired, and Bruni clinched his fourth UCI DHI World Championship, his compatriot Myriam Nicole claiming the women’s title. France 3 - Rest of the World 1.
In a truncated 2020 DHI World Cup schedule presenting double-headers at Maribor (Slovenia) and Lousã (Portugal) Loris Vergier won two, Loïc Bruni took one and the only non-French victory went to the 39-year-old South African, Greg Minnaar. France 3 - Rest of the World 1. In the Women’s Elite it was two for young Marine Cabirou and one for Nicole, with the only non-French victory going to Germany’s 24-year-old Nina Hoffmann. France 3 - Rest of the World 1.
Leogang hosted the 2020 UCI Mountain Bike World Championships presented by Mercedes-Benz, with a tough, slippery course and even tougher weather that saw the Junior titles go to Lauryne Chappaz (FRA) and Oisin O’Callaghan (IRL) before 30-year-old Camille Balanche become the first Swiss winner in the Women Elite when she got the better of 2019 UCI World Champion Myriam Nicole (FRA) and Monika Hrastnik (SLO).
Great Britain’s 24-year-old Reece Wilson beat home rider David Trummer and Remi Thirion (FRA) in the Elite Men. France 1 – Rest of the World 3.
Might the balance of power be starting to shift?
Valentina Höll took the 2019 Junior Women victory at her home race at Leogang – as she did at six of the season’s eight UCI World Cups. The young Austrian set superb times in practise at the Worlds last year, but was injured just ahead of race day. On 29 May 2021 she took first place in the first short race, preparing for the Austrian National Championships, only for the main race to be cancelled. Was she showing good style? “Scrub is dope” commented Tahnée Seagrave on Vali’s Instagram post.
Nina Hoffmann is looking to build on 2020’s results and wants to demonstrate her recovery from a neck injury sustained at Maribor’s rock garden: “we are getting back on track and I’m hungry for shredding again”. Her fellow German Raphaela Richter (23) coped well at Leogang after stepping up from the Juniors as did best-placed British rider Mikayla Parton (23) who would have loved the Fort William event.
2019’s Junior men winner at Leogang was Thibaut Dapréla (FRA), part of a French contingent who impressed in the mud at the 2020 Worlds: the 19-year-old finished 11th, beating many of the world’s most established riders on a treacherous afternoon. Thomas Estaque (24) and Benoit Coullanges (26) also add to the French strength in depth of Bruni, Vergier, Pierron and Thirion.
Australian Kye A’Hern (19) also held his own, as did Charlie Hatton (22) – who was amongst the first to congratulate his fellow Brit Wilson when the 24-year-old Scotsman beat the course, the conditions and the opposition.
We won’t have to wait long to find out how these relative youngsters will fare against an established order ready to shed at Leogang.
12-13 June: Leogang (Austria)
3-4 July: Les Gets (France)
15-16 August: Maribor (Slovenia)
4-5 September: Lenzerheide (Switzerland)
18-19 September: Snowshoe (USA)
25-29 August: Val di Sole (Italy)