Following on from the mechanical disappointment of Val di Sole, I was keen to make amends the following weekend in Leogang, Austria, where the first round of the 2013 IXS European cup was to be held on the same track as the 2012 World championships. One step down from the World Cup series, the IXS cup races are the second most prestigious series there is and to do well at these events is certainly not easy given the immense amount of talent there is here in Europe.
Having never ridden here before I had no idea what I was in for, however the lack of technicality and overall lack of difficulty that I saw during the track walk wasn’t what I expected. Despite initial reservations my first practice runs revealed a fun track which, while not very difficult, was incredibly entertaining to ride and I was actually quite a nice departure from the rough and rooty Val di Sole. The simplicity of the track meant that it was very easy to get up to speed and within 3 runs had all of my lines dialled and was feeling pretty good for qualifying the next day.
Come for a run down the Leogang DH course,courtesy of my GoPro helmet camera:
Unlike the World Cup races, the IXS cups don’t require you to qualify to race in the final race run, however you do have to do a seeding run which determines your starting order for the finals. Now at the world cup races there might be 250 riders or so which, while it is a lot of riders. Is nothing compared to the 450 riders at the Leogang IXS. All these riders meant that qualifying took almost 4 hours and in that time, the heavens opened and it absolutely poured down, turning the track into a slippery river.
The word on the street was that it was going to stop raining straight after qualifying and then rain the following day at 3 pm. This gave us a bit of dilemma given the high chance of rain, do you purposely ride slow and seed low down in an attempt to get a run in the dry before the rain the next day or do you go hard in qualifying and hope that the rain stays away. Having never really been much of a gambler, I decided to cruise down in my qually run and hope that it rained the next day. Cruising down the track and into 75th position, I wasn’t too bothered with my placing knowing that I had heaps more in the tank and was ready to let it out for the race the next day.
Despite the weather forecast of cloud turning to rain, the start of race day was a hot, sunny affair and morning practice showed the track had dried out a lot overnight and with the gravel surface effectively soaking up all the moisture leaving a track in ideal condition for racing. After my seeding result the day before, I was off quite early in proceedings at 3.19 pm with the las rider down at 4.01pm. After a couple of runs in the morning to make sure I was riding up to speed I sat down to get myself ready for the race. Bike ready, kit ready, mechanic ready (Nugget had woken up after his big night out!) and off up the hill we went for warm up and to prepare for the race.
Heading off behind fellow Kiwi Lawrence Cawte, the routine that Nugget and I had sorted out was working well and I was sat in the start hut ready and rearing to go. Like always the 5 beeps came and went and I was off! By the first corner I realised that the track had dried out a lot since practice and as such pushed a bit too hard in the top corners trying to go fast, pulling back a little bit, I started riding better and pushed hard on the long pedalling sections. Pedalling hard out of one of the tree sections I almost lost it on one of the jumps after hitting it way faster than anticipated and going absolutely to flat, I made sure from that point on that I landed on the landings of the jumps rather than the flat ground after them. Coming into the finish carrying a lot more speed than I had previously, I knew I was going to overshoot the last jump and so tried to scrub the top off it to stay low. However this all went pear-shaped when I scrubbed a bit hard and went sailing off the take-off completely sideways and nose-heavy. Somehow managing to hold onto it I smashed the pedals and crossed the line in 1st place by 7.5 seconds in a time of 3.24.802 . I knew this was a good time as I was as fast as the fastest qualifier from the day before and I got comfy in the hot-seat as I was hoping to be there for a while.
30 minutes later and I was still in first place in the hot seat. This meant I had secured a top 30 finish, and after I had finally been kicked out of the seat I couldn’t have finished any worse than 25th. By the time that the last rider had come down I found myself in 22nd position, 8 seconds off the win but only 5 seconds off the podium. This highlights just how tight everything is, with 17 riders within 5 seconds of each other after three and a half minutes of racing, it’s a fine example of just how perfect your riding has to be to get on that podium . That said I am pretty happy with how things turned out, especially considering it was my first time in Leogang racing on a track where times are so tight that any local knowledge would be immensely helpful to save those extra seconds.
From here we travel to Spicak in the Czech Republic for the second round of the IXS cup series, make sure you check back next week to see how it all went down.