Leogang has always been a strange old race. Exhilarating and exciting for the fans, frustrating or rewarding for the racers. A place of extremes in everything from weather to the race track, there aren’t many places that make Fort William seem slow but Leogang is definitely one of them.
The trip down from Fort William never gets easier, this year we broke up the two day drive by hopping on the overnight ferry from Hull to Rotterdam. A 12 hour blur of buffets, B-grade entertainment, pokies and arcade games. It really felt like you came out of some warped reality and into a different dimension landing in Holland. Unfortunately the following 12 hours on the German Autobahns quickly brought us back down to earth, god they are boring.
Arriving into Leogang we were presented with a different track to previous years. At first glance, it looked like only a few minor changes after the first 80 metres of fresh off camber grass. However upon riding it was apparent this was a very different beast. With the B-Practice riders getting in and cutting some ruts into the track, by the time I got out there it was riding really nicely and was great fun. Warp 10 the whole way from top to bottom, times were going to be extremely tight and with the forecast thunderstorms threatening but holding off, the temperature was baking hot and drying out the track quickly.
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I have always felt pretty confident and comfortable in Leogang, but with the added pressure of the top 60 qualifying rather than top 80 and a big field, it was easy to stress out. When qualifying rolled around, I was overly nervous and made a mess of the very first corner. After regaining speed and composure I cracked on and rode the next 30 seconds really well before making another big mistake. This was the story of my run, inconsistency mixed with good sections. Sprinting to the line, I knew it wasn’t a good time and that I was going to be in for a nervous wait.
Finishing as the 29th rider to cross the line, there were still 120 riders to come and I only had 32 places up my sleeve before I was out of the main draw. In the beginning it was a write off…it seemed like everybody was going to beat my time…but then as things went on, people started slowing down and finishing behind me. With 40 riders still to go I was sitting in 58th position and nervous as anything. But I got lucky with no one able to go faster letting me sneak through by the skin of my teeth (.3 of a second in front of 61st place) still in 58th and into the final the next day.
Waking up to another stunning day, I rolled into practice with consistency on my mind. I had a few areas to work on and knew that to move up the ranks I had to make sure I was hitting everything spot on.
2 runs later I was feeling spot on and ready to go. It looked like we were going to luck out with the weather and a nice dry track lay in store. I made sure to hit the first corner spot on and took off down the track. I was riding well and pushed on through the motorway section, this was all about hitting the jump landings spot on and carrying momentum, one part relaxed and the other part putting in effort to generate speed. At the end of the motorway we went back into the trees and over a vicious set of off-camber roots. There was a small compression landing before these roots that had gotten quite rough throughout the weekend and upon landing I promptly blew my left hand off the handlebars and lurched forward on the bike. I have no idea what caused this to happen, I was in a good position and it must have just been a combination of the compression and me relaxing. From this point I was in big trouble, god knows how I didn’t just flip over the bars (my chest just about hit the handlebars itself) but I managed to grab the stem in the middle of the bike and somehow ride through the whole next section like this with no brake control or stability (in the helmet cam it’s the one after the REALLY fast bit) before managing to get my hand back and continuing on. This is one of the scariest moments I had in a long time on the bike and I still have no idea how I didn’t lose it.
Naturally this threw me off my rhythm and I lost a decent chunk of time throughout the whole fiasco. This sucked. From riding really well to having something as ridiculous as this happen and have it affect your run is annoying in itself, but when you are racing Leogang there are 6-8 people on every second it really puts you down the rankings aswell…
Finishing the day in 49th was an interesting lesson in perspective. On one hand, I was pissed, I wanted way more than that and felt like I had a really good chance to keep myself inside the top 35. However thinking back to last year, I would have been stoked to finish inside the top 50 at any race! Taking the good with the bad, I’m looking forward to a weekend of IXS cup racing rather than World Cup racing and the Podium is on my mind!!