Leo Freakin’ Gang UCI Downhill World Cup
For many years I didn’t give a damn about downhill mountain biking. The sport seemed so far removed from road cycling, and came off as over the top, or even too try-hard at times. But last year I found myself at a UCI Downhill World Cup in Leogang Austria not far from where I live (I even rode my bike there). That day my mind was f-ing blown. These dudes were bombing down this insane mountain course like they had zero concerns in the world ...except ripping it. The same race Aaron Gwin finished in first place despite popping his chain on the first pedal stroke out of the start house. These men and women have all my respect. Downhill Mountain biking at this level is probably one of the most intense sports on the planet.
This year I had the date marked on my calendar. The weather forecast was predicting rain, which had me even more excited. A few years ago I saw a video of Danny Hart destroying it in the 2011 World Championships in Champery Switzerland during a rainstorm. It rained all week in the region and I was hoping of a repeat of the 2011 conditions in Leogang…
The Leogang UCI course is about as Austrian as you can get. The top is filled with some nice rock sections with an amazing alpine backdrop. The middle is just a ridiculously rooty mudfest. The final section is filled with some of the biggest drops on the UCI Downhill circuit and a finish line with an amazing view of the valley. It’s pretty damn cool.
The fans were out of control, with enough chainsaws to clear the Amazon, and a few Austrian super-fans even showed up with megahorns. The rooted sections definitely saw fans get the most ambitious - a tricky section which only the day before saw many riders crashing during qualifying. Needless to say the fans knew where to see the real action. I only saw one crash the entire day, and it wasn’t in the root section.
Very much like the road cycling scene, in mountain biking world, access to the athletes and the course is unmatched. Early in the day you can walk around the team area checking out bikes and getting up close to your favorite riders. During the race you are only an arm away from the riders as they bob and weave through the course. Being so close to the course you quickly discover the elements the riders have to deal with, rrom mud to rock gardens to roots that you can’t imagine taking a bike over. I often had issues hiking the course, and couldn’t imagine riding a damn bicycle down this thing.
So, it didn’t rain. But, the overcast clouds and deep brown mud made gave a great vibe for the day and the riding was top notch. Aaron Gwin destroyed it as usual and I hiked up and down the course successfully without seriously falling while taking photos.
If there is a lesson here, it’s a simple one: At the end of the day bikes are fun, no matter if the riders are racing up the Alp d’Huez, mashing the streets of San Fran, or bombing the muddy mountains of Austria. Don’t hesitate to appreciate a new aspect of the sport we all love - you may find something you dig that you didn’t know existed.