Words: Mike Rose 

Photos: Nathan Hughes 

 Round 3 of this year’s Downhill World Cup series visited the classic venue of Leogang in the Austrian alps. Epic alpine scenery and mountains to take your breath away. All wrapped up in in a crazy Austrian chocolate box beauty… wooden chalets, cows with bells, apple strudel, mountain streams, peaks dusted with snow... the lot! 

What was once seen as a relatively easy ‘bike-park’ style of course has matured into a real brute of a track. From the upper open, grassy off-camber sections at the start, through the infamous stump field, then along the smooth and high speed jump/motorway section and then, just when rider’s lungs have had enough, they need to take a deep breath to focus their mind on the next 40 seconds of treacherous woods. This is typically where the race is won or lost.

The Leogang course is a real mix, carrying speed through sections is vital, most importantly through the transition sections – from the stumps into motorway section, and then the motorway into the woods. Linking and railing the fast turns higher up, braking in all the right places, gathering momentum, hitting your lines. Leogang 2024 had one other bit of mischief to add to the mix. The on/off rain made conditions tricky, and Saturday night’s storm, which knocked out the power to the surrounding area, really threw a spanner in the works.

Race day came around and conditions were tricky. The biblical storm from the previous evening had made its presence felt. The grassy off-camber… slick. The roots and stumps… slick. The motorway… actually not so bad. But once again it would be the woods where things got messy. A layer of constantly shifting mud coated the hard-packed base underneath. If the ruts didn’t get you, then the roots and rocks would. The course did dry as the day went on, but it was always there waiting to catch riders out.

It was a mixed bag for our two INTENSE teams. Eleonora Farina of MS-RACING-INTENSE qualified in eighth, and then took a great fifth place in the semis, meaning that she was in the main event, her first final of the 2024 season. A great result too for Lou Ferguson of the INTENSE Factory Racing (IFR) team. Ninth in qualifying and also in semis meant that she was in too.

For the men it was a mixed bag. In Juniors both Ryder Lawerence and Oscar Griffiths missed the cut, as did Tuhoto Ariki in the Elite. Jacob Dickson did make it through from the qualifier in to the semi in 51st, but then missed out on a finals spot. With just 7.6 seconds separating the top 30 in semis it is not easy to make it though. But it was all smiles for IFR ‘team leader’ Joe Breeden. After a frustrating start to the season Joe put it all together in Leogang. Twenty second in qualifying, backed up with a 21st in semis meant that he was through, he was in the ‘big show’.

By her own admission it was not the finals run that Eleonora had hoped for, “Challenging conditions on track. Not the run I was looking for, but super happy to have made it into the final.” Eighth place is a great result, especially in those tricky conditions, and it is points in the bag. She now sits in 15th in the overall.

For Lou she looked happy to get down in one piece, “It was dry up top and slick in the woods... like a danger zone!” Ninth in finals for Lou, in fact she went 9… 9… 9. Consistency is key! More points and she now sits in tenth in the overall.

There has been a huge amount of pressure on Joe’s shoulders this year. Being a downhill racer at the highest level is hard enough, but throw into that mix setting up and running your own team, and the struggle is real. Out on the race track, finding that balance of keeping a calm head yet knowing that you just have to go for it it as difficult one to find. To finish in 20th in a World Cup final is no mean feat, a result that he can be proud off. He will want more, just as all racers do, but 22nd in quali, followed by 21st in semis and then this 20th in finals shows a consistency that many would wish to have. Joe will be looking to push his average speed up a little in the next rounds, building on what he has learnt in Austria, but he’s on it.

For all of the INTENSE riders there is no time to dwell on the highs and lows, or the ‘what could have beens’. The whole crazy circus heads straight to Val di Sole in Italy for round 4 which takes place this weekend. Track walk is on Wednesday (June 12th), with the race itself taking place on Saturday (15th).Good luck to them all.