If you were to ask many downhill racers which track was there favorite, Schladming would easily be a common answer. The iXS downhill series held a race there this past weekend and many elite athletes attended. Check out the report and a Red Bull video inside.
After a rather long absence, Schladming finally returned to the stage of the international downhill business and it definitely proved to be worthy! We’re looking back at an incredible weekend full of racing action. In the end, Emmeline Ragot and Loic Bruni dominated the strong field of starters.
The expectations for the second round of the iXS European Downhill Cup in Schladming were quite high, since the Austrian track was known to be the one of the best and most demanding ones. Thus, it was no surprise that some of the top teams made their way to Schladming on their way back from the World Cup in Leogang.
Already at the beginning of the season, it was clear that the EDC 2014 would be something special. Neither the venues, nor the riders could possibly be surpassed. After the first round in Maribor, Schladming was only the second of seven races included in this year’s series. After the finish area had been rebuilt for the Alpine World Ski Championships in 2013, the whole scenery in the finish area is now simply breath-taking and the track presents itself in a perfect shape with 2500 meters in length and 600 meters in altitude on offer. As a special highlight of the race, a part of the former World Cup track had been included and so it was all about “Back to the World Cup roots”, this weekend. The whole setup and the overall conditions provided 425 riders from 26 nations with a perfect weekend that won’t be easy to forget.
On Friday, the weekend opened with the Track Walk. The overall conditions were not quite perfect, but after some rainfall the track fortunately became less dusty and the grip increased. Whereas the first free training sessions were rather wet and cold, the weather got better just in time for the Alpinestars Whip Offs. After a spectacular contest, Marian Skultety (SVK – Lapierre-CMS) was crowned as the winner.
On Saturday, the competition really got started: After some more training sessions, the Seeding Run was scheduled. At the beginning of the seeding, the track was still wet, but got dryer and dryer throughout the different categories. The Elite Women category included 40 riders, but in the end Tracey Hannah succeeded and made clear that she was eager to also win in the finals. But it was not yet in the books: With only a very short lead over Emmeline Ragot (FRA – Lapierre Gravity Republic) the race on Sunday would definitely be interesting. In the Elite Men category, Ragot’s team mate Loic Bruni (FRA – Lapierre Gravity Republic) set a best time of 3:49.907 minutes, while yet another team member, namely Sam Blenkinsop, finished in second. In the meantime, on Saturday evening the crowd got entertained at the Pumptrack Dualrace. At the end of a rather funny competition, Noel Niederberger (SUI – Gstaad -Scott) succeeded over his competitors.
Fortunately for both riders and fans the weather was at its best again on Sunday – just in time for the finals. In the Masters category, Benny Herold (GER – NRG-FOES Racing Fact) finished in first, while the current leader of the overall rankings Rostislav Stencel (CZE – Bikeplac Racing Team) had some serious problems due to a flat tire. Christian Junker (GER – Trek Fahrrad Eberhardt) and Christian Vogt (GER – RIP/Skilift Sägenhof Urach) made it a completely German Podium – Hat trick!
After Saturday’s seeding it was clear that all eyes were on Tracey Hannah and Emmeline Ragot in the Elite Women category. Neither Manon Carpenter (GBR – Madison Saracen) nor Tahnée Seagrave (GBR – FMD Racing) were able to set a better time than in their seeding runs. So the only thing Hannah and Ragot had to do was to keep up their seeding run speed. With a very impressing run, Emmeline Ragot even set a new best time of 4:14.114 minutes with a healthy 12-second lead over Seagrave, but Tracey Hannah was still on the track. Would it be enough for Ragot to actually win the race? When the seeding run fastest Tracey Hannah crossed the finish line, a short look at the time showed a + 4.167 seconds and the result was in the books: Ragot took the first place, followed by Hannah in second and Seagrave in third place. Manon Carpenter finished in fourth, followed by Micayla Gatto (CAN – Pivot Factory DH Team) in fifth.
The final run of the Elite Men category provided the crowd with action right from the start. Due to technical problems in the seeding run, Jack Moir (AUS – Bergamont Hayes World Team) was the first rider who rode down the hill. With a fast time of 3:57.486 minutes he occupied the Red Bull Hot Seat for more than two hours. It was not until Alex Bond (GBR – Ti springs.com) came down the hill that the 20-year old Moir had to leave the Hot Seat again. Right before the Top 10 was to race, the track had to be closed, after Miran Vauh (SLO – Blackthorn GT) took a huge fall in the finish area. His no-hander did not quite turn out as he had planned…
In the Top 10, Patrick Thome (FRA – Gstaad-Scott) set a new best time for some time and most of his competitors were not able to take over the lead. And when we finally got to the Top 3 riders of the Elite Men, it happened again: Harry Molloy (GBR – RRP Ghost) had a crash in the finish area and the track had to be closed again. Blenkinsop and Bruni, who were already on the track, had to stop and to ride down once more for their final run. Blenkinsop started first, but was not fast enough in the end. Once more, all eyes were on the last man at the track Loic Bruni – and he did it! He finished 4 seconds faster that Thome and took the first place. Thome went second, while David Trummer (AUT – RRP Ghost) went third. Manuel Gruber (AUT – Radon Factory DH) and Ruaridh Cunningham (GBR – Unior Tools Team) took places 4 and 5.
Looking back, it was a perfect weekend that will definitely be remembered and Schladming is finally back at the international stage. Next weekend, the EDC will lead us to its third round in Val di Sol in beautiful Italy.