World Cup downhill racing finally returns this weekend in Leogang, Austria. While there have already been two cross-country World Cups, downhillers have had to wait patiently for their chance to get back on track.
After two schedule changes—including a date change for the World Cup in Maribor, Slovenia, and the cancelation of the Fort William World Cup—the top downhill racers in the world are ready to put in fast laps on a familiar track.
The Leogang track, with breathtaking views of the Austrian mountain landscape, has had a number of infamous moments over the years, including Aaron Gwin winning without a chain in 2015. However, the track has been controversial, with some claiming it's too easy.
Last year, the World Championships were held in Leogang, and event organizers introduced a new lower section to the track. A steep chute through the woods into a massive jump proved popular among riders, and muddy track conditions made for engaging viewing for fans.
Reece Wilson and Camille Balanche won the rainbow stripes that day, but who is riding fast going into the first Downhill World Cup of 2021? Continue reading to see our predictions.
Vali Holl was of the most talked-about riders in 2019 after she dominated the junior women's field. The Austrian crashed in practice at the World Championships last year, so is coming back from injury, but will feel at home this weekend as she looks for redemption. She was riding fast last week at the iXS NotARace Test Session in Schladming too.
Hoffmann placed seventh at the World Championships last year and only got faster as the season progressed, winning in Slovenia and taking second in Portugal. The German also was the fastest on day one of the Test Session last week.
The current World Champion is an obvious pick for this weekend's race. She was the fastest woman to successfully navigate the muddy track last year, so she could be an even bigger threat if it's rainy.
There wasn't a race in 2020 that Nicole entered and placed worse than fourth. That's why she's the current number one ranked rider going into this season. She got second at Worlds last year, won a World Cup round, and is the current French National Champion.
Cabirou had a consistent season in 2020 as well with two World Cup wins and two second places. The French rider was second to Nicole at the National Championships too, so the two could be swapping spots on the podium this year.
Two regular riders in the women's field won't be racing this year. Rachel Atherton is pregnant, so obviously can't race, but has still been getting out for some e-MTB rides back home in the UK. Tracey Hannah retired from World Cup competition after last season but will be in the commentator booth this year.
Wilson won the World Championships last year, but then crashed in Slovenia and pulled out of the race. The 'rainbow curse' perhaps? This year he'll be aboard the new Trek Session downhill bike, looking to represent the rainbow stripes.
Bruni is a classic example of French racing talent. He's a multi-time World Champion and World Cup winner, so he knows how to put a fast run together. He has won in Leogang before, but we'll have to see what 2021 holds in its plans.
Another flying Frenchman is Loris Vergier, who won both rounds in Slovenia last year. In the off-season, he made the high-profile move from the Santa Cruz Syndicate to Trek Factory Racing, so we'll see how he gets on with the new bike and team.
Minnaar holds 22 World Cup victories to his name, including one from last season in Portugal. The now 39-year-old veteran of the sport could again be a threat to the podium this season. However, his training earlier this year was interrupted by a COVID-19 diagnosis, which may or may not impact how things go this year.
The British Walker won the overall World Cup title last year, showing that he can consistently put out results. It was just announced that he has re-signed with his team for the next four seasons, which will give him the stability to chase after the top step.
The field is of course incredibly deep. Former World Champion Danny Hart is with a new team this season, which could give the Briton some added confidence. There is a slew of riders that are constantly close to that treasured win, including Troy Brosnan and Luca Shaw. Frenchman Amaury Pierron has dominated with his loose style previously, but he is coming back from an injury sustained at the French National Championships last summer.
The riders are already practicing on track, with qualifying runs taking place on Friday. Final race runs will take place Saturday, with the Red Bull TV broadcast starting at 12:30pm CES.