World Cup XCO action will heat up again this weekend at the third round of the Mountain Bike World Cup in Leogang, Austria.
With the Olympic Games edging ever so closer, racing dynamics may shift as riders focus on timing their peak for the race in July. That being said though, points are still on the line for the World Cup overall title.
Racers last visited the ski-resort venue at the end of 2020 for the World Championships, so the course will be somewhat fresh in their minds. Of course, Jordan Sarrou and Pauline Ferrand-Prévot earned the rainbow stripes on that day.
The men's field will be bereft of both Tom Pidcock, who won the last round in Nove Mesto, and Mathieu van der Poel, who has dominated the past two short track races. Pidcock was hit by a motorist and suffered a broken collarbone, but he aims to be back on the mountain bike for the World Cup in Les Gets, France next month. Van der Poel is currently racing the Tour de Suisse, which won't finish until Sunday.
In the women's field, Loanna Lecomte has dominated the past two World Cup rounds in Germany and the Czech Republic. Young gun Haley Batten and more established racers like Ferrand-Prévot will be hot on her heels though. Will Lecomte be able to hold on for a third win?
Here's our roundup of who to watch this weekend.
The obvious favorite is the 22-year-old from France. She won in the dry in Albstadt and in the wet in Nove Mesto, so Lecomte has proven that she can handle all conditions. Both wins came as a result of riding solo off the front, so it's yet to be seen what she can do in a sprint finish after more than an hour of intense racing.
Ferrand-Prévot won the World Championships in Leogang last fall, so the course holds special memories. In Nove Mesto, she came back from a crash and hospital visit in the short track to take fourth place in the XCO. The World Champion will certainly give the younger Lecomte a run for her money.
McConnell is another rider that is more established in the sport but isn't slowing down by any means. McConnell has made our favorites list because she earned the bronze medal at Leogang Worlds and came third in Nove Mesto, so she clearly is on form.
Batten has been a breakout star this season. Her results from the first two World Cups earned her a guaranteed trip to the Olympics for Team USA. She's already proven herself in that regard, but this weekend will be another chance to earn points toward the overall competition.
Richards came fifth in Nove Mesto, so the top-three is in striking distance for the British racer. The Trek Factory Racing rider will be seeking to add XCO success to her last season's short track victories
Flückiger was one of the strongest riders in Albstadt until a faulty dropper post took him out of winning contention. Then in Nove Mesto, he came fourth. With the multi-discipline stars out of the race this weekend, this could be a race for the 'pure' mountain bikers like the 33-year-old Swissman.
Sarrou was crowned World Champion in Leogang, which will definitely give him confidence this weekend. He hasn't made the top-three this season yet, but maybe he can find magic in the Austrian mountains.
Koretzky took a brilliant victory in Albstadt, but the Frenchman suffered from mechanical issues in Nove Mesto. If the race comes down to a sprint, Koretzky will be a feared rider in the front group.
Another rider who has consistently been at the front of the race this season is Cink from the Czech Republic. Two fourth-place finishes place him devastatingly close to a top-three podium position.
You can never count out Schurter. The 2016 Olympic champion will be building his form ahead of Tokyo, and for this race, he'll be aboard a brand-new Scott Spark RC bike that was just launched. Will the Swiss fast man be able to hold off the up-and-comers?
Leogang will also play host to the first round of the Downhill World Cup. The track features a fast upper section full of jumps and berms, with a tricky technical root section. At Worlds last year the course designers introduced a steep and challenging lower section that was popular among riders and fans.
Bike Perfect will continue to provide coverage of all the races this weekend. The races can be streamed on Red Bull TV, with the action kicking off at 5:20 CET Friday for the short track race.