Competitions

Holl and Bruni Dominate Donwhill Finals Sunday in Saalfelden Leogang Salzburgerland

189


Women’s and men’s UCI Downhill World Cup finals go to form as hot favourites Valentina Höll (YT Mob) and Loïc Bruni (Specialized Gravity) lived up to self-set expectations in Saalfelden Leogang – Salzburgerland.

The final riders to go in their respective races, thanks to semi-final successes, both executed near flawless runs to each take their second wins of the season.
 
After a torrential storm hit Saalfelden Leogang – Salzburgerland overnight, the finals would present different challenges and oblige different approaches to the semi-final. The conditions did not put off the spectators, however. 20,000 fans turned out to watch across the entirely weekend.

In the women’s final, Mille Johnset (Canyon CLLCTV Factory Team) was first onto a drying but still somewhat treacherous track. The Norwegian picked her lines well in the early sections, only to lose her rear wheel and go down briefly in the later wooded section, three minutes into her run. She was nevertheless able to quickly remount, crossing the line to set a solid benchmark time of 3’47.9.
 
Following Johnset down was Louise-Anna Ferguson (Intense Factory Racing) whose more cautious approach cost her precious seconds, and prevented her from taking the lead.
 
Third down the ramp and straight into the hotseat was French rider Myriam Nicole (Commencal / Muc Off by Riding Addiction.) Nicole held nothing back to give herself every chance of landing on the eventual podium. Having made the most of the faster sections, she flew across the line 5.6 seconds faster than Johnset.
 
After suffering a crash in Saturday’s semi-final Camille Balanche (Dorval Am Commencal) opted not to participate in Sunday’s final.
 
That made Nina Hoffmann (Santa Cruz Syndicate) the seventh rider to start, but lost around 10 seconds by hitting the deck on a relatively easy grassed section. She then struggled to regain momentum, falling further back, only to go down a second time in the trees.
 
New Zealander Jess Blewitt (Cube Factory Racing) started quick and only got quicker, gaining two seconds in the third sector. As she was looking likely to dislodge Nicole from top spot, tragedy struck as her front wheel hit a hole between the trees.

Could Tahnee Seagrave (Canyon CLLCTV Factory Team) challenge Nicole’s supremacy? The early indications were positive as the British rider got everything right in the top section. She lost a few tenths mid-way through the run but gained whole seconds in the
 
 
next split. Into the woods her dreams of victory also came crashing down as, opting for a riskier high line, she and her bike parted company. Despite the drama she came away largely uninjured and was at least able to set a time.
 
As Anna Newkirk (Beyond Racing) left the gate, Nicole knew she was guaranteed at least a podium. Newkirk rode with eyes wide open all the way, keeping it upright and rolling all the way where others before had lost momentum. Though behind for most of her run, she remained in touch with the race lead and was 0.8 seconds up at the final split. Through the final turns the American lost none of her composure and barely a fraction of time, coming home to take the lead.
 
With one rider left, the provisional podium was Newkirk, Nicole, Baumann.
 
UCI World Champion and home favourite Valentina Höll (YT Mob) was the only rider left who could deny Newkirk the victory. The Austrian honoured the rainbow stripes with a stylish, rapid first half of the run. The only rider to clear the double early jumps, she approached the wall ride with a massive three seconds in hand. At that point all she really had to do was get down, but she wasn’t content with simply taking the win. Precise drop-ins and impeccable handling gained her even more on those lower parts of the course that had frustrated several rivals. The Austrian fans erupted as Höll crossed the line to take the victory by an enormous 7 seconds.
 
Despite the dominant way in which she secured her second victory of 2024, Höll said afterwards that the course was anything but straightforward:
 
I don’t think anyone expected Leogang to be that technical, she said. “All the riders were complaining it was too easy but man, this track is not easy at all. It’s so rough and hard to find a fine line. I’m just happy to secure it at home. I love it.”

 

BRUNI THE BEST SAVED TILL LAST
 
In classy new kit Greg Williamson (Madison Saracen Factory Team) got the larger men’s elite field underway at 3pm on the dot.
 
The British rider charged down the higher part of the course, staying low along the motorway section and maintaining his speed. He came into the woods hot, attacking the roots and mud without missing a trick. Just as he was looking to set a strong benchmark he fell victim to a rear flat and could only nurse his bike down to the finish for a much slower time than his performance had deserved.
 
Jakob Jewitt (Pivot Factory Racing) then was tasked with putting in the first true time, but his first four splits found him four seconds down on Williamson, showing just how fast the Brit had been going. Despite the mechanical, Jewitt could not go quicker, and missed out on top spot by 0.1 seconds.
 
Antoine Perrin (Commencal Icstudio) was the first of the men’s elite finalists to take a tumble, in the mid-section of the course that has seen so many caught out over the weekend. 16 seconds down at the fourth split that was his deficit at the finish.
 
Loris Revelli dropped in but got caught out in the same off-camber grass section as Nina Hoffmann. He did a better job of recovering but was never able to claw himself into contention. Straight after Revelli, Remy Meier-Smith (Giant Factory Off-Road Team-DH) suffered a near identical fall in the same spot.
 
Having looked as if he might threaten the lead Oliver Davis (Santa Cruz Syndicate) saw his challenge disintegrate on a root.
 
It took first year elite Bodhi Kuhn (Trek Factory Racing Gravity) to finally dislodge Williamson from the hotseat. The Canadian took an aggressive approach to his run but seemed to be taking big risks. White knuckling his ride, Kuhn at points seemed to be hanging on more than he was in control. Despite kissing a root himself, he kept it up and went quickest by three tenths of a second.
 
Tenth rider out Joe Breeden (Intense Factory Racing) rode the first three sections smoothly, entering the woods very much in touch with the lead. In the biggest gear he had he laid it down on the final part of the course to go quickest by almost 1.5 seconds.
 
Kye A’hern (Kenda NS Bikes UR Team) was flying until he literally hit the final timing gate, a fall which took him from 1.5 up to six seconds behind at the finish.
 
Jordan Williams (Specialized Gravity) negotiated the trickiest early sections nicely and only got quicker. The Briton was 2.3 up at split four, eventually crossing the line in 3’13.08 to announce himself as the latest rider into the hotseat.
 
UCI World Champion Charlie Hatton (Atherton Racing) needed a result. A little rough and ready, Hatton was behind throughout his run but in touch, stopping the penultimate timing point with 0.5 seconds still to make up. He couldn’t do it, but managed enough to put himself onto the provisional podium and what would end up 18th on the day.
 
A DNS from Cube Factory Racing’s Max Hartenstern meant Lachlan Stevens-McNab had an extra-long wait in the start gate. That didn’t dampen his commitment, as the Kiwi was already almost a second up at the first split. Fast over the stumps and into the motorway he was close to doubling his lead and going long on the jumps, hitting the fastest speeds of the whole day.
 
Flirting with the limits and full gas, Stevens-McNab had three seconds at the final split, gaining another 1.5 to go quickest with a 3’08.6. Whether it would hold up for a podium or even the win seemed to depend on how much the course would dry over the weekend’s final hour of racing.
 
British National Champion Matt Walker (Madison Saracen Factory Team) was fastest in the first two sections but made a few small mistakes in the middle of the course before a few bigger ones cost him speed and time where the course got rocky and rooty. Though able to keep it upright, he was evidently frustrated at having not made more from the effort.
 
Austrian home rider Andreas Kolb (Continental Atherton) kept calm as the crowd around him brought the noise. A solid first half and a steady second meant there was nothing in it with a couple of corners to go but even the Austrian support was not enough for him to go into the lead.
 
As he had opted out of the qualifiers with a hand injury and the semi-finals the final was the first chance of the weekend to see Finn Iles (Specialized Gravity) put down a run. The Canadian rode strong and low, making the most of every opportunity to pick up speed. was up for most of the run and made it to sector four a second to the good. He crossed the line to claim the hotseat by 0.7 seconds from Stevens-McNab.

 

With the top ten riders left to hit the course the provisional podium was: Isles, Stevens-McNab, Benoît Coulanges (Dorval AM Commencal.)
 
In his hot pink uniform, Loris Vergier (Trek Factory Racing Gravity) rode an easy, almost flawless run, but one that was not sufficiently aggressive to put him right among the top times. A slip in the lower third of the course took him out of it completely, and as he failed for most of a minute to get clipped back in, he would have been happy enough just to finish in one piece.
 
Ireland’s Ronan Dunne (Mondraker Factory Racing) was more inclined to take risks, too many perhaps, as he nearly lost it completely over the stumps in the opening minute. Dunne recovered well but had to dig deep to restore lost speed. He had slipped from 5th to 12th  by third split before crossing in a respectable 8th place.
 
Into the final riders, and YT Mob’s Oisin O’Callaghan took time to settle into his run and find his flow. The young Irishman seemed to struggle with oversteer early on. Two seconds down in the middle sectors he was able to halve that deficit by split four, ultimately stopping the clock 3:08.75 which was good enough for third.
 
Despite making no notable errors, Troy Brosnan (Canyon CLLCTV Factory Team) was unable to trouble the top places, which meant there were only two competitors remaining who might deny Iles the win. Of them Brosnan’s team-mate Luca Shaw was fast, even briefly fastest, but a small mistake on the corner that had caught out so many riders cost him over a second and left him in 6th place.
 
Then came the headline act, Loïc Bruni (Specialized Gravity.) If time could be found on the course, it seemed likely the five-time UCI World Champion would find it. Riding in the driest conditions of anyone, Bruni rode lightly and was already into the lead at the first split. He briefly relinquished that advantage but reached the steepest section of the course 0.6 seconds to the good. With his heart rate clearing 170 the Frenchman picked the perfect places to push, and knew when to be patient. He had gained another second on Iles by the fourth timecheck.
 
Just a few turns to go Bruni was in complete control, as he soared over the last jump and crossed the line in 3’05.5 - more than two seconds quicker than anyone on the day.
 
I really thought I didn’t have it today,” said Bruni afterwards.

The conditions changed so much today compared to yesterday which was more my style. I tried everything I had - I was betting on the track drying up a bit. I was glad to start last. I pushed so much and made little mistakes at the top…. I finally got going after the motorway.”
 
Three rounds and a 100% record of podiums sees Bruni 320 points clear of Luca Shaw at the top of the overall standings. Finn Isles is in third on 647 points.

NEW ZEALAND AND FRENCH VICTORIES IN WOMEN’S AND MEN’S JUNIOR FINALS
 
The women’s and men’s junior downhill finals were won in Saalfelden Leogang – Salzburgerland by Erice Van Leuven (Commencal Les Orres) and Max Alran (Commencal / Muc Off by Riding Addiction) respectively.
 
Van Leuven denied Britain’s Heather Wilson (Muc-Off Young Guns) her third win in a row.
 
After what she described as “a rough start to the season,” victory for the Kiwi felt “so good.” She enjoyed the slippery conditions more than some of her competitors - “my main goal was to get through the woods safely. I made a few minor errors but basically it was a pretty good run.”
 
Second place by four seconds was Eliana Ulsebosch (Union - Forged by Steel City Media) with Wilson finishing off the podium, just 25 thousandths of a second further down. Wilson maintains her 1st place overall, as Van Leuven goes 10 points clear of Ulsebosch in second.
 
Alran beat Dane Ewett (Pivot Factory Racing) into second place by less than half a second, with Mike Huter (Gamux Factory Racing) almost three seconds back in third. For Alran it was not only his first win but first podium of the season.
 
I’m really happy, really stoked,” he said afterwards. “I did a pretty good run. I made a small mistake in the wood but I’m really happy.”
 
Despite finishing 21st due to a bad early crash, series leader Asa Vermette (Frameworks Racing) maintains his place at the top of the overall standings.

The UCI Cross-country and UCI Downhill World Cup series resumes in Val di Sole, Trentino next weekend.