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1 month ago

Valentina Höll (YT Mob) and Loïc Bruni (Specialized Gravity) proved they’re the riders to beat in the UCI Downhill World Cup round in Saalfelden Leogang – Salzburgerland (Austria) and will go last out of the starting gate in Sunday’s final.

The WHOOP UCI Mountain Bike World Series sent Austrian fans happy last year with a Downhill home double thanks to Höll and Andreas Kolb (Continental Atherton), and the women’s UCI Downhill World Cup leader asserted her authority once again as the fastest rider in qualification and the semi-final.

Saturday’s UCI Downhill World Cup action saw 359 entries whittled down to just 80 finalists, who will battle it out on Sunday across the elite and junior categories.


With Ronan Dunne (Mondraker Factory Racing) winning in Poland, the Emerald Isle was again on top in qualifying through Oisin O’Callaghan (YT Mob) by the narrowest of margins - just 0.060 seconds ahead of Luca Shaw (Canyon CLLCTV Factory Team).

Bruni was sixth and almost two seconds back as he fell further and further off the pace throughout his run but turned things around in style for the semi-finals to take a commanding first place. Shaw was again the bridesmaid and even led at the penultimate time check but couldn’t match the UCI World Cup leader in the final stages as his teammate Troy Brosnan finished third.

O’Callaghan started the semi-final as he’d finished the qualifier, quickest over the opening stretch, but was unable to sustain that pace against the blistering Bruni.

Dunne will need to find time if he’s to continue his winning streak too - he was top dog in the Red Bull Hardline between UCI Downhill World Cup rounds and improved from 13th to sixth in the semi-final here, but still ended the day four seconds behind the French pacesetter.

Greg Minnaar (Norco Factory Racing) once again failed to escape qualifying while Kolb has made the cut but must improve from 13th to repeat his popular victory from 12 months ago.

Finn Isles (Specialized Gravity) pulled out at the top of the course but will start the final as a protected rider alongside Benoît Coulanges (Dorval AM Commencal) who was 60th out of 62 semi-final finishers.



In Thursday’s press conference, Höll talked up the competitiveness in the women’s downhill field compared to the dominance of Rachel Atherton in the 2010s, but her talking on the trail perhaps said otherwise.

Entering the weekend with a 10-point lead over Tahnée Seagrave (Canyon CLLCTV FMD), with the same distance back to Camille Balanche (Dorval AM Commercial) in third, Höll showed she was immediately up to speed on her home trails by finishing eight seconds ahead in qualifying as her immediate rivals were both outside the top 10.

Anna Newkirk (Beyond Racing) was able to close the gap considerably in the semi-finals but still couldn’t overhaul the world champion, finishing 1.6 seconds back as Seagrave also slashed her deficit to Höll as the fastest rider of the first part of the course. However, Newkirk sped up with every meter that she plunged downhill and relegated the Brit to third with a scorching end to her run.

Balanche was the only rider who failed to finish, on the back foot after a sluggish by her standards, she came unstuck on the final section.

Marine Cabirou’s up-and-down season looks set to continue in Austria as the Scott Downhill Factory Rider could only finish 14th despite taking victory in Bielsko-Biała (Poland) last time out. That win left her 70 points behind Höll but she’ll need a major overnight turnaround to cut that gap further.

As a protected rider she’ll still take her place in the final alongside Nina Hoffmann (Santa Cruz Syndicate) and Balanche who did roll across the line after her crash while two-time UCI Downhill World Champion Myriam Nicole (Commencal/Muc-Off by Riding Addiction) is into her first finale of the year VERMETTE AND WATSON SHOW THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT

Men’s Junior leader Asa Vermette (Frameworks Racing) followed in Höll and Bruni’s tyre tracks to take top spot in qualifying, over three seconds ahead of Dane Jewett (Pivot Factory Racing).

Vermette left it late - he only hit the front at the final time check but put himself in the best position to extend his 40-point lead in the standings over Luke Wayman, who was ninth in Saalfelden Leogang - Salzburgerland.

However, Women’s Junior leader Heather Wilson (Muc-Off Young Guns) couldn’t complete the set as she was fifth. Wilson’s had a perfect start to the year with two wins but will need to overhaul a 16-second deficit to Eliana Hulsebosch (Union - Forged by Steel City Media) tomorrow to extend that run.

The Kiwi was first at every single checkpoint in a searing display eight seconds ahead of Sacha Earnest (Trek Factory Racing Gravity), who at least has the consolation that she can reduce her 25-point gap to Wilson if she continues this form.

Both the men’s and women's Junior UCI Downhill World Cup races will be broadcast live tomorrow for free on the WHOOP UCI Mountain Bike World Series YouTube channel, while the Elite finals will be shown on a wide range of channels and streaming services. You can find where to watch all the racing action HERE. Pre-show starts at 13:45 UTC+2, so set a reminder to join Ric McLaughlin and Aaron Gwin live from Austria.

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