It is crazy to think that there has not been any World Cup downhill racing for well over 12 months – the last time the DH elite got together was on September 8th 2019 in Snow Shoe, USA. Covid 19 and the global pandemic that has followed has wreaked havoc all over the world, but finally downhill fans have something to take their minds of it all and to get excited about… the DH World Championships from Leogang in Austria this Sunday (Oct 11th).
The World Championships is a one-off race that is held every year, with the winner getting to wear the much coveted rainbow stripes. It is an important race, and the most sort after title in mountain biking. This is one day, all or nothing, winner takes all. Riders take risks, they let it hang out… death or glory may be a little extreme, but in downhill racing there is no greater prize.
Worlds is peculiar because it is the only time of the year that riders race for their countries rather than their teams. The INTENSE Factory Racing (IFR) team is of course made up of Aaron Gwin and Neko Mulally from the USA, and junior racer Seth Sherlock from Canada, and it is testament to their talent and skills that they have all been selected to race for their countries this year. But of course on race day we won’t see them in their usual IFR team kit, instead it will be the stars and stripes of America, and the maple leaf of Canada.
There has been much interest and anticipation to see what bikes the team will be riding. It is no secret that Aaron has been testing and riding a prototype aluminum ‘mullet’ version (29” wheel in the front, 27.5” in the rear) of our M29 – images of the bike have been all over the internet. Wheel size is very much a personal choice, some riders feel more comfortable and faster on 29” front and rear, whilst many opt for the 29/27.5 combo for its slightly quicker handling and acceleration. Both Aaron and Neko will be riding the prototype mixed wheel bike, with Seth on an M29.
You may recall that we like ‘live testing’ here at INTENSE, in fact we have a made a bit of a habit of it. Remember back to 2017 and our prototype M29 when Jack Moir took the new bike to second place at the Fort William World Cup? We believe that the there is no greater test for a bike than being at a race, under pressure and against the clock. We grabbed INTENSE boss Jeff Steber to give us a bit of info on the bike:
“The AG M279 project began last season in an effort to put some of Aaron’s design ideas into a working prototype. The first incarnation (P1) used a modified M29 with a stock carbon front end, modified linkages and a custom made alloy rear end that I made to convert the bike to a mixed wheel 279.”
“This bike was raced at the 2019 World Champs and World Cup final and proved that the concept of the staggered wheel size was right. We then went to work on a ground-up alloy prototype dubbed the AG M279. This is a true 279 layout and it incorporates the geometry, modified kinematics and ergonomics from the original P1. This version is a true race-bred bike that’s especially tailored to AG’s riding style, and he feels right at home on it. The main goal was to make a bike that maintains momentum and that transfers energy forward.”
Aaron has been testing the new bike throughout the summer months and is flying on it, “I love the new bike. The staggered wheels feel super comfortable and they seem to capitalize on the strengths of each wheel size without some of the negatives with how we have them set up. We’ve changed up the sizing of the bike so that it fits me perfectly and tweaked the suspension to suit my preferences. Overall it is just a very rounded bike that is easy to tune and performs well at speed.”
Aaron is of course still chasing his first World Championships title, and we don’t want to tempt fate here but he does have a bit of history in Leogang. He has won four World Cup races at the venue (2011, 2015, 2016 and 2017), with 2015 being the crazy race that he won without a chain! You couldn’t make it up. Neko has had a solid summer of riding and racing, and of course Seth has a really good chance in the Juniors, but with there being so little international racing so far in 2020 it is really hard to know what will happen. It’s a tough one to call, especially has the race organizers in Leogang have really mixed things up with some major changes to the track, adding a steep, raw and rooty lower woods section.
Because of this unprecedented year the timing of the race is strange too, as the World Championships normally take place in September. October is a time when riders should be kicking back and enjoying some time off, but for 2020 it has become the sharp end of the year, with the next four weeks featuring not only the World Champs but four World Cup rounds. With it being later in the year the weather will be even more unpredictable up in the mountains – in October things can get pretty crazy, pretty quickly. There has already been snow in Leogang this month, but it looks like the race may avoid being a total white-out, but you can bet that it will be cold and wet. We can’t wait.
You can watch the race live on Red Bull TV this Sunday (Oct 11th). The Senior Women’s race is live from 12.30 CET (11.30 BST) and the Men’s is on from 14.30 CET (13.30 BST).