At the Sharp End | Season Two Episode 2 | Leogang and Columbus.

Season two of At the Sharp End follows KJ Sharp and team mate Stacey Fisher as they take on this year’s downhill race season.

The second instalment of this year’s At the Sharp End sees KJ Sharp and Stacey Fisher head to Leogang.

Approaching the Leogang World Cup, the phrase ‘Raining Cats and Dogs’ starts to pop up with increasing frequency. The first record of this phrase was in 1651, used in a poem to describe rooftops to be secure against cats and dogs. There seems to be no explanation as to why Henry Vaughan chose to use these words. You would think it would be easy to decipher how and why this phrase came about; a secret Mr Vaughan will keep for eternity.

From a mountain biking perspective, I imagine the story would go as follows; Mr Vaughan’s father’s friend, Christopher Columbus’ travelled through Europe with his puppy dog, passing through the small village of Leogang in June 1478. Approaching the village, the clouds above moved with certainty, bringing torrential rain, hail, snow and high winds. These clouds were interjected with blue sky and intense sunlight, creating an unpredictable dynamic climate.

Looking out of the shire, Christopher Columbus scanned the mountains while his little puppy dog took a swim in the river. With a couple of wild cats taking shelter behind him, the accumulation of the word’s cats, dogs and rain sprung to his mind and made it from pen to paper later that day; ‘Leogang is doomed for eternity, it will rain cats and dogs on these mountains for years to come’. To which Mr Vaughan read years later and used said knowledge for his own poetic work.

Moving towards the current day, is Mr Columbus sat with said puppy dog and cats looking down on us, previously exposed to the Leogang environment, puzzling over why humans decided it was a good idea to ride futuristic bicycles down very steep hills whilst it rains cats and dogs.

Tuesday

Initially, I wasn’t supposed to come to Leogang. I’d made plans to spend a week in France, however, with friends heading to Schladming I couldn’t resist. From there it made more sense for me to head to Leogang for the World cup before making my way to the Innsbruck Crankworx.

We got to Leogang Tuesday afternoon in time for accreditation and race sign on. With my last-minute travelling plans I was a tad wary of where I’d be able to park up in the van for the week. Later in the evening I sneaked my van into the back of a small car park 100m away from the start of the pits. By morning I was well and truly blocked in by team vans and campers which remained the case throughout. I was very lucky here.

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Wednesday

I always find everyone is hyped up for track walk day. A first look at the track, apprehension mixed with excitement flying around, you can feel the positive energy jump around from one team to the next.

Much of the taping remained unchanged from the previous year. There were a few bus stops added up top to slow riders down, however, all else remained similar. The one thing that differed, and when I say differ, I mean an astronomical differentiation; The-track-was-dry. The wood section, majorly steep in previous years due to the insane amount water and snow now looked dreamy. To the point where I tempted to pick up a race plate. Something, a few weeks ago, I’d sworn I’d never want again.

Thursday

Meeting Stacey around 8:20am at the RBF Racing Pits, we set off together up the hill around 8:30am. With 4hours of practice ahead, I watched Stacey out of the start gate then followed on down the hill to scope out lines and help where I could. In terms of line choices, within 30minutes it became clear that this track was a lot simpler than Lenzerheide. The stump section seemed to be the main place where line choices differed. Spending an hour on each, we soon got the lines dialled. I finished off my walk down through the wood section, watching on with a little envy wondering if Mr Columbus was watching down on us, concerning himself as to where all the cats and dogs had gone.

Photo by Cochise Van Herk.

Friday

The minute amount of rain over night was enough for the track to become a dewy slippery mess. I had a similar morning set out, however, with the track conditions and riders nerves increasing with the imminence of qualifying, this morning’s line scoping was eventful. Similar to Lenzerheide, the feelings of watching riders crumble under the pressure and crash out had my own race nerves creep back and cramping up my stomach. Thank goodness I stuck to my guns to not race, just yet.

Around 12noon, we made our way back up the gondola for Stacey’s qualifying run. Sure enough, a light drizzle followed by high gusts of wind and heavy rain hit 30 minutes prior to go time. Within 5 minutes the course was placed on hold. An hour of heavy rain and insane wind later and they sent two course marshals down the hill to test the safety of the track. I later heard that these marshals crashed three times each throughout their run. That’s apparently deemed as safe. Mr Columbus be like, ‘there’s the cats and dogs’.

Stacey seemed hyped for her run, however a little reserved after the storm we had just been caught in. A quick fist pump and ‘have it’ moment and she was in the start hut ready to go. Just 7seconds back from qualifying, Stacey later admitted she hit her run too reserved and played on the safe side due to unknown conditions, unknow wind speeds and current injury status’s.
To this end and time on my hands, I popped back to my van to put on my running shoes. 10km, 800m climbing and 65minutes later I found myself laid in a meadow under a beautiful oak tree with some sheep puppy dog nuzzling her nose under my hand trying to lick my face. I think that was the first run I’ve taken any enjoyment from, potentially due to the puppy dog.

The Weekend

Sure enough, with our work done for the week, and a double Austrian home win I was looking forward to enjoying the weekend ahead. With enduro ladies in town and Whistler/Queenstown crews about, I was excited to make the most of my time catching up with old friends. Many Aperol spritzs later, I woke up Sunday morning grateful for the weekend but also very keen to be out. With the pathway cleared from my parking space to the exit, I packed up and cruised my way over to Innsbruck keen for some quiet chill time before Crankworx kicked off.

Keep tabs on RBF Racing’s exploits on their Instagram feed here.

Read our Wise Words with KJ Sharp on our Features page here.


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