Leov looks for big finish to downhill bike career

Monday's mountain bike world championship brings down the curtain on a 10-year professional career for New Zealand champion downhiller Justin Leov.

The 27-year-old will call it quits on his professional career in downhill following the championships, which are fittingly in Austria this weekend.

"I made the decision to retire last year but decided to announce it officially at the Windham World Cup recently to give my sponsors and friends a heads-up," Leov said.

"These worlds are special to me because in 2002 I started my career in Austria and this is the end of my career in downhill here in Austria, so it's been a 10-year cycle starting and finishing in Austria."

The Trek World Racing professional has enjoyed a career littered with top-10 finishes at both world championships and world cups, although he is keen to shake off a season of niggling injuries that have thwarted his swansong season.

"I feel really good for this race. The last few world cups have been disappointing for me with injuries. I really started to get on a good roll with qualifying at Mt Sainte Anne and a solid finish there.

"The speed has not dropped since then but it's been the pressure of getting over the injuries and hoping for a bit of good luck in training and put everything into the race. I have definitely got the fitness, so it will be about putting that run together."

Leov, who won the US Grand Prix series overall this year, says the downhill competition has become hotter every year.

"The depth has just grown so much. Every year you search for those two per cent gains to get faster and faster but everybody is doing that. Now what seems a podium or potentially a winning run just finishes you in the top-10 or even outside the top-10."

Leov is among a group of talented kiwi riders ranked in the top 20 and pushing for success in the world championships at the Leogang Bike Park in the Austrian Alps.

He will be joined by world No 5 Brook MacDonald, Sam Blenkinsop and Cameron Cole.

Havelock North's George Brannigan, who had climbed to 21 in the world in his first full season on the circuit, crashed heavily racing in the US, suffering from broken ribs and a partially punctured lung.

However Brannigan, not expected to take part in the championships, managed his way through the first day of practice "surprisingly well" and will make a decision after practice today if he will start.

That won't be the case for Kawerau's Matt Walker, brother of Olympic BMX medallist Sarah, who has not recovered sufficiently from injury, and it is the same for talented junior Jake Robinson and leading women's rider Sarah Atkin, both nursing collarbone injuries.

There will be plenty of sentimental support for Leov in his final major outing in downhill on a course where times will be close.

"The course is quite basic but, in saying that, this style of course makes for close racing and is exciting to watch. The challenge is, while it is not as technical as some of the tracks we race, it becomes technical with the speed we are going to be going and how perfect you will need to be for that four-and-a-half minutes.

"It will be the little differences adding up right through the run that will decide who will be on the podium and who can win here."

Leov's American teammate Aaron Quin, the runaway world cup winner this year, is the hot favourite.

Coatesville's Sophie Tyas is a strong podium candidate in the junior women's category, while the talented trio of Reece Potter, Leo Sandler and Louis Hamilton will look to continue the Kiwi world championship success in the junior men's division where Cole and MacDonald are former winners.

Practice continues today with time practice tomorrow ahead of racing on Monday.

New Zealand team: Elite men: Justin Leov (Christchurch), Brook Macdonald (Napier), Cameron Cole (Christchurch), Sam Blenkinsop (Wanganui), George Brannigan (Havelock North).

Elite women: Veronique Sandler (Nelson), Sophie-Marie Bethell (Auckland).

Junior women: Sophie Tyas (Coatesville)

Junior men: Leo Sandler (Nelson), Reece Potter (Nelson), Louis Hamilton (Rotorua), Dan McCombie (Dunedin), Lawrence Cawte (Rotorua).


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