The podium in Val di Sole, Italy was painted red, white and blue with Specialized Racing’s Aaron Gwin, fresh from a decisive win in Windham, being crowned the 2015 downhill champion at the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup.
Under sunny skies and hot, late summer conditions, the top twenty qualifiers at the downhill component of this year’s World Cup lined up, ready to launch the descent. From the outset, it was New Zealand’s Brook Macdonald who seemed to baost the advantage, shredding the Val di Sole dirt with the first breakneck run of the competition. It was a return to the saddle with a vengeance for Macdonald, too, having suffered a knee injury during Friday’s training. Wasting no time, the New Zealand rider put in a blistering downhill run, eclipsing Loris Vergier’s time by more than two seconds when he crossed the finish.
Macdonald, however, wasn’t the only rider going hard when racing kicked off. The UK’s Danny Hart, 2011’s downhill champion, was raring to repeat that success, and indeed seemed to be putting in one of the better rides of his season as he hit the descent. Bouncing over the terrain with expert ease, Hart was caught trying to negotiate a particularly tight, rocky stretch of The Hell descent, seeming to land on his face on the hard terrain.
The fall was as painful to watch as it must have been to experience, with Hart seeming to be on a roll for much of the competition up until that point. For a rider who’s had a relatively quiet season so far, it seemed, to observers, like he was out to make up for lost time with his downhill performance. But with his advantage lost, time had caught up with the English rider.
For Greg Minaar, though, who needed to take a win to allow himself even a window of opportunity at taking an overall victory, a similar experience must have been even worse.
Things seemed to be going well for Minaar on The Wall descent, taking the plunge down the dirt with breakneck speed but balanced with total control. When he hit the rockier part of the descent, though, Minaar’s speed propelled him into a hop over one of the larger boulders on the course — a hop that, much to the detriment of Minaar’s standings, didn’t land as well as it took off. In midair, Minaar seemed to veer a little too hard into an anticipated turn, bringing the Santa Cruz rider down hard. Hell-bent for much of the competition, a strategy clearly chosen to aggressively ensure his chances, the downhill specialist was done in by the strength of his own drive. Collecting his bike after the downhill topple, Minaar’s fall had all but paved the precipitous course for Aaron Gwin, riding for Specialized, to take the win.
Of course, Gwin’s overall victory was all but assured almost as soon as he left the start hut. Not one to rest on his laurels, though, the U.S.-based rider powered through the course, powerfully demonstrating why he holds the reputation he does as one of the world’s best downhill athletes in cycling. With white-knuckle speed as he plunged down the terrain, Gwin crossed the line nearly two seconds ahead of France’s Loic Bruni’s time of 3:33.511, taking the win at 3:31.922.