To witness a massive moment in history (even if it is that of a niche sport), is a pretty surreal feeling. This weekend, an American Racer, Aaron Gwin, won a World Cup round without a chain. He broke it pedaling out of the starting hut, and all he had was momentum, gravity, and a little sheer grit to get him down the hill. In a testament to his savage abilities on a bike, and steely mental state, he crossed the line .045 seconds ahead of second-place-finisher, Connor Fearon (a first-time podium finisher in his own right). It was a dramatic Sunday; as a fan of the sport, and now a photojournalist documenting the series, the script couldn’t have been better written. The race at Leogang, Austria in 2015 will without a doubt be considered a paradigm shift in the world of downhill racing. Friend and racer, Neko Mullaly had a similar run at the World Championships last year in Hafjell, Norway, and to now have two riders put down unfathomable runs is certainly bound to have repercussions on the sport. What they are, it’s hard to say, but I certainly think that trainers, managers, engineers, and riders are all going to have a powwow about what a “winning approach” to winning a race really means. It’s obviously physical, but how much technical skill have riders been losing in favor of vigorous training regiments all in the name of fitness? Where is the balance between talent and coaching? What role does the engineering play in the outcome of a race, is it truly all about the rider still? We were all left in awe at the end of the day, and the only real explanation is that some people are just better that others, and there is only so much that can be done to level a playing field. It is highly possible that we all witnessed the greatest run in the history of the sport. That doesn’t mean the rest to come will all be less exciting or moot – no, in fact I think the races will only get more interesting as riders do their best to show that they are capable of amazing feats as well. With four rounds to go, there is a lot of racing left to be had, and who knows, maybe Gwin will one-up himself, or perhaps another rider will manage to shine even brighter – the other riders on the podium with Gwin are certainly capable of the unthinkable, and there are a fair few other former winners and contenders lurking outside the Top 5 as well. This is the official write up I contributed to, this is a bio-piece I worked on over the weekend, and below are some more shots that I enjoyed from the weekend: (Remember: click the pictures to see them in a slideshow-style viewer)
Gwin was looking on a mission in practice.
He was on-point, from start to finish.
It all culminated in the most astounding race win in recent memory.
Not everyone was quite as comfortable on track though…
He rode this out, no crash – impressive.
The course sweepers were giving it the beans too!
Finn Iles isn’t just any course sweeper – big things to come from this kid.
Dave McMillan calls himself a professional spectator.
He has yet to qualify for a final.
But, I think it’s only a matter of time.
Below, a host of riders are seeking out the top step. A few are former winners looking to add another #1 to their trophy case; Sam Blenkisop (#13) is one of them, last winning in 2007 at Schladming in Austria, as is Brook MacDonald (#22), last winning in 2012 in Val d’Isere, France. Connor Fearon (#36) found himself on the box in 2nd this weekend, his first podium and he nearly won. George Brannigan (#26) is no stranger to the Top 5 and looking to find the top step with the rest of these guys this season as well.
It’s fun to build report with riders, and Laurie here has become a friend over the years, so when he saw me sprawled on the ground like a toy soldier, he put some extra style on for the shot. Below are an extended collection of photos I just happen to like from the weekend.
Andrew Crimmins on his way to a 1st place in Jr Men.
Remi Morton putting in the effort, only to have a mechanical about 30 seconds later.
Greg Williamson tucking up against the pole in practice.
The text boxes don’t like all the photos. So, just for reference, the riders in descending order from above:
Loic Bruni; Mike Jones; Loin and Greg Minnaar; Harry Heath; Sam Dale (yes, he nearly ran me over, no regrets!); Neko Mullaly, putting the hurt on the first corner of the course.