For the first time in a dozen years on Sunday, an American took the top step at a World Cup downhill.
Aaron Gwin’s win at round 1 in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa wasn’t only the Californian’s first World Cup win ever, but it also marked the first time since Shaun Palmer in 1999 that an American has topped the field of the world’s best downhillers.
To cap the day, Gwin’s Trek World Racing teammate — and reigning women’s world DH champion — Tracy Moseley also took first place.
Gwin qualified seventh on Friday, but in the time between that race and Sunday’s final, he dialed in his suspension and then let it rip. For Gwin, who started racing World Cups in 2008, it was his eighth World Cup podium, but an all-important first win for his career and his new team, said Team Director Martin Whiteley.
“I’m pretty speechless actually,” Gwin said. “It’s a dream. In the first sector I made a little mistake, hitting some trees with my shoulder, but then I just regrouped and put as much power down as I could in the middle sector. By the end, the legs were really feeling it, and then it was a pretty nerve wracking waiting in the hot seat.”
Gwin outpaced the two top riders of 2010 – Greg Minnaar (Santa Cruz Syndicate) bu 0.24; and Gee Atherton (Comencal) by 1.921.
South African Andrew Neethling (Giant Off-Road) tried to knock Gwin off the hot seat, but that ended in a crash high up on the course.
Even hometown favorite Minnaar couldn’t up-end Gwin, despite a deafening wail of vuvuzelas from the thousands of fans packed around the course.
“I made a couple of silly mistakes early on and was trying to catch up all the way,” Minnaar told www.witness.co.za after the race. “I can’t thank the crowd enough. Their support was unbelievable and made a huge difference to me on the day. I am sorry for the second place.”
There are six weeks until World Cup downhill Round 2, in Fort William, Scottland, something Gwin said he’s looking forward to racing.
“Can’t wait for Fort William, I love that track,” he said.
For Moseley, the South African stop was the first time she was able to don her rainbow jersey at a World Cup event after winning it last year at Mont Ste Anne. Like Gwin, the Brit won her first World Cup event in Pietermaritzburg in 2009, in her first outing as a Trek World Racing member. Sunday was her thirteenth career win and the third for the team.
After winning qualifying on Friday by nearly 6 seconds, it was a much tighter affair on Sunday when Moseley won by a scant 0.28secs. The course was running about 15 seconds faster for the women and the effort to get the bike to the line was huge, she said.
“That was so tough today,” Moseley said. “Towards the end I was running out of steam and had the rear kick up on something in the lower section of the track; then I heard the onsite commentary say it was going to be close, so I dug deep until the end. It means a lot to win my first World Cup at my first attempt since earning the World Champs jersey, it just means so much.”
Whiteley said that three years ago Trek, like Gwin, wasn’t racing at the top level of World Cup downhilling; things have changed.
“Here we are today with clearly a winning package,” Whiteley said. “I can’t speak highly enough of the engineers in Madison… I’m really looking forward to a thrilling 2011 season.”
Homepage photo courtesy of USA Cycling and www.canadiancyclist.com