Editor’s note: The January 2013 issue of Velo magazine, which is on newsstands now, is our 25th annual awards issue. Our 2012 Cyclist of the Year was announced on November 29; we’ll be rolling out various other award winners throughout the month of December.
Despite a second-consecutive disappointing world championship run — his chances ruined by brake failure and a resultant crash — Aaron Gwin is still unquestionably the most talented and consistent rider in downhill mountain biking.
Gwin finished the 2012 season with four victories across the calendar, and was rarely off the podium. He floored it through the wildly long and physical course at Val di Sole in Italy, slid through the slick mud of Fort William, Scotland, and flew down the steep slopes of Mont-Sainte-Anne, Quebec, and the rocky features of Windham Mountain in New York, taking commanding wins at each. A second place in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, and third at the hyper-fast, short-travel Sea Otter Classic course further demonstrate the laid-back Californian’s versatility.
Gwin’s one real disappointment came at worlds in Leogang, Austria, on a course he rode perfectly in 2011 to take the race win and the overall World Cup victory.
Indeed, it seems that only crashes or mechanical failure can keep Gwin off the podium. Such was the case at the world championship this year, where an inexplicable brake failure sent Gwin careening off the course barely a minute into what should have been a three-minute run.
“I really don’t understand what happened,” he said after the race. “I warmed up as usual, tested the brakes as usual at the top, walked down the course to have a look at how the track was running, went into my run, brakes working fine for the first minute or so, and then, bang — nothing. I crashed and got up as soon as I could, pumped [the brakes] to see what was there, but it wasn’t enough, and knew my day was over.”
The 2013 World Cup circuit is slated to hit many of the same courses Gwin excelled on this year, including Fort William, Val di Sole, and Mont-Sainte-Anne, as well as some of those he’s had trouble with, like Hafjell in Norway. He’ll get another shot at the rainbow stripes, too, this time on the fast, rough course in Pietermaritzburg. He won there in 2011, and was second this year.
Gwin is confident he can break the world championship curse. “You can learn from your crashes sometimes. I try to take it as a positive and just move on.”
Even without a rainbow jersey, he’s the top North American in all disciplines of mountain biking, and the top downhiller in the world.