Aaron Gwin, the most dominant downhill racer of the last two seasons, has broken his deal with Trek to sign with Specialized for 2013. Trek World Racing management is exploring legal recourse for the split. [Trek World Racing has confirmed on Tuesday night that the deal it had signed with Gwin was a “legally binding letter of intent” and not a contract. —Ed.]
Gwin leaves after two highly successful years with Trek, back-tracking on a three-year letter of intent he signed on August 9, 2012. Those two years saw Gwin become the first American man to win a World Cup overall when he won five races in 2011. He took four World Cup victories and a second overall title in 2012.
Trek is not pleased by Gwin’s sudden departure, and a statement issued Tuesday morning by the company that owns the Trek World Racing team, 23 Degrees, expressed frustration over Gwin’s swap to one of the Trek’s greatest rivals.
“Only weeks before the team was required to submit the official team roster to the UCI, Mr. Gwin informed the team that he was abandoning TWR in total disregard of his contractual obligations,” the team said in a statement. “The team reached out on several occasions in December in order to try and remedy whatever concerns Mr. Gwin had, but these were ignored until the team received a letter from his attorneys on December 27 stating he would not ride for our team.”
The statement makes it clear that 23 Degrees plans to pursue legal and other options to satisfy the deal, but did not specify what those might look like.
“We are actively pursuing all options open to us at this point, including legal action, and remain completely surprised by Mr. Gwin’s unprofessional actions,” the team said.
A press release from Specialized on Tuesday made no mention of the controversy.
“I’m super excited to start this new chapter in my career with Specialized bicycles,” Gwin said. “The entire Specialized staff has welcomed me with open arms and I’m blown away by the level of support they’ve shown me.”
Gwin will ride Specialized frames, primarily the carbon S-Works Demo-8, and Specialized tires. He joins Troy Brosnan and Mitch Ropelato on the team. The signing comes hot on the heels of Sam Hill’s departure from the Specialized DH team.
“I’m stoked to have a new teammate this year,” Brosnan said. “It will be a fresh start and I will be able to learn a lot of things from Aaron. The season starts late this year and will give everyone time to get to know each other and do testing on the bike. I cannot wait to work together and smash out runs.”
“We are really excited to have Aaron on board,” added Geoff Rogers, Specialized’s sports marketing director. “He has a lot of interest in product development, advocacy, junior development, and so do we. We are looking forward to a very successful future together.”
Despite his two-year streak of dominance, Gwin has yet to win a world championship title. A tumble in the slick mud of Champery, France, and brake failure in Leogang, Austria, dashed his hopes in 2011 and 2012, respectively. Picking up his first set of rainbow stripes was always going to be a primary focus for Gwin in 2013, regardless of whose roster features his name.