by Zach Faulkner
I know he didn’t mean to, but I think Aaron Gwin accidentally ruined DH racing. It was a slow build up, but it happened. He showed up one day to a World Cup aboard a Yeti 303 and bar humped his way into our hearts - we were fans immediately. But then something weird happened: he won in South Africa, and he didn’t stop winning for the next two years. Sure he didn't have perfect seasons, but how many of you can name the other winners? (Hint: Minnaar, McDonald, and Smith). It was a transformation that would have made Megatron nod in approval.
After embarrassing the entire Pro Men’s field for back-to-back summers, there has been a noticeable shift in the world of racing, a new standard has arisen. This was the third era of perfection unseen since Vouilloz crushed the competition a decade ago, and then when Hill decided that his riding, “goes to 11.” “Gwinning” became a commonly used word, hashtaging it was funny, and just like that, ‘Merica was thumping its red, white, and blue chest at the international competition.
Let’s be honest, we needed it. American racing has been in some serious need of help since the now-defunct NORBA National series was clearly surpassed by the World Cup scene as the real stage of high caliber racing. Gwin has been the man to resurrect the passion from the masses, and the irony in that phrasing is that he is a very devout man in his own right. But that has little bearing on what I’m getting at here. The bigger change that occurred was much less subtle, and much more startling; racing got serious.
Gone are the interviews of goofy smiles and coy hints about how the track is riding from Hill. Even Bryceland’s Manchester mumblings are more relevant to how his day is going. Have we, dare I say, “gone moto?”
I like downhilling because it has characters with character. Mountain biking does not need a bunch of men and women standing around discussing how well their [tire band] knobs are “hooking up mint in the corners.” If the Parkins are catching them on camera making it around the corner, that is plain for me to see. What separates “us” from “them” is when guys like Fairclough come hauling into a section in practice, point to Sven, and then giggle with stoke about how rad the course is running.
There is also trickle-down from the World Cup guys into the local scene (duh, that’s how this all works), but in this case, it isn’t a positive thing. Groms should not have Pro swagger. I do not think it’s funny or cool when a Cat 2 rider talks about their semi-slow run, which involved tagging two different trees, as if the sound bite would accompany a photo of them next to their shop-priced mid-range bike. As a struggling Pro racer myself, I just shake my head, thinking back to the days of Jr.X when riding was loose, semi-serious, and all about just hanging it out for the pair of Avid Codes the winner was going to be awarded for being the fastest kid down.
So, how is this all Gwin’s fault? Well, this change has been in effect, frankly always, but Gwin brought the hammer and bedded the nails in, once and for all. He is obviously one of, if not THE fastest guy out there, and because of that, the paradigm shift occurred. Podium competitors are forced to buckle down, get serious with training and diet. They must try to fill in the massive rift that Gwin single-handedly created by JUST HAVING FUN. Don’t kid yourself, he’s human and has had an “off season” this year, but listen to the guy talk in his interviews. He is loving every minute out there, laughing about his issues, while the competition is beating the course to death trying to find those precious tenths that they can’t find.
Aaron Gwin, by having fun, took all the fun out of the sport. It’s too serious now. I’m probably going to have to quit or drop down to Cat 1 just because I can’t handle the pressure of knowing that Aaron Gwin is the 11-seconds-faster-National-Champion. He has set a bar so high in the minds of us all that we are now forever-doomed to the mantra of “checkers or wreckers” in a pathetic effort to achieve stardom in our own hearts and minds. My helmet off to you Gwinny. You showed us how insanely talented you are, and your inspiring riding and attitude has ruined the entire sport I love. About the author[sound of can opening] You may know me as my online alias of “sideshow” - a well-worn nickname from my days as a teen with a huge head of hair. I’ve been racing downhill since I was 14, after I realized I was too slow up the hills in XC. I jumped straight in the Jr.X category and then right on into the Pro ranks once I’d weathered some wild years racing Neko before he could drive. I’m 23 now, so no one likes me, and I live post-grad in the most temperamental region in nature, a.k.a. Vermont. The winters are cold and the summers are unpredictable, but we still have fun here. I decided to name the column "Blue Ribbon Banter" based on the best post-ride beer (science says so, no arguing), and the resulting conversations in the pits and parking lots that are fueled by the beverage. I’ll try to keep things relevant and interesting for your entertainment. Just remember: when people yell, “NO BRAKES” as you race by, you have to do it.