In what was undeniably the most exciting race so far of the 2012 World Cup season, Aaron Gwin assembled another unfathomably fast run to earn his third win in a row. The long, high speed Mont St. Anne track served to illustrate each rider’s strengths and weaknesses in high relief while testing riders’ equipment to its absolute limits. Fairclough and Hannah each succumbed to mechanicals and American Neko Mullaly (17th qualifyer) endured the most brutal race run crash witnessed since Josh Bryceland’s Val Di Sole smash up a few years back. Mullaly was knocked unconscious after his front tire washed out on the lip of a large high speed step-down before he was sent flying head first into a rock at the edge of the course. The Trek-World Racing rider came to and amazingly was able to walk away from the wreck.
Each of the top ten riders produced some of the finest riding of their careers with precious few mistakes to be found anywhere. Blinkensop, Neethling, and Smith each found the smooth style and flow that has always characterized their best performances to end up 9th through 7th respectively. Sam Hill’s run could have been a replay of his 2009 Mont St. Anne winning run that was confident and strategic. Nevertheless, Hill’s smart lines, calculated risks, a well timed tucks and sprints were not enough to best the current depth of talent and fitness that exists in the top ranks of today’s World Cup field and landed Hill in 5th.
Racing after suffering a massive 50+ kph crash off the ski jump days earlier in practice, Gee Atherton rode as if possessed by a young Nico Voullioz to produce the most flawless run executed on a World Cup course in recent memory. Floating over the rough patches of track and doubling up rocks in the wooded sections, Atherton made this extremely tough course look easy. Alas, Gee’s controlled run would not be fast enough to win but netted him the 4th step on the box. Danny Hart broke out of the subdued riding style he exhibited in the first two races this year to find an effective blend of wild and mild for a 3rd place finish on a course that suited his strengths well. The bottom section of the track is where Hart’s skills and style shone brightly as he aggressively cut every corner, drifted through the flat sections of trail, only to immediately jump back on the pedals sprinting hard toward the next corner.
The hallmark consistency and power of South African Greg Minnaar’s final run was unmistakable. Minnaar hardly touched the brakes in the rocky sections and put his 6’3” height to good use absorbing the larger undulations in a style that is reminiscent of Steve Peat in his prime. After each step-down, drop, and jump, Minnaar was back to pedaling quicker than any of his competitors. Greg was even found pedaling in sections that saw many riders simply holding on for dear life. The Santa Cruz Syndicate rider was rewarded with a 2nd place finish for his efforts.
With each of the top ten runs exhibiting an amazing consistency of speed with the top 8 riders finishing within a 5 second window, Aaron Gwin had his work cut out for him. The Temecula, California resident found himself at home on the dry soil and rocks of Quebec and attacked the course with unmitigated ferocity. Using his trademark racing style Gwin was over 2 seconds up on Minnaar at the first split, but as usual, the margin narrowed near the middle of the course. However, at the bottom Gwin seemed to enter warp drive and sent the final step-down at a speed that shouldn’t be humanly possible to control. The young American came flying through the finish line exhausted and shaking his head as a penance for the mistakes he felt he had made during his run. Despite this disappointment Gwin was quickly overcome by the roar of the crowd and triumphantly raised both fists in the air to claim his eight career World Cup win.
It has been believed by many, including myself, that the downhill world would never see a rider as dominant as Nico Vouilloz again. Gwin has proven us wrong and appears to be unstoppable. Ladies and Gentlemen, we are in for a wild ride.