Gwin On A Charge - World Cup Racing from Maribor

Gwin On A Charge - World Cup Racing from Maribor
We have now reached the halfway point in this slightly odd and intriguing Downhill World Cup race season. After the difficult and testing conditions in Leogang (Austria) for the World Championships racers made the five hour journey across the border to Maribor in Slovenia for back-to-back rounds of the World Cup. Because of Covid 19 the UCI (the sport’s governing body) took the decision to have one round on the Friday (Oct 16th ) and then the second on the Sunday (Oct 18th ) on slightly different tracks.

The INTENSE Factory Racing team (IFR) of Aaron Gwin, Neko Mulally and junior Seth Sherlock barely had time to dry their race kits before they headed out to walk the two tracks. For round 1 the weather once again played its part. The track in Maribor was mostly already well ridden, meaning that there were plenty of roots and rocks already very visible, and that the riding surface was compact. This meant that it was super fast in the dry, but like an ice rink in the wet… very tricky conditions, and at this level any small mistake would leave riders on the deck and way off the podium.

None of the team were particularly pleased with their results from round 1 – Aaron finished in 21st, Neko in 27th and Seth in 13th (Junior) – but there was no time to dwell on ‘what could have been’. After racing on Friday there was only time for a few practise runs on Saturday morning before qualification later that day. Come race day the rain had stopped but the conditions could have been classed as intermediate or ‘in-between’. Neither dry nor wet, and still with plenty of places where you could slip or slide out (the second corner being a prime example), but the track was running faster.

After qualifying in fifth Seth looked to be set and ready for a podium position, but a crash put an end to any hopes he had. He then somehow rode the last minute of the track minus a shoe and just in his sock!

“I’ve been having tons of fun racing out here in Europe! Some crashes in finals have had a poor impact on my results, I have some work to do with my consistency, but outside of finals I have been riding really well and it shows in my split times.” - Seth.

World Cup racing from Maribor

Neko finished up in 39
th after missing a few of his lines, “I was looking for more but pushed the bike off line in a few places and could feel the time ticking by. Rest, reset and get ready for the next one."

For Aaron Maribor #2 was good. A tenth in qualifying and then a sixth in finals was what he and the team needed. He finished just half a second back from a fifth place podium finish and only 1.5 sec back from first place. Racing is super tight at the top, “I got real close to the podium. I messed up some things on the top part of the track and gave up too much time… on a track like Maribor you can’t do those things. I think I was reeling back in some of those guys at the bottom, where I was riding pretty good.”

There is no doubt that Aaron was looking up to speed and that he was enjoying the slightly drier and more predictable conditions, “It always takes me a few pre-season races to get this sharp, but I just haven’t had the opportunities this year. It has been hard to come to Europe and be on the pace in just a week, but it’s been cool to do a lot of riding. I feel better every day on my bike, so I’m stoked that we got a lot of days riding in a row. I feel like I’m making progress every day.”

The team now travels to Lousa in Portugal for the final two rounds of this much compressed World Cup series. Racing takes place on Friday October 30th and Sunday November 1st. Hopefully the conditions will be better than in the mounatins, and looking at the long term weather report it is currently looking dry, sunny and warm (19-21ºc)! We will have to wait and see.

It has been a massive team effort by everyone involved just to get to the races. Add into that the poor weather, the pressure of competition and a super tight schedule and you could have a recipe for disaster, but the IFR team have nailed it.

“I knew it was going to be tough for our guys, mainly due to a lack of racing. With the World Championships being our first team event of the year, it was a bit overwhelming to say the least! We all know that strong results are the goal, but there is also a lot going on behind the scenes to make this all happen, especially for our N. American based team to go overseas with all the uncertainty in the world. The riders have definitely been making progress since the World Championships, and you can see their confidence growing with each event and run. I am stoked to see these guys compete at the next two rounds.” - Todd Schumlick, team manager.

“Big thanks to my team for all the hard work. It’s been probably the most demanding two weeks of racing that we’ve ever done and they’ve been awesome. We are all looking forward to Portugal.” - Aaron.

Click here to watch
Round 1 from Lousa live on Friday October 30th.

Photos: @nathhughesphoto