Words: Mike Rose
Photos: Nathan Hughes
The highs and lows of racing are why we love it. The emotional rollercoaster never fails to deliver. And so it was this past weekend as the INTENSE Factory Racing team riders took on both round 7 of this year’s Downhill World Cup from Mont Sainte Anne (MSA) and round 4 of the Enduro World Series from Whistler. The races may have been in the same country, but they were almost 3,000 miles (4,700km) apart. Aaron Gwin, Dakotah Norton and Joe Breeden took on the legendary MSA downhill course, whilst young gun (can we still call him that?) Seth Sherlock continued his push for the overall win in the EWS Under 21 category (read more about Seth’s race here).
Back to those highs and lows. Both Joe and Aaron qualified for the main race, but unfortunately Dak punctured and missed the cut. Running the number 19 plate we had presumed he was a protected rider and that he would take part in the main event no matter what happened to him in qualifying, but due to some convoluted rule (whereby the top 10 from last year are protected for the whole of the following season, and who still count even if they are out injured) he missed the cut. Frustrating for everyone.
“I was really looking forward to racing MSA this year, it’s always my favorite track on the circuit. Unfortunately that’s going to have to wait another year. There are a few things we could have done different, but as a racer you just have to show up to race and deal with the consequences later.” Dakotah Norton
Mont Sainte Anne is one hell of a race track, and it quite rightly holds legendary status amongst the World Cup elite. Apart from a small amount of rain on day one, it stayed dry and sunny, which was a nice change compared to the rain at the previous round the weekend before in Snowshoe.
Disappointment though for Joe. It was a really positive step forward for him to qualify after his elbow injury earlier in the year at Fort William, but a crash here left him down the field and out of the points.
“Aside from the end result MSA was a very successful week for me. During the final practice session on race day I felt some race intensity come back for the first time since my injury, but unfortunately I made a small mistake in my finals run and crashed. It was amazing to further develop my relationship with the team and see Aaron back on the podium yet again. Thankful now for a few weeks to continue rehabbing my elbow and get in some more bike time before Val di Sole.” Joe Breeden
But Aaron Gwin, what can you say? After a very strong ninth place in qualifying all was looking good, the course and dry conditions obviously suiting him. In his final’s run he crossed the line with a solid time, settling into second place behind the current leader Laurie Greenland.
Then came Revelli… no. Then Kolb, Coulanges and Kerr… the same, no one could shift Gwin and Greenland from their spots. Aaron was in with a chance of a top five podium finish. It was only when Troy Brosnan came across the line that Aaron got bumped down to third. Then it was the turn of series leader Amaury Pierron. The unthinkable happened… the Frenchman crashed-out in the powdery dust of the right hander just after the Stevie Smith drop. Aaron was on the podium, but what position would it be?
World Champion Greg Minnaar was next, and he never crashes… right? He was looking good on the first three splits, then the unthinkable happened, he hit a tree. The GOAT was out! Aaron was guaranteed fourth.
“An awesome weekend at MSA! Crowds were all time and the track was super fun. I wanted a bit more out of my race run but I’m happy to finish on the podium and make some more progress with my riding. Looking forward to a few weeks off to rest and prepare for World Champs.” Aaron Gwin
You could write a book about what happened next. I’m not going to go into it all here, but if you saw it live (in MSA or on TV) I think it is safe to say that you will have witnessed one of the greatest moments in modern day downhill history. You can’t make this stuff up, it’s why we love downhill racing. Finn Iles, the young Canadian on home soil, with a jammed chain, a first ever World Cup win and all in the shadow of the late, great Stevie Smith. It’s the stuff of dreams, and I don’t think I have ever seen a happier finish arena in my life!
For Aaron MSA will go down as a job well done, and two podium finishes out of the last three rounds shows his quality through and through. It is such a welcome return to the sharp end of racing for him, and it proves that the new INTENSE M279 HP1 can perform at the highest level.
There is now a few weeks for Aaron, Dak and Joe to rest and to then refocus on the World Championships in Les Gets (August 27th) and then the final round of the World Cup series from Val di Sole in Italy (September 3rd).