After a disappointing 2013 season, including near misses and injury, Aaron Gwin (Specialized DH) proved he is back among the best by winning the opening round of the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, this weekend.
"I'm just happy, really stoked. It is definitely a team win!" said Gwin."The race was great this year! The track was good, the fans - as always - down here are great! I love racing here!
"From the first practice run I was happy, I like the changes they made to the course and the bike was working, I was working, everything felt good. I knew from the first day that I had a win in me if I could put down my best run but that is a lot easier said than done. Qualifying went well and we just tried to keep the ball rolling."
Gwin was fastest in both the qualifying and final runs of the elite men's downhill.
While American riders were conspicuously absent from the top of the cross country standings, they excelled in the gravity races.
Gwin wasn't the only winner of the weekend; Luca Shaw (SRAM/TLD) earned victory in the junior men's downhill World Cup.
"I worked really hard this winter, this was always my goal and for it to finally happen is just such a relief and I'm just so happy," said an exhausted Shaw afterwards. "Last year was my first year as a junior and I learned a lot. I feel great this season and a lot smarter this season than I was last so I just can't wait for the rest of the World Cups."
Other notable American performances came from Jill Kintner, who made the podium with a third place finish in the elite women's race and Neko Mulally (Trek World Racing), who put in his career-best elite men's World Cup performance with an eighth place.
Mullally said, "It feels great to get this result and I'm already looking ahead to the next races and to build a consistent season. I rode this track as best as I could, a bit loose and on the edge at times, but you have to here. I wouldn't call this a favourite track of mine, but it's one that takes a lot of work to do well. I'm happy to carry the number 8 plate into round 2."