Aaron Gwin is the man to beat this year on the downhill World Cup circuit. Last year's World Cup champion won his third World Cup of the year this weekend in Mont-Sainte-Anne, Quebec, Canada. He also won in Val di Sole, Italy and Fort William, United Kingdom, and he was second at the Pietermaritzburg round.
"This place is fun," said Gwin of his time in Mont-Sainte-Anne. "From the first practice run on Thursday, I came down with a big smile on my face. The rain made the track pretty much perfect for the finals."
In the last 11 World Cups (seven in 2011 and four so far this year), there have only been two winners, Gwin with eight and Minnaar with three. Historically, Gwin now holds the record for the best percentage winning streak having won eight of 11 consecutive races. The previous best was Nicolas Vouilloz with seven out of 10 in a row..
Minnaar and Gwin renewed their rivalry in Mont-Sainte-Anne. Last year both crashed in their final runs, but Gwin's was less costly in time. This year, a couple of small errors saw Gwin's opening lead of 2.9 seconds whittled down to 1.3 seconds at the finish line.
"It's a man's track if I can say that. I remember coming here in 2008 in my first year. I had a good result and it was tough. It's tough each year. I get faster and more fit but I'm always breathing just as hard when I cross the line.
The American is pleased with his World Cup season. "It's been good. You never know what can happen, but I'm just putting in the work and having fun on my bike. For me, it's about focusing on myself and what I've got going and the track."
His biggest challenge often comes from within. "My biggest adversary is myself. I'd like to think I tamed the beast today. These tracks are so hard you have to just focus on yourself because I knew these guys were gunning for me.
"It's such a challenge for me to race the track each week, that's what I think about. I kind of put myself in an underdog position every week and I try to get a little angry each week to keep the drive going. If you don't, those guys will get you."
Gwin would like to win the world championships in Austria later in the season, but his primary focus in the World Cup. "The world champs are a special race and a one-off race. Personally, as a rider, I like the [World Cup] overall more - it's a bigger goal and hard to pull off. You have to be consistent over the season and win multiple races to make it happen. I'm just taking it race by race. You can't be conservative with these guys or they'll beat you."
He credited both his Trek World Racing team and hard work done at home for his success on the circuit.
Next weekend, he heads to Windham. "It's never easy to protect the lead. These longer tracks are tough. I'm looking forward to a shorter track next week. It's always fun racing in Windham. I have some family and a bunch of friends there."