If you hadn't heard of Danny Hart (Giant) before the 2011 UCI Mountain Bike World Championships in Champery, Switzerland, the odds are pretty good that you did by the time they were over. Hart pulled off an impressive run that netted him the downhill world championship title while the other favorites could barely get down the mountain without crashing in the incredibly rainy, treacherous conditions of that day.
The video footage of his downhill run, complete with the famous whip at the end, went viral on the internet, instantly making the young British rider a major star. Apparently he also captured the hearts of Cyclingnews' readers, who voted him number one with 5038 votes or 23.3 percent of the total.
Hart first made the headlines as a junior when he won the 2008 downhill World Championships in Val di Sole, Italy. After some time at Lapierre, Giant picked up on his potential and in 2010 signed the young rider who has been slowly but steadily working his way up the elite ranks ever since.
"I had a perfect day to have a track that was technical, wet and in the pouring rain, and I had a faultless run," said Hart after winning the Worlds. "Maybe I made a few mistakes, but it was good overall. I saw I was leading by a few seconds and I thought, 'That has never happened before!'"
Hart's elite Worlds win is particularly noteworthy in that he'd never previously won a downhill World Cup. He did, however, start making regular appearances on World Cup podiums during 2011: second at Fort William, fourth at Mont-Sainte-Anne and second at Val di Sole with a fourth overall.
Hart could not be reached for comment following his Cyclingnews award win.
Past reader poll winner (in 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010) Julien Absalon (Orbea) put up a good fight with 4649 votes or 21.5 percent of the total. Absalon did not dominate the cross country World Cup as he has in years past, but he still put up a good fight throughout the season. He won the Offenburg World Cup and finished third at Worlds. The cross country star even dabbled in the world of marathon racing, showing up to race marathon Worlds.
Christoph Sauser edged out his Specialized teammate Jaroslav Kulhavy for the third spot. Sauser collected 2515 votes (11.6 percent) to Kulhavy's 2498 (11.5 percent). Both riders had exceptionally good seasons with Sauser regaining the title of marathon world champion and Kulhavy winning both the World Cup and his first-ever elite world championship title. The two riders have been at the forefront of the increasing movement to race 29ers at World Cup events. In particular, Kulhavy logged the first elite men's World Cup win on a 29er at Dalby Forest this spring. He was onboard a full suspension.
Honorable mention also goes to 2010 World Champion Jose Antonio Hermida (Multivan Merida), who could win awards for most personable athlete on the circuit. Hermida is a consistent World Cup contender who is quick to smile and joke with those around him.
Other nominees included four cross World Cup winner Jared Graves, downhill World Cup winner Aaron Gwin, National Ultra Endurance (NUE) Series winner Christian Tanguy, four cross world champion Michal Prokop and former World Champion and World Cup round winner Nino Schurter.
2011 Best Male Mountain Biker
1 Danny Hart 5,038 (23.3%)
2 Julien Absalon 4,649 (21.5%)
3 Christoph Sauser 2,515 (11.6%)
4 Jaroslav Kulhavy 2,498 (11.5%)
5 Jose Antonio Hermida 1,668 (7.7%)
6 Jared Graves 1,483 (6.9%)
7 Aaron Gwin 1,121 (5.2%)
8 Christian Tanguy 995 (4.6%)
9 Michal Prokop 993 (4.6%)
10 Nino Schurter 674 (3.1%)
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Sue George is an editor at Cyclingnews. She coordinates all of the site's mountain bike race coverage and assists with the road, 'cross and track coverage.