By taking fifth place at round 6 of the UCI Downhill World Cup in Val d'Isere, France, this past weekend, Aaron Gwin (Trek World Racing) not only won his second World Cup overall title in as many years, but he also maintained his 100 percent record of World Cup podium results, 13 from 13 starts with Trek World Racing, and a record 14 in a row when the final round of 2010 is taken into account.
Having won four of the six races on offer so far this season, it seems logical that Gwin would have wrapped up the season early, and become the first to score back-to-back titles since Frenchman Nico Vouilloz in the late 90s, but mathematically it wasn't that straightforward. Both Greg Minnaar (Santa Cruz Syndicate) and Gee Atherton (Great Britain) have been equally consistent, so it was a matter of trying to limit the damage after a qualifying run crash nearly brought Gwin's weekend to an early close.
The penultimate World Cup round was at a brand new venue, Val d'Isere, on a course which presented a number of challenges. It was short, at around 2:20 in duration, and this meant errors of any kind were not forgiven. The limestone strewn down the length of the course was sharp and sliced many a tire and rider.
During qualifying, Gwin suffered injuries requiring five stitches to his right hand, an injury he played down before the final but in reality, was a tough one to cope with on this course.
"I have no excuses for my fifth today. I had a pretty good run," said Gwin after his World Cup winning streak was broken by Brook MacDonald. "For how I felt with the hand injury, I'm happy. To win the overall again, it's so amazing, especially after this weekend. I came in feeling good and kinda had a bonehead moment in qualifying - hurt myself a little bit with that. It was better than I thought it was going to be in the finals, but I just got a little tired at the bottom. So I had to back it down to make sure I stayed on and I kinda backed it down too much, but it still worked out. Everyone loses some and wins some. I have lost many more in my career than I've won, so I'm just stoked to be up here in the black leader's jersey for 2012."
Gwin takes a 260-point lead into the finals in Norway in mid-September, with a maximum 250 points available. Between now and then, there are the world championships. The elite men's downhill world title has not been in the hands of an American since his teammate and Trek World Racing staff member Myles Rockwell in 2000. Gwin's goals have shifted toward Worlds in Leogang, Austria, in one month - when and where he hopes to claim the rainbow jersey.
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