ON MAKING IT TO THE #1 SPOT
Breaking into the elusive and exclusive winner’s club in World Cup downhill racing is no easy feat. There are many parallels in other mainstream sports; Kelly Slater, Tiger Woods, Federer, Schumacher, Carmichael, Michael Phelps, Shaun White, Tony Hawk and Lance Arm…umm wait…regardless, these are all gifted athletes and human beings that in their prime had or still have a stranglehold on the top step of the podium.
DIRT ISSUE 132 – FEBRUARY 2013
Words by Sven Martin. Photos by Sven Martin
Over the last five years in World Cup downhill (prior to the last two rounds) only eight riders have stood on the very top step of the podium. That is 32 opportunities up for grabs and only eight takers. In a sport with so many uncontrollable variables as ours, where riders are often separated by milliseconds, it’s almost a statistical anomaly. With the gaps in technological advantages narrowing and truly professional training regimes being embraced by more than just the top three riders you would expect to see a lot more names being etched into the record books. Greg Minnaar (11 wins) and Aaron Gwin (9) have the lions share, followed by Atherton (4), Sam Hill (3), Steve Peat (2) and a retired Fabien Barel with one. Marc Beaumont and Sam Blenkinsop also sit with one apiece, but without a follow up, theirs looks to be the result of an opportunistic grab when others faltered, or simply the alignment of the stars and planets for that one near–impossible perfect run.
Early on in the 2012 season when Dirt explored the making of a Dynasty we made our own predictions as to who would be the next group of riders to make the final leap onto the top step. Deputy Editor Steve Jones came up with a pretty solid list. Danny Hart, Brook Macdonald, Troy Brosnan, Cam Cole, Stevie Smith and Josh Bryceland. Not a bad call, he was perhaps overly ambitious and a little premature for a list that long though. He had no way of knowing Hart and Brosnan would both be sidelined before they could fulfil his prediction. Danny was on his way with a 4th, 3rd and a 2nd. It is only a matter of time for him, as he showed at the World Champs in Champery, but a World Cup is a different beast. Now that Danny and Troy have felt the pain of being sidelined with serious injury will they be able to bounce back with that same reckless abandon often found in the wild youth or will their trajectory to the top be tempered by dragging brakes in a mental tug of war? Cole almost hit gold with a number one qualifying in Val d’Isere, lets see how he gets on with the new team and bike this year. That leaves Josh Bryceland. Is playing third fiddle on a team with the sports greatest two riders (Steve Peat and Greg Minnaar) hampering his destiny or helping? Two podiums are not bad but it’s not the same as a win. Just ask Brook Macdonald and Steve Smith.
Brook and Steve are the latest two to join that short list of winning World Cup riders. What was the tipping point for them? What is their secret? How did they achieve what so many are vying for week–in and week–out every summer? What does it take to topple; the most current in–form riders; Minnaar, Gwin and Atherton? Both Macdonald and Smith are tenacious, stubborn and strong, with an abundance of natural talent that was spotted by the big red and blue liquid talent scouts at a young age. They have not disappointed. 2011 saw a successful and consistent season for both of them; finishing 5th and 6th respectively. Steve, graduating two years earlier from the junior ranks, was somewhat overdue his maiden win. His has been a slow and steady rise, but also an invaluable personal learning experience both within himself and in the art of racing. Brook on the other hand, having tasted the sweet podium nectar three times at an early age, simply wants more and attacked all year long. The temptation of the top step, the ‘precious’, was all too strong for the young Kiwi. Both approaches were very different yet both struck gold over the last two rounds of 2012.
When I was young I was always a racer. I raced BMX from an early age but I burnt out racing the same tracks and kids. The repetitiveness of it got to me. So when I switched to mountain bikes I didn’t even have thoughts of racing. I was just straight into dirt jumping, but obviously being a racer at heart after a year of just jumping I started getting into BC Cup races at around the age of 15. I was always just naturally good at racing but I was mostly freeriding and dirt jumping and only doing a little racing. I was a pretty loose unit riding Garbanzo (in Whistler) with a half lid and no pads or anything. I first met Gabe Fox (his current team manager and ex Cove and Evil team manager) when I had an old used Intense. I didn’t have a bike so he got me a Cove back then and got me on the Cove factory team after that.Why the lack of Canadian Pro DH role models?
I think when you have this much good terrain and this much easily accessible riding, so you take it for granted. When you have guys from Australia, SA, NZ and UK where there are smaller hills, I think the World Cup venues elevate their excitement and drive and that allows them to go faster and want to succeed at racing. A way out to ride good mountains in a way. I asked Gabe Fox if I could ever make a living being a Canadian downhill racer, he said that was a tough one, not many people have done it other than Andrew Shandro. That wasn’t very motivating, but I was still young then and looking up to the top National guys like Andrew Mitchell and Tyler Moreland and looking beyond that at guys like Sam hill and Peaty. So it was motivating but a little hard as there weren’t many fast Canadians to base myself off of, so I just did my own thing, kept racing and hoping for the best.How was it racing as a junior at Worlds?
At my first one in New Zealand I finished 6th. I had no idea of my speed or potential coming into it, nothing to base myself off. I qualified 3rd on a mellow run, so I wanted to win and like a typical rookie junior I blew up and crashed. As soon as you reach a spot you want to surpass it. The next Worlds in Scotland I broke my wrist a week before, so I went to the doctor with an ODI grip and he cast my hand around it. I tried but I couldn’t hold on tight enough with the broken hand and I crashed.>>