1997 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS, CHATEAU D’OEX, SWITZERLAND
DIRT ISSUE 133 – MARCH 2013
Words by Geoff Waugh. Photos by Geoff Waugh
OK, the headline says career–ending which is contentious, but to be fair Gachet was never the man he used to be after this horrific crash in practice during the 1997 Worlds. To the young and uninitiated, Francois Gachet was the golden boy of downhill racing during the mid 1990’s. Riding with the all–powerful Sunn Chippie squad under the eye of Max Commencal, Gachet was the scalp to take at most events. In 1994 he was on the crest of wave with the Sunn Radical downhill machine beneath him, taking the rainbow jersey in Vail, Colorado. He was the only rider to have won four World Cups in one season (later to be followed by Nico Vouilloz and eventually Aaron Gwin).
The following season he came second in the Worlds in Germany, but it is fair to say equally adept riders were coming through the ranks and challenging his domination.
By 1997 Gachet was on the Sunn Nike team that included a veritable who’s who of names in both DH and XC disciplines. On the fateful day of Gachet’s crash I was slowly making my way down the piste after a session shooting practice. I had gone over a rise when I heard loud screaming from above and went to investigate. There was already a group of people surrounding the stricken rider. Italian former DH World Champ Giovanna Bonazzi was shielding the sun from Gachet’s face and medics had inserted a drip. I grabbed two frames of the entire scene and then walked down the track below the group and took more frames of his injury. His leg was clearly broken. These shots have been shown before and are not worth seeing again. This happened very soon after the death of Princess Diana and the whole ‘should we/shouldn’t we’ shoot was at the front of my mind. There was no way I wanted to intrude, but there was little I could have done to help. Gachet was in experienced and professional hands, so I made the decision to do my job, which was to document. Suffice to say that the French powerhouse was never the same. Whether it was a confidence or age (he was 32 at the time) or a combination of the two, Francois Gachet melted away to leave the way open for a newer breed.