20 PLAYS 21.
After the first round of the 2018 season, Aaron Gwin sits just one win behind the most successful male downhill racer of all time - Greg Minnaar.
Minnaar is currently lauded as the Greatest of All Time, pipping Peaty and Vouilloz (whose World Champs dominance seems to be largely forgotten in the debate) to the top spot. But, with the very real possibility that Gwin could overhaul Minnaar’s total this year, could we be capriciously heralding a new GOAT come September?
The argument for Gwin is obvious and numerical. On World Cup numbers alone, he’s come into the sport as an outsider, swept away all competition and started writing his own record books. It took Minnaar 16 years to go from his first win to his 20th, Gwin has done it in eight.
Gwin is the only man in history to win five races in a year, he’s also won four in a year twice on top of that. His Trek years were so successful he practically numbed the overall into a non-event, wrapping up his titles way before the last race. Gwin is now also equal with Vouilloz on five World Cup series, including two on the bounce in 2016/17 and 2011/12.
When everything clicks for Gwin, he's simply unstoppable. His eight-second demolition job in Val di Sole and the Chainless Massacre are the results that stand out, but this is a man used to regularly grinding huge winning margins into the opposition. In his relentless pursuit of perfection he claims to still be frustrated with a run while in drug testing despite having won. Gwin is a pure race machine.
Greg is not slowing down though and carries into the season a load of momentum after two wins last year, if his tyres stay inflated he will be hot favourite at Fort William to grab his 22nd win too. Gwin will have to have another of his dominant seasons if he is to topple Minnaar but even if he does get to that golden total, will it be enough to claim the Greatest title?
Minnaar’s wins may have come slower, sure, but this means he beat Vouilloz, Hill, Peat, Atherton... in fact, Minnaar has beaten pretty much everyone. Along the way he’s also picked up 75 podiums, that’s nearly double the amount Gwin has, 30 more than Vouilloz, it’s more even than Anne Caroline Chausson or Rachel Atherton have collected. Gwin can only claim dominance over one era, Minnaar has been right at the top for two decades.
Minnaar also has three World Champs wins. Gwin may claim to prefer to battle over a season for glory but for the mountain biking fanbase there’s no denying the reverence of that one run, one chance nature of the biggest race of the year. In nine years of trying, Gwin is yet to deliver better than third.
Laurence Crossman Emms
Finally, there’s the character of Minnaar. On and off the track we’ve seen a superstar bursting with personality who has cemented himself as a fan favourite. Minnaar has lived downhill his whole life, Gwin came in as a 20-year-old barely knowing what the sport even was. Minnaar's riding is liquid confidence, inch perfect, efficient and precise as he carves up mountainsides and glides through burl with composure that is rarely shaken. It’s a harsh call but you can’t help but feel that attitude matters. Look at Formula One, Senna’s records may have been superseded by Schumacher, Hamilton and Vettel but find me one fan who wouldn’t choose to see the masterful Brazilian race one last time.
Whatever way the hivemind sways, we are truly in a golden age of downhill and lucky to see two such masters juking it out for superiority. So yes, Gwin may end this season as the most successful male downhiller but greatest ever? He might not find that so easy.