The most incredible winning run in World Cup history. There’s no other words to adequately describe what went down in the men’s final on Sunday. So where did Gwin carry his speed on that scarcely believable chainless run? Or perhaps where did the others lose out? Let’s take a look shall we?
It’s a short sector 1 at Leogang, only 53 seconds for the top 20 men. No one could win it up here but a mistake could be costly as Steve Smith found out on his second race back this year. The times were tight, as shown by the fact that Aaron Gwin was outside the top 20 at split 1, 1.2 seconds back in 22nd place. Connor Fearon backed up his 2nd place qualifier with the fastest time at Split 1 while Loic Bruni, who was fastest at Split 1 in qualifying was in second place in the final.
Local favourite Markus Pekoll was on a charge in the early part of the race. He could only manage 49th in qualifying but was up in 4th place after the first sector. With only just over a second covering the top 20 at this point though, it was still all to play for.
Sector 2, the ‘pedal’ section of the course, or so it seemed until Aaron Gwin carried his speed all the way through the section without and chain and went fastest! Not only that, but he was fastest through the speed trap, almost 1.5mph (2.5kph) faster than Gee Atherton who was second fastest. To put that gap in perspective, the speeds were so tight from 2nd place down that another 1.5mph takes you down to 15th place. A clear marker that Gwin decided to lay off the brakes and carry speed wherever he could!
That said, Connor Fearon was only 0.36 seconds back for the sector and still held the overall lead at split 2. A little further back, Remi Thirion gave away a massive 1.7 seconds to Gwin in sector 2 but was managing to hold on to 3rd place overall. Greg Minnaar and Gee Atherton were the biggest movers. Greg had recovered from hitting his head on the start hut and a lowly 33rd at split 1 to go 3rd fastest in sector 2 and move up to 4th while Gee was 4th on the sector and moved from 19th at split 1 to 6th at split 2.
Loic Bruni was in the hot seat for a fair time after coming down early but he was proven right when he said he didn’t have an amazing run. He lost time in this middle section, perhaps a victim of the wind that was blowing for earlier riders. He only managed 18th fastest on the sector and dropped down to 11th overall.
One bit of data I’d love to have for this sector would be the wind speed and direction for the finals period. It was clear on the TV coverage that the wind was blowing quite strongly for the earlier riders (and Wyn Masters also mentioned it on his finals edition of WynTV) whilst it died down later on. Not doing any disservice to Gwin’s amazing achievement but it looked to me like he certainly got the best conditions to be able to aero tuck the long fast straights.
Going into the final sector and Connor Fearon still had a pretty decent 0.8 second lead over Gwin. The problem for Fearon however was that the ‘pedal’ section was over and Gwin was on a charge. Gwin took the fastest final sector of the day and did just enough to pip Fearon to the line by a mere 45 hundredths of a second. To put this in perspective, at the speeds these guys were riding, that’s less than a 650b wheel.
Fearon wasn’t hanging about either. He was 5th fastest in the sector and still had a healthy gap on Thirion in third place, who was third on the sector, but could only make up about a quarter of a second on Fearon.
Troy Brosnan lost out on a podium place with a poor showing in the final sector at Fort William but this week it was his turn to put in a strong final sector to jump above Greg Minnaar and into 4th at the finish. Of the top 10 at split 2, Bernard Kerr and Matt Simmonds dropped back from 8th and 9th to 13th and 14th respectively. The Norco Factory Racing team must have been sharing lines in practice as Sam Blenkinsop and Harry Heath went 8th and 9th fastest on the sector and both dragged themselves into the top 20 at the finish.
Wrapping it all up
What more can be said about such an incredible race? Looking back at the splits, Connor Fearon must be disappointed to have lost it on the final sector but no one can deny Aaron Gwin such an incredible achievement. Just when we thought Neko Mullally’s chainless 4th place at Hafjell last year was unbelievable, his fellow countryman goes and does that! After last year’s no rear tyre effort, and this years chainless wonder, I’m just waiting for the no hands run for Gwin to get the full set…