Aaron Gwin (Specialized Racing) got his World Cup season underway in perfect fashion when he claimed a thrilling victory in the Elite Men’s downhill race at the 2014 UCI MTB World Cup, presented by Shimano at Cascades MTB Park on Saturday.
The former downhill World Champion was the last rider down the hill after a solid qualifying round on Friday. He charged to the top of the leader board early in his run and never looked back as he surged ahead of title hopeful, Aussie Mick Hannah (Hutchinson UR) and hometown hero Greg Minnaar (Santa Cruz Syndicate).
“I'm just happy, really stoked. It is definitely a team win! Everyone at Specialized has been working so hard for us, trying to get us the best equipment, best support, best staff and best everything and they have been really killing it for us,” said Gwin. “The race was great this year! The track was good, the fans – as always – down here are great! I love racing here!”
Hannah had suffered a mechanical during Friday’s qualifying and so started some way down the list in the finals. He demolished the previous best time of the day set by South Africa’s Andrew Neethling (Giant Factory Off-road Team) by more than eight seconds to power into the “Hot Seat”.
With just Minnaar, Josh Bryceland (Santa Cruz Syndicate) and Gwin left to start their runs, Hannah’s nerves were clear for all to see as he looked to go one better than the result he achieved at the same course at the 2013 World Champs.
A charging Minnaar however appeared to have the better of his Australian rival in the first two sectors. A slow final sector by the defending World Champ and a top section mishap by Bryceland saw Hannah maintain his position he’d already for a remarkable 18 riders.
Minnaar, who won the 2012 World Cup and 2013 World Champs, put in a dream performance since he tore his anterior cruciate ligament in the final leg of the 2013 World Cup series in Austria late last year, and was satisfied with the outcome.
“I was really nervous up top, I wasn’t super comfortable riding all the technical stuff. I haven’t had a lot of time on my bike since my surgery so I just tried to suss things out beforehand and then just relax as much as I could before my run,” said Minnaar. “I had a really good run up top and I survived but, given the condition I’m in and a lack of time on the bike, I’m still really happy with my third place!”
“I really had a good final run and I lay it all out on the track. I’m just really thankful for all the people coming out and supporting me again, it’s incredible to see all the support,” he added.
Lapierre Gravity Republic’s Loic Bruni crossed the line in fourth with Troy Brosnan (Specialized Racing DH) fifth.
The junior men’s downhill final took place a little earlier in the day and saw SRAM/TLD Racing’s Luca Shaw charge to his first World Cup victory of the 2014 season as he edged out Lapierre Gravity Republic’s Loris Vergier and the Frenchman’s fellow countryman Amaury Pierron.
“Qualifying first kind of took the pressure off me a little today but I was still nervous this morning for sure,” said Shaw. “Last year was my first year as a junior and I learned a lot. I feel great and a lot smarter this season so I just can’t wait for the rest of the World Cups.”
The UCI MTB World Cup, presented by Shimano, takes place at the Cascades MTB Park in Pietermaritzburg from 11-13 April 2014.
More information can be found at www.mtbworldcupsa.co.za
Summary of results – 2014 UCI MTB World Cup Pietermaritzburg, presented by Shimano
- Aaron Gwin (Specialized Racing DH) 3:59.344
- Mick Hannah (Hutchinson UR) 4:01.381
- Greg Minnaar (Santa Cruz Syndicate) 4:02.168
- Loic Bruni (Lapierre Gravity Republic) 4:02.237
- Troy Brosnan (Specialized Racing DH) 4:02.675
- Samuel Blenkinsop (Lapierre Gravity Republic) 4:03.387
- Sam Dale (Madison Saracen Factory Team) 4:05.347
- Neko Mulally (Trek World Racing) 4:05.705
- Samuel Hill (Chain Reaction Cycles.com/Nukeproof) 4:06.195
- Gee Atherton (GT Factory Racing) 4:06.243
- Luca Shaw (SRAM/TLD Racing) 4:15.267
- Loris Vergier (Lapierre Gravity Republic) 4:17.257
- Amaury Pierron 4:23.668
- Aiden Varley 4:27.376
- Benjamin Boutie (LAC Blanc/SCOTT) 4:29.731
Source: 2014 UCI World Cup Pietermaritzburg press release
Photo: Darren Goddard/Gameplan Media