Interview: Aaron Gwin, on World Champs disappointment and world domination

Aaron Gwin has totally dominated downhill racing for the past two seasons, winning two consecutive World Cup series – not bad for a guy who entered his first race just two years earlier, on a borrowed bike! We caught up with the US racer while he was preparing for this year's final round in Hafjell, Norway to get the lowdown on his World Champs disappointment, future goals and life on and off the bike.

ChopMTB: So Aaron, this World Cup must be a bit strange for you, as you’ve already won the series with one round to go…

Yeah, it’s different, but I guess it allows me to concentrate on the racing without a lot of pressure, which is kinda rare.

So, now you’ve won two series in a row, what’s the next goal? Are you going for the triple, or are you after Nico Vouilloz style world domination?!

Haha! Nah, I don’t think so. My next goal is just to leave here healthy so I can enjoy the off-season and do the best I can next year. Obviously I want to win and do well, but the goals for me are more just to give 100% effort and try to have a good time, you know, and not worry so much about results. I’m not really chasing records or anything. I’ve set the bar pretty high and had two amazing seasons so anything from here on out is just a blessing really. I’m just trying to enjoy the process.

After dominating last year, did your rivals step things up and make things tougher this year?

It was definitely tough this year because I think we set the bar pretty high last year. To have another season like that, I knew it was going to be hard but I knew I was capable of it. We just had to show up to the races and see what happened. Yeah, things went really good again. We couldn’t really be much happier with how it’s gone. At the same time, I’m not trying to maintain a certain level, I’m just trying to be the best I can every weekend. But so far it’s been working out pretty good!

We’ve got to ask, what happened at the World Champs? Obviously things didn’t go quite to plan…

My front brake just went out about a minute into my run. We’ve been talking to Shimano and we’re going to release an official report when everything’s back. But basically, I’ve been running those brakes [prototype Shimano Saints] for two seasons straight now just because I really like the feel of them, and we’ve never had any problems. But I had a couple of big crashes on them and I think one of the things internally kinda got bent a little bit and we didn’t realise. It was wearing a hole in one of these rubber pieces and I think it just finally went in my final run.

Source: Aaron Gwin Crash Leogang UCI World Championships 2012 from lukofr1 on YouTube

It was just a bummer, you know. It was just bad timing. About a minute into my run I got on the front brakes and I could feel they were doing something weird. I just tried to ignore it because it was a small turn I was braking into and then the next section had some really heavy braking and yeah, the front brake just went all the way to the handlebars. The back didn’t help me out much and I ended up flying off the track. Just a bit of bad luck, but I guess that’s racing.

So, will the World Champs be a big goal for you next year? Surely that must be the one you’d like to have in your trophy cabinet?

Yeah, I mean, every year it’s something that I’d like to win. For me the World Cup almost is more important but at the same time, the World Champs is the World Champs. So yeah, we’ll give it the best shot again next year and we’ll see what happens.

Have you ever had any really big scares, on or off the bike?

No, not really. I think my faith has a lot to do with that. I believe that God will work everything out. I just try to roll with it and not stress about stuff too much. I wouldn’t say I really have any big fears.

How about a nemesis? Is there another rider, or track, that you worry about?

No. I’d say myself, really! At the end of the day, the other guys are racing against you but you’re pretty much racing the clock so you’re 100% responsible for the outcome. I just do the best I can for myself, and wherever that puts me… You always develop rivalries, I guess – I wouldn’t really call them rivalries though, they’re just kinda your main competitors – but yeah, I don’t really look at anybody else, I try to keep everything focused on myself.

Do you like to listen to music at the races? Is there anything that gets you pumped to ride?

Yeah, sometimes – it depends on the race. Usually I don’t but some races I do. It just sort of depends on what mood I’m in. I like everything. I guess pre-race music, I like mostly rock and rap and stuff, but outside of racing, I listen to a lot of country – it’s not really amp-up music! Haha.

Gwin on a stormer of a run – we're guessing it wasn't country he was listening to at the top of the hill. Picture by Victor Lucas

Gwin on a stormer of a run – we're guessing he wasn't listening to country in the start hut. Picture by Victor Lucas

Now the race season is nearly over, do you have any big filming projects coming up?

Nothing solid but I know we’re roughly planning some. One with Red Bull, we’ll be doing. Maybe a few other ones. We don’t have dates or anything really solid yet but they’re definitely in the works. I’m sure I’ll do at least a few this off-season. I know they’re gonna happen but I don’t know much about them yet.

So, after this weekend’s World Cup, what are your plans for the rest of the year?

This is our last one for the season and then we don’t have another World Cup for eight months. We’ll do Sea Otter and a couple of US nationals in April, so we’ll definitely be doing some racing before that. It feels like this season has been pretty long, since it started in March. It’s crazy thinking that in another couple of days it’ll be done. So I’m looking forward to this race, definitely, but also looking forward to the off-season.

I’m flying to Florida to look at this special project that Red Bull might be putting on. I’ll be there for about a day and then I go straight to Vegas for Interbike and I’ll be there for three days. When I get home I think I might go up to Mammoth for a weekend and ride and kinda just chill out a little bit. And then I think I’m going to go to Colorado for a couple of weeks in October. So yeah, I’ve got a bunch of these little trips planned.

Okay, now a question from one of our Facebook followers. Matthew Baker wants to know what your favourite bike is to ride…

My downhill bike (Trek Session 9.9) is my favourite, probably just because it’s sort of what I do and I feel like we have that thing working awesome. But I ride my other bikes a lot more at home – I have a Remedy, a Slash and a Madone road bike, and I probably ride them all pretty equally. If I had to pick one, I’d probably choose the Remedy just because it suits all kinds of different riding. If I had to ride on the road, I could. If I wanted to go climb hills, I could. And if I wanted to go downhill, it works pretty good. That’s probably the bike that I ride most at home. Yeah, I really like it.

In terms of bike setup, do you do anything unusual?

I run my suspension pretty stiff. It kinda fits my riding style but I wouldn’t recommend it for the average public because it’s pretty harsh if you’re not up to speed! But no, I think that’s something that’s fairly unique about downhill – you know, you can buy pretty much the same bike. The playing field’s pretty even.

Aaron's bike isn't too far off a production Trek Session 9.9 – though it's now got a custom paintjob and graphics. Picture by Rob Jones/www.canadiancyclist.com

Gwin's bike isn't too far off a production Trek Session 9.9. Picture by Rob Jones/www.canadiancyclist.com

What's your favourite bike part?

The [Session 9.9] frame is really good but if I had to break it down to something small, I’d say my front forks. Fox have done a pretty amazing thing with those for the last year. I mean, we’ve been making improvements every year and I’ve kinda been thinking, ‘how are they going to get them any better?’ and they keep doing it somehow. So yeah, the front forks have definitely made the biggest change over the last few years, as far as development and ease of riding goes.

How about on your trail bike?

Probably the dropper post – those things are pretty awesome! I think they’ve changed the way cross-country is ridden now, especially for downhillers, now you don’t have to stop to put your seatpost down all the time.

If you could only ride one spot, where would it be?

Oh man, that’s a tough one! I really enjoy all the trails around my house but if I had to pick a place it probably would be Mammoth, California. There’s a really cool bike park there, a lot of cool trails and I really like the town. It’s a bit of a drive from my house – like, five hours – but I really like that place, it’s fun to ride bikes up there.

Here’s a question from Πάνος Τζιωτάκης on Facebook – outside of cycling, what do you like doing?

I dunno, I’ve got too many hobbies! I like to ride my dirt bike a lot. I grew up racing and I enjoy going to the track still, trail riding and stuff. We kinda incorporate it into our training. I like to play tennis and surf, and hang out with friends. I guess just normal stuff.

Final question – if you had to fight a kangaroo, chimp or hyena, which would you choose?!

I don’t know. What was the last one again? A hyena? It would probably have to be that one. The kangaroo can kick and throw punches, and the chimp is kinda sketchy and strong, so I think that’s the one. I wouldn’t really enjoy fighting any of them!

Expect to see Aaron on plenty more World Cup podiums in 2013. Picture by Rob Jones/www.canadiancyclist.com

Expect to see this man on plenty more World Cup podiums in 2013. Picture by Rob Jones/www.canadiancyclist.com

Aaron Gwin is a member of GoPro’s team of world-class athletes. Visit www.gopro.com for more info.

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