The 2011 Mountain Bike World Cup concluded on Sunday in Val di Sole, Italy, with the crowd favourite Downhill. Aaron Gwin (Trek World Racing) took a record fifth victory in a single season in the men's race, having already locked up the title in the previous round.
Patrick Thome (Mondraker) set the first fast time, 20 riders in, at 3:26.797 . The time was steadily chipped away over the next 30 riders until Remi Thirion (Labyrinth Shimano) had it down to 3:22.017 with 30 riders remaining. South African champion Andrew Neethling (Giant), four riders later took the leading time below 3:20 for the first time, but the times were still well off Gwin's 3:13 qualifier.
Five riders later, Neethling's countryman Greg Minnaar (Santa Cruz Syndicate) cut another two and a half seconds, which remained the leading time until Cameron Cole (Lapierre), 11th from the end, knocked off eight-tenths of a second.
Cole remained in the lead as the top-ten counted down, but Gee Atherton (Commencal), the world champion on this course in 2008, came in two seconds faster, with three riders remaining. Junior World Cup leader troy Brosnan (Monster Energy/Specialized/Mad Catz) slotted in just behind Atherton, before Danny Hart (Giant) finished three seconds ahead to take the lead, the first to go faster than Gwin's qualifying time.
Steve Smith (Devinci) was supposed to race next, as the second fastest qualifier, but he had crashed in training earlier in the day, injuring his ankle and knee, and had to watch from the sidelines. It was up to Gwin and, as he has shown all season, he is in a class of his own this year. Fastest through both splits, Gwin came in 1.232 seconds up on Hart to confirm that he is the number one downhiller in the world.
"I am just really happy," stated Gwin. "It was an important race for me. I struggled here last year with a crash and felt good this week, but it was rough, it was definitely a challenge. I don't know, the top part went pretty good, I felt like I was on a good run. So I just tried to be smooth at the bottom. I went a bit slower than I would have liked to at the bottom. I am just so happy. I want to thank all the fans and sponsors and everybody. It has been an awesome year. Could not have done it without you all."
Gwin finishes the season with 1558 points, five wins, a third and a fourth. Minnaar, with two wins this season, hung on for second with 1093 points, ahead of Atherton at 1009. Danny Hart jumped over Steve Smith to take fourth, while Smith hung onto the final podium spot.
This article was originally published on Cyclingnews.com