Danny Hart is not only one of Britain’s hottest downhill talents, he’s also one of the world’s fastest elite racers. A point he underlined with a stellar eighth place finish in last year's UCI World Cup and another eighth at the World Championships in Canada.
What’s remarkable about Hart, though, is his trajectory. He’s been on a steady rise since he started racing but over the past few years his results, like Danny, have taken on the sort of maturity that gets people talking.
While last year saw his greatest success, 2009 wasn't too shabby either, with Hart winning the Junior World Cup, taking second place finish at the British National Champs and coming third in Juniors at the World Champs in Australia.
Danny ranks that World Champs bronze as one of the biggest disappointments of his career thus far. He was hungry to add the stripes to his overall title in ’09 and although he qualified second he clearly sees it as a missed opportunity.
Many top Juniors find it difficult to make the step up to the pace of the Senior ranks but not the 19-year-old from Redcar, in north-east England. An impressive and, importantly, consistent 2010 saw him finish the year firmly ensconced in the world top 10.
“2010 was awesome for me,” smiles Hart. “It's hard to actually pick a highlight it was that good. I think my home World Cup at Fort William stands out in my mind most. I always love that race as it is, so to go there and have an awesome race and finish 12th was great for me.”
It was a performance typical of his season – strong, confident and lightning fast. “In terms of my favourite track on the calendar, it has to be a toss up between Fort William and Mont Sainte Anne," says Danny. "Those tracks are both really rough and fast. They resemble motocross tracks more than anything else really – lots of jumps and a mix of terrain.”
The mention of his other great interest brings a smile to his face before he gives the question a bit more thought. “I think I’d have to say Fort William actually. Even though I've been riding it since I was 13, I still love it every time I go there.”
Does the famous Fort Bill crowd help as a British rider? “Yeah, obviously the huge crowds have a massive part to play. When you're racing and you come into the last section you’re just waiting to hear that huge roar and it makes you push so much harder because you don't want to disappoint all those people!”
Danny is one of those downhill riders who's equally at home with an engine between his ankles and it plays a big part in his training. “This winter's snow has put a downer on the motocross and training,” he grimaces. “But now that it’s all gone I'm riding a lot of motocross – it definitely helps with the downhill.”
Many people involved in mountain biking dream of becoming a pro rider without realising the amount of work that today’s elite ranks put in. A long season on the road is followed by even more work preparing for the next.
“I'm going away to Spain this week to train with my riding coach, Oscar Saiz, in Barcalona,” Danny says. “I’ve also got another trip planned to Morzine [in France] with Alan Milway, to do some fitness training too, so it's coming down to a lot of hard work.”
It’s fair to say though that in Hart’s case, it’s paying dividends. Danny made the move to Giant from Lapierre at the start of last season alongside team-mate Duncan Riffle. By the end of the year the two-time US national champ had been eclipsed by the young Brit.
In fact, Hart finished no fewer than 48 places ahead of him in the overall. Both have re-signed to race for Giant for this year and are set to be joined by last year's number 16, South African Andrew Neethling. Things could be a lot tighter in 2011.
Is there a 'magic formula' for the amount of success he’s achieving at such a young age? Danny’s brow furrows as he considers his answer. “I think coming through a lot of two-wheeled sports like I have from a very young age helps enormously,” he says. “As a young kid you have to do it because you want to, not for anyone else, just for yourself.
"I've ridden motocross for a long time and it's the worst thing when you see young kids riding just to please their dads. Mountain biking is a little different, it’s a lot more relaxed, but the kid still has to want to ride for the pure love of it, not for anyone else. Then, when you start to get good everything just falls into place, I reckon.”
Throughout Danny’s career he’s gone from good year to great year, it’s all been about that steady progression. Now, though, he’s claimed his spot among the top ranks and on his day he knows that he's as quick as anyone in the World Cup pits – does that affect him on the way into the 2011 season?
“No not really,” he smiles. “For me, having such a good season last year, that was enough motivation to help me train this off-season. Finishing so well just makes me want to do exactly the same as last year but clean a few little glitches up! I can’t wait to get back to racing World Cups!”
And maybe that’s Danny’s greatest strength – he’s still very much that young kid doing it for the love of riding and racing his bike. He’s going to have a tough battle on his hands topping the monumental achievements of 2010 but tough battles are nothing new for Danny Hart – he's without doubt one to watch for World Cup podium spots this year.