The first round of the 2011 UCI Mountain Bike World Cup concluded in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa on Easter Sunday with the crowd favourite downhill.
While local favourite Greg Minnaar (Santa Cruz Syndicate) was not able to repeat his victory of two seasons ago in the men's race, the thousands of fans were treated to exciting racing, with the men's title won by less than three-tenths of a second. Aaron Gwin (Trek World Racing) brought home the first US downhill World Cup victory in years. Minnaar's ride was good enough for second ahead of Gee Atherton (Commencal) in third.
In the 82-rider men's field, it was four cross World Cup winner Jared Graves (Yeti Fox Shox), who set the first fast time of 4:17.183. Graves stayed in the hot seat through 15 riders before the New Zealand champion Cameron Cole (Lapierre International) was able to edge him out. Cole had a much shorter time in the lead, as Steve Peat (Santa Cruz Syndicate) knocked nearly two seconds off the top time only three riders later. Peat was uncharacteristically seeded low, since he has been fighting the effects of a flu which sapped his power all week.
Peat withstood the challenges of a number of top names, as the start list counted down: Sam Blenkinsop (Lapierre International), Marc Beaumont (Team GT), Justin Leov (Trek World Racing), Steve Smith (Devinci), Andrew Neethling (Giant) and world champion Sam Hill (Monster Energy/Specialized/Mad Catz).
Peat's time in the hot seat lasted until American Aaron Gwin (Trek World Racing) knocked a staggering seven seconds off the best time.
Defending World Cup champion Gee Atherton (Commencal) could only manage a time within two seconds of Gwin, which was good enough for third, and Minnaar, with the entire crowd cheering him down the course, came oh-so-close, but was 0.241 seconds in arrears. When the fastest qualifier, Mick Hannah (Team GT) crashed hard after bolts broke in his handlebar stem, Gwin knew that he had his first World Cup victory.
With his win, Gwin became the first American man to win a World Cup since 1999 (Shaun Palmer was the last at Big Bear). Gwin revealed that he has been training with the legendary John Tomac, and it appears to have paid off.
"Honestly, coming into this weekend, I didn't think I could do it," said Gwin. "The track was just clicking, and I felt really good all weekend, and it just came down to the pedalling."
"I thought that if I could just go hard at the top and the bottom I was probably fit enough to hold onto it in the middle, and it worked out," said Gwin. "I was surprised at the gap when I came down. It was a pretty loose run, but it was everything I had. It was on the edge, I hit a tree at the top, but I just tried to keep myself calm and hold it together, but there were some sketchy moments. I'm stoked, I'm just speechless."
Fabian Barel (Mondraker Factory Team) earned the fourth podium spot ahead of Steve Peat (Santa Cruz Syndicate) in fifth.
Junior downhill world championTroy Brosnan (Monster Energy/Specialized/Mad Catz) of Australia won the junior men's race. He clocked the 23rd fastest time among the elites.
This article was originally published on Cyclingnews.com.