Photo by Sven Martin
Words by Seb Kemp
The mountain bike off-season is almost as interesting as the hockey/football/basketball off-seasons, with transfers and team changes becoming as talked about as the racing itself.
It was obvious something was moving in Aaron Gwin's camp. The rumbles and murmurs had been building. Then when it was revealed Hill was moving on from Specialized, leaving a gap in the roster of one of downhill mountain biking's most powerful teams, speculation roared as to who would replace the man who used to be the most dominating and frightening downhill racer.
In the past two years, Gwin has grasped the crown as the most dominant downhill racer. He has trampled on the competition, becoming the most successful American downhill racer of all time, and in record time. He won the World Cup overall in 2011 and 2012, becoming the first American to ever win an overall, and being the first man to win five World Cup DH races in one season. That was in 2011, in 2012 he only won four WC races. Gwin joins Specialized riders Troy Brosnan and Mitch Ropelato.
"I’m super excited to start this new chapter in my career with Specialized bicycles,” says Gwin. “The entire Specialized staff has welcomed me with open arms and I’m blown away by the level of support they’ve shown me. This is my dream program and I can’t thank them enough for this opportunity. Bring on 2013!"
Team manager, Sean Heimdal, is equally upbeat about Gwin joining the team. “The combination of Aaron Gwin and the Specialized brand have an American storyline written all over it that was always meant to be,” explains Heimdal. “Aaron will not only bring another element to the program, but it'll be amazing watching this trio ripping down the tracks together. We can't wait to get started with this new exciting opportunity and look forward to the season ahead."
With a new bike and new components, Gwin will no doubt be putting the time in to test and hone his ride before the first World Cup race in June at Fort William. However, the relatively long off-season break works into Gwin's favor, allowing him more time to prepare, adapt, and make changes to the bike.
While everyone suspected that Specialized would bring in a big name to replace Hill, few guessed that Gwin would be that replacement–mainly because most of the world was under the impression that Gwin had signed up with Trek World Racing for three more years.
Just hours after this post initially went live, we received an official statement from Trek World Racing representatives. Here it is in its entirety:
The last several weeks have been a very difficult period for our company as owners of the Trek World Racing program. Despite the fact that on August 9 of last year, Aaron Gwin signed a legally binding Letter Of Intent with our team for the next three seasons, his agent wrote an email to the team in mid-December stating he had decided to race for another bike brand. Mr Gwin confirmed his agreement with our team in public statements, and he and his agent repeatedly confirmed the existence of, and commitment to, the agreement in written correspondence with us. Yet, only weeks before the team was required to submit the official team roster to UCI, Mr Gwin informed the team that he was abandoning TWR in total disregard of his contractual obligations.
The team reached out on several occasions in December in order to try and remedy whatever concerns Mr Gwin had, but these were ignored until the team received a letter from his Attorneys on December 27 stating he would not ride for our team. In the interests of the team and our sponsors, we are actively pursuing all options open to us at this point, including legal action, and remain completely surprised by Mr Gwin’s unprofessional actions.
Team Director Martin Whiteley says: “This has not been an easy time for us. In the bigger picture however I find positivity in the fact that the Trek World Racing program will continue regardless of the outcome of this dispute, as no single rider is bigger than the team as a whole. Every rider who has been on our Downhill program has had the best years of their career with us, and we will continue to bring on talented riders. The team has a history of helping riders win who had not previously won, including Aaron Gwin. It’s our intention to continue that type of record with new talent. I would personally like to acknowledge the complete support and loyalty we’ve received from our title sponsor Trek Bikes who have been unwavering in their commitment to the program since this news broke. In the interests of the fans, we hope this matter will be resolved sooner rather than later”.
So there you have it: a slightly muddy picture and some folks who, clearly, won’t be exchanging Christmas cards next year.
The racing, however, should be good.