In the 26 years since Greg Herbold cut, I mean won the first World Championships there have been 14 male world champions, 13 female world champions.
Aside from the two greatest racers of all time in Vouillouz and Chausson, no one has managed to dominate the top step of what is surely one of the hardest sporting events in the world to win. Make no mistake, many who could, and should, will never wear the rainbow jersey.
Over the last few years we’ve seen DH become a different beast to what it once was, with champions who were perhaps a bit more disconnected from their fanbase and believed the ridiculous hype that DH is cycling’s equivalent F1.
Yesterday, on the intimidating slopes of the Italian Alps we saw two riders who could not be more connected to the real world become champions of the world, again.
Make no mistake – DH tracks have become faster, less technical beasts in the last few years. Val Di Sole bucked that trend in the most devastating fashion. The track requires the perfect mix of line choice, aggressive riding yet loose enough to let it role when you inevitably go offline.
Hart’s 2011 win was the stuff of legend.
We’ve seen incredible runs down this track before, with one that will perhaps now be challenged for the title of “most gripping viewing”. Of the five to six great runs of this sport, Hart and Hill have two apiece. Naturally, Vouilloz fills the other spaces.
In Atherton we have champion who is ultra competitive and ruthless in her winning efficiency. She has completed the perfect season. I’m no sports encyclopaedia but I’m pretty sure that isn’t a common achievement outside of your local boozer tales on a Saturday night.
Now, that’s great, and to applauded hugely. But titles mean nothing unless the person behind those titles is decent to boot. Atherton has used her standing to good effect – she has brought more women (along with Tracey Mosely), into mountain biking than any other and is a great person besides. Regardless of the titles, which will eventually fade into time, Atherton can be proud of what her achievements have let her do within the wider community. She has used them to effect positive change and is a role model that the sport can ill afford to lose.
What of Danny Hart can we say that hasn’t been said. When it comes to his run, superlatives fail me – but it wasn’t plain sailing.
Immediately after Greenland’s run I text Chris Kilmurray predicting that the cool Bristolian had won. The blonde haired, laid back pocket rocket is as cool as they come. I sensed this in Crankworx – Greenland recited a story to me about being charged at by a bear after he got between it and its young cubs. Without any hesitation, Greenland picked up his bike, threw it at a 140kg charging bear and averted a mauling. That bravery in the face of dynamic and moving situations came to the fore yesterday – his run was worthy of a Gold in the way he controlled fear with aggression, and combined speed with incredible skill the whole way down this fan filled mountain.
Greenland’s time will come. It seemed clear that Gwin’s day was falling apart before he reached the start gate, for others were raising their game beyond what he is currently capable of. Gwin is an incredible rider but seems to have extrinsic influences that don’t suit the one race format. His mind seems clouded in these situations. Hart has the fire burning within his belly that drives him to take chances in search of victory.
Seeing Hart rise from his early days on a Orange Patriot to now has not been without its ups and downs. The crazy, loose runs of 2011 that set Freecaster alight and the unforgettable win down that other technical behemoth, Champery slowly faded into legend. Hart was there and there about, but much like Brosnans current standing, he could not grab that win.
Things changed in Lenzerheide. Gwin faltered in the last turn and Hart capitalised. Momentum and confidence are a beautiful thing to watch, and Gwins error gave Hart both elements to mix into his rapidly developing potion. In Mont Saint Anne there were no mistakes from others – Hart’s broader than ever shoulders took the strain and he was beginning to build. Andorra followed, where he won without the perfect run and his demeanour was changing on camera. Here was a young man comfortable in his own skin. Calmer, more mature and relaxed in his ability.
When Greenland laid down THAT run, there was only ever one rider in the field with the ability to beat it. The fact that it was his team mate and fellow Brit made the story more tangible – Greenland displayed the signs of Hart in 2011 and is just as exciting.
Winning by nearly 3 seconds, the lad from Redcar had a feeling. Some 30 minutes before his run, he was messaging our group on Facebook, excited at his bike that had been built for Whistler. He was cool, uncluttered in his thoughts and ready to go for “just another run”.
He’s a Northern lad, from a working class area that has been hit hard by the service based economy of Britain. It is not easy for people from the North East to become champions of the world or achieve success. He regularly rides at one of the only facilities available in Hamsterley Forest and has time for everyone, providing they are decent themselves. He might be the new World Champion, but for those of us from the North East of England, he’s simply Wor Danny who can fair ride a bike.
DH may be looking to create super stars, but in the two champions of 2016, you could not get two more normal people – that is why this sport is wonderful and they are the most deserving of champions.