On Sunday, the 15th of June 2015, it was a bright sunny day in Leogang, and Aaron Gwin was a favourite to win another UCI Mountain Bike World Cup. Things got off to their usual energetic start, but Gwin quickly ran into problems. His back tire came off its rim, close to where his brakes had failed the previous year on the same track. Of course, this would mean the end of the race for most riders, but not for Gwin. Our fearless downhiller continued on, despite the fact that he was riding directly on the rim – his tire flapping behind his bike. The commentators prayed his wheels wouldn’t lock up and the crowd went wild. Gwin may not have won the cup, but the charismatic American held his bike up at the finish and won the hearts of the crowd. You see – his career had been going downhill for some time now…
Aaron Gwin started his cycling career off early, racing BMX from age 4, by age 8 he was already competing at all the national events. At age 12 Gwin moved on to motocross and raced up until he was 17, when he quit due to constant injuries. In 2008 at age 20, he was loaned a bike by professional downhill racer and good friend Cody Warren, who encouraged him to compete in his first downhill race. In his first competition at the Fontana Winter Series, he got 3rd and has been an active racer ever since. Never losing his love for BMX, he became widely known for breaking onto the international World Cup scene after only 8 months of riding downhill. Many saw him as the savior for US downhill riding; his 10th place finish at the Mont Saint-Anne World cup in 2008 was the first American top 10 finish since 2004.
That being said, the life of a downhill rider is never an entirely smooth ride and Gwin has hit his fair share of bumps on the road. When mechanical failures are a necessary reality of what you do, though, it’s how you deal with them that counts. With back to back accidents, it seemed that Leogang was a cursed course, at least as far as Gwin was concerned. Having lost his brakes, then his back tire in consecutive attempts to win a World Cup, it must have felt like business as usual when his chain came off in his 2015 run. Against all odds, though, Gwin realized he could still win without a chain – and one can only imagine the pride he felt when the PA announced his victory after having competed with such a disadvantage.
Living through what might seem like his fair share of miracles to many, Gwin is proud to call himself a man of God. Radiating spirituality through and through, he told Pink Bike that his faith in God is, “the biggest thing that gives me confidence.” Perhaps Gwin’s attitude that, “God’s got my back whatever happens,” explains his willingness to push the envelope and take greater risks in a race. One thing’s for sure – few riders would question Gwin’s commitment.
Whether questioning him or not, though, there’s no shortage of riders looking to steal his thunder. Loic Bruni was runner-up to Gwin in the 2015 World Cup, and this year he’s described Gwin with one word – slow. Bruni has been on Gwin’s tail for a few years now and clearly wants to knock him from the top spot, but so far Gwin is making 2016 his own. He’s started off with a stunning victory at Leogang, finishing for the first time in four years with his bike still intact. Just having the courage to return to the race after three years of misfortune is pretty admirable in our eyes. Maybe God heard Gwin’s prayers – it seems the curse of Leogang has been lifted. What’s next for this downhill superstar? That’s shrouded in mystery for now, but if you know another inspirational biking story, you can submit it here.