There is a fine line between heroic victory and tragic defeat. These legendary race runs push that to the absolute limit
We’ve just about recovered from Aaron Gwin’s storming chainless run at the World Cup in Leogang. Quite how he managed to be faster than anyone through the speed trap without being able to pedal, we’ll probably never know for sure. One thing is certain though, it was a special piece of riding.
Was it the best downhill run ever though? If it is to be considered as such it has some pretty stiff competition. We’ve gathered a few of our favourites below for you to compare.
Neko Mulally – Hafjell, Norway 2014
Proving that the USA produces the finest chainless riders in the world, Neko Mulally showed us his own tucking and pumping skills at the World Championships in Norway last year. His chain snapped straight out of the start hut but he left everyone amazed as he flowed down the mountain with a sucession of green sector times.
Neko’s run saw him end up in the hot seat, but unfortunately he was pushed out by Gee Atherton, Josh Bryceland and Troy Brosnan to finish fourth.
Aaron Gwin – Leogang, Austria 2014
The broken chain wasn’t Aaron Gwin’s first mechanical in Leogang. At the World Championships in 2012 he suffered a brake failure and at last year’s World Cup he was hit with a puncture early on in his run.
He carried on regardless and, although it wasn’t as successful as his chainless run, he did manage to bring it home in 79th place, beating one other competitor.
If Gwin’s Leogang curse is to continue, we wonder what he will overcome next year, a snapped frame perhaps? Now that would be impressive!
Danny Hart – Champery, Switzerland 2011
If this doesn’t provide the best run ever then it certainly comes with the best commentary. Champery, regarded as one of the consistently steepest and hardest tracks in the world, played host to the 2011 World Championships.
To make things worse the weather was atrocious leaving many riders struggling to even get down the hill.
Step forward Danny Hart, his text book run left his competitors 11 seconds in arrears and Rob Warner (almost) lost for words.
Steve Peat – Canberra, Australia 2009
The run itself was nothing special, Peat beat second placed Minnaar by only one twentieth of a second, but it cemented the Sheffield Steel’s status as a legend.
It was a perfect story of a grizzled veteran overcoming a field of young upstarts to finally fulfill his World Champs potential. He produced a victory that was celebrated by the entire mountain biking community.
Sam Hill – Val di Sole, Italy 2008
The Val di Sole World Championships in 2008 saw Sam Hill at the height of his flat-pedal prowess. On a dusty, blown-out track he sent down a sensational run that saw him 6.35 seconds up on the hot seat holder, Steve Peat, at the second split
He would certainly have won were it not for the fateful final corner that he hit just a little too hard. His front wheel washed out and his hopes of a third consecutive World Championships title died.
Gee Atherton would go on to win the race, but it is Aussie’s run that is remembered. That seemingly innocuous bend is now known as Hill’s Corner and has claimed plenty of other victims in the years since.
Rachel Atherton – Val Di Sole, 2008
At the exact same race, Rachel Atherton made history as well. At just 21 years old, Rachel Atherton put over 11 seconds into a stacked field of women, including Sabrina Jonnier and Emmeline Ragot.
It was her first World Championship win (she won her second in Pietermaritzberg in 2013) but also the first for any British woman ever. Not only did it show that she had the skills and temperament for racing at the highest level, but it paved the way for the current British domination of the women’s downhill, with racers like Manon Carpenter and Tahnee Seagrave taking her legacy forwards.
Fabien Barel – Fort William, Scotland 2007
As he could not train, Barel prepared by sitting in the south of France and simply visualizing the track. On top of this, he kept his feet in a bucket of cold water and played the sounds of rain and thunder through his headphones to simulate the famously bad Scottish weather.
By the time he arrived in Fort William his leg was still not fully healed and he had to practice in a cast. Despite all of this, he still managed to produce a race run which saw him finish second, just 0.62 seconds back on Sam Hill
Shaun Palmer – Åre, Sweden 1999
Shaun Palmer’s whirlwind mountain biking career ended suddenly in Åre Bike Park, Sweden at the 1999 World Championships.
Palmer was on a storming run and just had to drop off a kerb over the finish to potentially take his first World Championship gold medal. Unfortunately, transitioning from dirt to the slippery, wet tarmac caused his bike to slide from under him and he lay sprawled on the floor, metres from the finish.
It was the final straw for Palmer, who left downhill as explosively as he came and was not seen on a bike for another ten years.