Words by Mike Rose
Photos by Nathan Hughes
Aaron Gwin is the beating heart of the INTENSE Factory Racing (IFR) team. He’s their leader, their talisman… the boss. He’s looked up to, respected, held in awe. Aaron Gwin is the real deal.
After a few years ‘in the wilderness’ when it comes to race results, 2022 was a turning point for Aaron. Just when some thought that his career was possibly over, he proved them wrong. But 2022 wasn’t an easy journey for one of the greatest downhill racers ever. After a horrible start to the season (with a crash and then a DNQ at the first two rounds), Aaron needed to find something special to turn his season around and get himself back into the mix. I’m not quite sure what he did, but whatever it was he showed great resilience and fighting spirit, and mid-way through the season he got it all together.
Fourth place at the Vallnord, Mont Sainte Anne and infamous Val di Sole World Cups let the rest of the pro field (and all the doubters) know that Aaron Gwin wasn’t finished yet. Very much at home on the new prototype M279 HP1 downhill bike during the ‘22 season, reports suggest that he is very comfortable and happy on the new M279 HP6 bike that he and the team have been helping develop and test over the last year. Onwards and upwards. We caught up with Aaron to hear what he had to say about his 2022 season and his thoughts on 2023.
Can you sum up your 2022 season in three words?
A good time!
What about some high points of your season?
My first podium of the year in Andorra. It was great to be back up front and challenging for wins again. My podium at the last World Cup in Val di Sole was special too. That track is so gnarly and one of my favorites. I was stoked to end the year on a great result, and to share the podium with my teammate Dakotah was a goal that we’d had all year. And testing our new bike (M279 HP6). We've been designing this bike for almost a year now and to finally get to ride it was definitely awesome. I'm really looking forward to the off–season on that thing and racing it next year.
Which was your favorite track of the year?
Val di Sole in Italy. The track was maybe the roughest it's ever been this year and I just felt good all week. I love the challenge of finding fast lines there.
Where there any standout races, racers or race runs that impressed you?
I'd say the crowd in France for World Champs was maybe the craziest race crowd I've ever seen. My home World Cup in the US at Snowshoe was also rad.
And what about high points off the bike?
Moving to Tennessee this year has definitely been a huge life change and something I've enjoyed a lot. Being back on the podium and challenging for wins by the end of the year was also a big goal that felt good to achieve.
And the low points?
Definitely my big crash and bad result at the opening World Cup of the year was tough to swallow. Then to follow it up at the next World Cup in Fort William with a flat tire in qualifying and missing the finals for the first time in my career was a huge bummer. It felt even better though to stay tough mentally and overcome the rough start to accomplish my goals as the season continued.
What does the off-season hold for you?
We're currently in the middle of remodeling our new home in Tennessee so that's been fun... mostly. Ha ha. I'm also really looking forward to spending a lot of time on this new bike and training hard for next season.
Do you like the fact that the 2023 World Cup season doesn’t start until June?
Yes and no. I felt like we had a lot of good momentum going at the end of last season so it's hard to wait so long to race again. It's also kind of nice to have a break to refresh a bit and have the time to really dial in our equipment and any weaknesses.
What’s the biggest lesson you have learned this year?
I'm not sure that there were any big lessons learned but finishing the year strong after the toughest start that I've probably ever had felt good. Mentally it was good to keep pushing through the lows and find my consistency again.
Any messages or advice for your team mates?
Nugs nugs nugs (inside joke)!