Words by Mike Rose
Photos by Nathan Hughes and Ale Di Lullo
The Les Gets World Championships 2022 will probably go down as the greatest downhill race ever in the history of the sport. With the mighty Mont Blanc in the distance it was that perfect combination of an amazing track, dry race conditions, an ‘enthusiastic’ crowd and the world’s best racers.
The atmosphere and the energy on that Mont Chery mountainside may never be repeated again, and for INTENSE Factory Racing team riders Aaron Gwin and Dakotah Norton I am sure it will be a race that they will never forget.
Both riders qualified well, with Dak in 22nd and Aaron in 10th, and everything was looking good. Come finals day the sun was shining and the ever growing crowd was revving-up, and as the day went on the crowd’s energy levels only grew, partly fuelled by the high alpine environment, but also maybe a drop or two of ‘vin rouge’ (or something a little stronger)!
In finals Aaron came down with what seemed like a flawless run, “Another solid ride but I’m a bit bummed on this one. Definitely wanted better and felt I had more in the tank.” As he crossed the line he dropped into second place, just +0.256 off the current leader Oli Zwar’s time.
“I had a great time at World Champs this year. The track was awesome and we had maybe the biggest crowd in the history of our sport. I was happy to put down a smooth race run but honestly disappointed with the result. I was really hoping to finish in the medal positions. I feel like I’m getting really close to challenging for wins again and it’s tough to be patient but I’m happy with the consistent progress.” Aaron Gwin
As more riders made their way down Aaron’s time was looking good… then Dak. Again so close, but this time just +0.102 off Zwar’s time. The two IFR team riders, in their stars and stripes race tops, flanked Zwar’s yellow and blue Swedish kit on the top three podium hot seat for quite a few more riders, but it wasn’t to be. Eventually both Aaron and Dak were bumped off and out of the medal positions.
“World Champs is a special event that we all want to go all out for a medal and risk it all for our country. As an athlete the approach is commonly skewed by the pressure of the community around us to have a checkers or wreckers approach to this one off event. I’m really happy to have some consistency of my speed and use this race as a building block for my race craft. Seventh was a win for me.” Dakotah Norton
Aaron would eventually finish in 8th with Dakotah in 7th, amazing results against the world’s best, with both riders being just around one second of a podium spot. It is so tight at the top, and Aaron and Dak did us all proud.
“We will take that! Wasn’t the most phenomenal ride I’ve ever put together, but I had a ton of positivity to take away from the weekend and might have even enjoyed the racing. Weird.” Dak Norton
For the home fans it was a fairytale ending, one that you couldn’t really make up. A French one, two, three, with Bruni, Pierron and then Vergier. How those three French riders held it all together in that pressure cooker environment, through that wall of sound, I’ll never know… and of course the crowds went NUTS!
As you will probably know by now the thousands of fans spilled their way down the track in one massive wave of pure joy and emotion, there was nothing forced about this reaction. It was a special day for the French and for downhill, and it is moments like this that reminds us why we love the sport so much.
Onwards to the final round of this year’s World Cup from Val di Sole, Italy, this coming weekend.