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01.28.13

Interview: Downhill Mountain Bike Champ Aaron Gwin on the Move

RedBullUSA.com Interview

by Kevin McAvoy / RedBullUSA.com

Built on a solid base of BMX and motocross skills developed in his early years, Aaron Gwin’s mountain biking prowess has set the world of UCI Downhill competition ablaze recently. Managing to turn heads on the international circuit in 2008 after less than a year of experience on a mountain bike, Gwin went on to earn the 2011 UCI Downhill title, the first American to ever do so. Then he did it again in 2012.

As if he didn’t command the attention of the entire competitive mountain biking community already, Gwin started 2013 with a clean sweep of his sponsorship program, making some high-profile moves that would be the envy of any aspiring pro rider. We caught up with him at the launch of Troy Lee Designs’ new all-mountain helmet in Laguna Beach, California, to chat about his program, and his plans, for the 2013 season.

You’ve made some exciting changes for 2013; can you give us a run-down?
Obviously, the biggest one is the complete team change -- I’m going to factory Specialized, and I’m super excited about that. The other big one would be Troy Lee; I’ll be running their gear -- helmet, jersey, pants, pads, everything -- and I’m really stoked on that. There will also be a couple different parts on my bike now, but some will be the same. We’re still finalizing a lot of that stuff.

Yeah, we’ve heard some rumors about components…
I’ll definitely be keeping Fox; I’ve been with those guys since day one. When I came to Specialized, Fox was a must-have for me. I really believe in the product, and the friendships I’ve developed there… it’s a key part to my program. A lot of the other sponsors cross over between the two teams, and there’ll be some different ones, like SRAM. Those guys have been really cool and we’ve got some stuff in the works with them already.

That covers sponsors; any changes on the personal side?
No, my program’s pretty much the same. Just working to improve, doing basically the same stuff fitness-wise, just tweaking and trying to get better wherever we can. I bought a house halfway through last season, so I have a good home base now and I’m a lot more comfortable and settled than I was last year at this time.

Are Specialized and TLD dream deals for you?
Yeah, absolutely. That was really the whole thing -- Trek was a good team, they did a lot of good for me and I’m definitely thankful for that, but this is my dream program. Specialized wanted to support me with bikes and they let me go out and build what I thought what was the dream program. Luckily, Troy and a lot of these other guys are on the same level with wanting to support me as much as I wanted to run their stuff, so it worked out perfect.

With all of the changes you’ve made, has it been difficult to stay focused on training?
It was a crazy week and a half when the announcement went out, but it’s been business as usual for me. If anything, it’s been motivating me to keep working hard. It’s exciting to be on new stuff, stuff you really like, so for me it’s been all positive.

Are you making any changes to your off-season program this year, to adjust to the later start of the 2013 season?
Last year we had South Africa in March and that was really early, so we were training all-out in January, really hitting everything hard. This year we have to pace ourselves a little more to make sure we don’t blow out before the season starts. We’ll have to build into it slowly. I’m excited for a long off-season this year, just to have some time at home and to get refreshed.

With two UCI titles in the bag already, have your goals changed?
I think that as long as I’m racing, the goal is to just be successful with that, keep winning races, hopefully win World Champs and a few other things. But with my relationships now with Specialized and Troy Lee, there are a lot of development opportunities and ways to be involved with the company. You can be hands-on and have a say, and it’s more of a working relationship. That’s really exciting for me, being able to work on stuff outside of racing that I really enjoy.

We’re here at the new helmet launch for TLD; what new gear are you excited about getting your hands on? Will you be working on any signature stuff?
The new A1 helmet will probably be the helmet I wear more than anything else to be honest, mostly because of my training -- there’s a lot of XC and similar stuff involved so I’m looking forward to being in that helmet. Troy’s always trying to be on that leading edge with product function and quality, and also the fashion end of things. There will be a signature helmet, and we’re working on some gear stuff -- jersey, pants -- and we’ll really start leaning toward more bike-specific stuff, even more than they already have. Just getting the fit and the materials really sick for downhill.

You rewarded yourself with a muscle car last year; what’s the story on that?
About a year ago, I bought a ’69 Camaro. I’ve been slowly working on it throughout the year -- well, I haven’t, I started on it and was like, “Whoa, I don’t have the time or the know-how to get some of this stuff done.” It was in good working condition when I bought it, but I wanted to turn it into a race car, so we put all new suspension in, brakes, wheels, tires, we mini-tubbed it… It’s been a blast.

So if you win another title or World Champs, do you have plans to pick up any other toys?
Right now, no -- I think I’m good with that thing. This is my job, and it has to support me for a long time so I’m trying to save and be smart and do the right things to be able to support a family or whatever on down the road. I’m thinking more into the future.

Are you feeling any additional pressure to repeat the UCI title this season?
I think I feel a lot less pressure this year; last year was a contract year for me, which always brings more pressure because you want to do well since it’ll dictate what your program looks like moving forward. I think the second title was harder -- they always say it’s harder to repeat than to win it the first time, and I definitely believe that.

There are a bunch of guys coming up who are going really fast, so it’s going to be really hard to keep winning, but I know that I belong at the top. I just have to do the best I can to be competitive and try to win races. Most of all, I just need to keep having fun, and I think the program I’m on now will allow me to do all that with a better opportunity than I’ve ever had before.

If you ever do feel pressure during the season, how do you blow off steam?
For me, the most relaxing stuff is actually just a part of my training, especially the rides. That’s time you can be alone and think. I think my faith comes into play a lot, too. At the end of the day -- and I’ve said this tons of times -- for me, it’s just bike racing, it’s not my whole life. It’s something I’ve enjoyed doing since I was a kid, and I’ve had the opportunity to make a living at it and that’s the ultimate dream for people in this situation, so I don’t really get too worked up about it.

It’s fun and I just try to enjoy it. If you’re just racing for results… You can do that, but you want to have fun. That’s why I started riding bikes, so I’ll do anything I can do to keep it fun.

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