So, Aaron Gwin's at the centre of controversy again. In replacing Sam Hill at Specialized he has spawned a rumour mill of speculation. I've read accusations of contract breaking, threats of legal action and even that the move may be connected to the Lance Armstrong doping scandal. To be honest we may never know the true ins and outs surrounding Gwin's departure. I believe one thing for certain though, his motive will have been purely financial. This will not sit well with many people, who believe our sport to have some sort of idealised core of purity. That our heroes, who risk life and limb week in, week out do it only for enjoyment, that they wouldn't get sucked in by capitalist agendas. Unfortunately, I think this is probably the time to accept the unavoidable fact that the DH World Cup we all love, is above all, a way to sell us bikes and make money.
Riders have different ways of doing this, some like to create an image, Cedric Gracia for example, whose larger than life personality was greatly greatly missed in the 2012 season. Furthermore, the Atherton clan who stick together as a family, knowing that's what their fans respect, to split up that unit would be marketing suicide. The problem with Gwin is that he does not posses the most sparkling of personalities, you're lucky if you can find a post race interview where he doesn't moan about time lost, even when he has inevitably won! For Gwin, his main selling point is his unbelievable speed, for two seasons he has ripped the competition apart making him prime real estate in the DH world. Specialized signed Sam Hill at the peak of his dominance and are now repeating that with Gwin, but then they can, probably being the only team with more resources than Trek.
As a race fan I have a great deal of respect for Gwin. He is forcing a new level of professionalism on to the sport, his fitness and will to win are second to none and I predict he will continue to succeed under Specialized. I would not condone his actions if he has been underhand in his dealings with either company, and but the impression I receive of Gwin is that he has a sensible head on his shoulders and would not disrespect a team that has served him well. It seems to me that the main fear and anger surrounding this move is a fear for the future of our sport. DH is a small sport, we are all part of a community that share a passion which we feel some ownership over. The professional riders are not, like for example footballers, removed from the fans, placed on superhuman pedestals. People are scared an injection of money like this is a sign of our sport being inflated to become impersonal, too professional. We shouldn't vilify Gwin for this, he's just an athlete trying to make the best he can of his immense talent in what could potentially be a career cut short by injury, I wouldn't believe anyone who would say they wouldn't at least consider doing the same. Money injected into our sport will fuel development, all of this trickles down to the grassroots, better bikes, better trails and a better experience for us average riders, and is this not what everyone wants? The soul of this sport will not die through a bit of investment but it may do if we turn our backs on the progress it promises.