© Ale Di Lullo

Aaron Gwin was showing once again how strong he is able to perform: With a spectacular lead of over three seconds the YT Mob star took the win at the fourth round of the Downhill World Cup 2016 – his third World Cup win in Leogang in a row. His team mate Angel Suarez also showed impressive strength. Since the beginning of the World Cup season his confidence increased, he finished in 23rd position – his second best World Cup result ever. Team Manager Martin Whiteley speaks about the meaning of the magic numbers 23 and 1.

Team Manager Martin Whiteley © Isac Paddock

Hi Martin. How was the weekend?

In some ways very exciting and in others a little stressful! We knew that Aaron would be a strong contender for the win in Leogang given his history there, but at the same time, the winner from Fort William the week before, Greg Minnaar, has also won in Leogang twice. Then the weather decided to be complicated (springtime in the alps!), and this always makes life a little stressful for the riders and mechanics trying to find the right set-up. In the end, Aaron showed he really is a Boss!

Did you influence Aaron in any way to push it down that fast?

Aaron is totally in control of his race and all he needs from me is a professional support crew that allows him to do what he does best. He’s been doing this long enough now that he rarely needs anything from us in the form of strategy or race day ideas. We do however make sure he has the latest information on course conditions and anything else we notice from earlier riders, like the condition of their bikes, or a problem on course we see on TV.

Do Aaron and Angel know anything about the results of other riders before they start?

No, they don’t ask us about particular riders’ times, but in the case of Leogang on Sunday, it was important to know how much faster the track was running compared to qualifying. This can affect the earlier part of the track (braking points, expected speed etc), until they get a good feel for how the track has improved. The group of riders that started just before Angel were 15 seconds faster than their qualifying run so that’s good for him to know. He’ll then get on the radio after he’s finished his race and pass intelligence onto Aaron in the team pits.

Angel Suarez © Ale Di Lullo

Aaron Gwin on track in Leogang © Ale Di Lullo

What were you thinking during Aaron’s run?

After the first 2 splits where Aaron was 1.2secs down, it was starting to look like the young Frenchman Loris Vergier was backing up his speed from the wet qualifier, so I started to consider what that would mean for us: At least a podium and retain the series lead. In the back of my mind though there was the thought that the middle section was where he was so brilliant without a chain last year, so it was still possible for him to bring back that 1.2secs. Then we get the green light showing 0.5secs in Aaron’s favour, so he’d brought back nearly 2 seconds. That was great and we were in with a good chance for the win. Then... the 2.4secs green light came up and I dropped my notebook and pen, I was blown away, the crowd went insane. I knew that if he stayed on the bike he was winning this week. I started to move forward to where I could enter the finish arena and congratulate him but superstitious Paul (our Road Manager) tried to stop me, and said I must wait until he crosses the line. When I finally got to him I just said “You killed the middle sectors, you are a Boss!” He smiled back in his humble way, he was truly happy deep down, you could see it in his eyes. Winning is what he loves to do the most.

Are you superstitious?

Not at all...but I do notice certain coincidences that mean more than others.

Does the number 23 has a meaning to you? Where does that come from?

So before there was internet, I simply stumbled onto this number which seemed to be everywhere in my life. I was very good at mathematics and so without boring you, I found it played a big role in the world and in my life, and it would always appear at significant times. When I started racing at a National MTB level, I chose it as my race number, and everyone started noticing all these coincidences with me and 23. Now that there is internet, you can see this number does have a higher ‘profile’ than a number in the 20’s should. When I started my company back in 2000, I felt it should have a name connected to my ‘significant’ number. When I saw that the world spun on 23 Degrees, that was it for me. Now most of my close friends just call me 23!

Aaron after the race © Isac Paddock

Podium in Leogang © Ale Di Lullo

Is it a kind of special sign that Angel took the 23rd place?

Every rider I have ever managed, that has gone on to be a great champion, has had a 23rd in the World Cup at some point. In Leogang his 23rd place was significant to me and everyone who works with me, for this reason. We got my two favourite numbers in racing on the weekend, 1 and 23!

Do you see any development in Angels performance? Did he make “the switch”?

Angel is a ‘work in progress’ and he is not only the Young Talent in our team, but someone we all believe in. There is no rush, so he will arrive in good time at the top end of the rankings, and he has the world number 1 as his team mate and mentor. He made a change in coaches over winter in preparation for racing with his new team. At Lourdes and Cairns he was doing some things that for me didn’t make a lot of sense, but he wanted to follow his coach’s ideas. I decided to let that run its course so he could see for himself whether it was good for him or not. After a crash at a race in Andorra (after Cairns) he called me and said he would like to make some changes and welcomed my experience and input. So I arranged that we would drive from Glasgow to Fort William together in the car and could talk a lot. We made some adjustments to his preparations and goal setting techniques and already we are seeing a huge difference. I’m happy when a young rider remains open to advice and you can see the improvement so quickly. This is such a mental sport and confidence breeds great results, which breeds more confidence!

Do Angel and Aaron influence each other?

In a number of ways... I mean they’re always sharing ideas on the tracks, their practice runs and so forth, but they also influence each other in more personal ways. Angel is learning from Aaron what it takes to be a truly professional athlete and the sacrifices involved, and the level of commitment required. Then, Angel brings a level of humour and comedy that keeps everyone laughing and makes every week away from home a lot more fun for Aaron! When I signed Angel, it was always with a combination of ideas in mind... great team chemistry, and the fact they have similar backgrounds Aaron would really enjoy his role as mentor of this talented Spanish guy!

Do you think Aaron changed in a certain way since he is riding for YT?

I can only compare the Aaron I worked with on my previous team, during 2011 and 2012, to the one I know now. There is no doubt he has matured as professional athlete and knows who he is and where he’s going in this sport... but in the time we have had the YT Mob on the road, I have seen a lot more of the fun Aaron that enjoys hanging out and making jokes with his buddies. I think he is the most relaxed I have ever seen him, which is saying something as I have never seen him stressed, not even before the start of a big race day. But watching him and Angel together, which people now see in the YT Mob videos, is the real Aaron.

Thanks for the interview, Martin.

Check the latest episode of "Tales of the Mob“ on YouTube. Pic: Ale Di Lullo

The guys are off for a short vacation and recovery before they head to the next World Cup race in Lenzerheide (July 8th – 10th).

Tales of the Mob