Image credit: Fox MTB Wallpapers
In the past few weeks the world cup DH scene has seen major shifts by two of the sports most dominant and legendary riders. The departure of Sam Hill from the Monster Energy Specialized Team for CRC/Nukeproof left a gaping hole in the team. Restless imaginations stirred and rumors began to float that the Big S was looking for a big name rider. One who could turbo boost sales and reel in the wins. Cue Aaron Gwin.
The most dominant American on the scene and the first to win an unprecedented five world cup races in one season, followed by another four wins the next, the man has spawned numerous gwintastic puns for his amazing performance. Unfortunately, for Specialized, he had already signed a three year letter-of-intent with Trek World Racing. A factory sponsored team which dropped it’s XC commitments to focus excursively on their tremendously talented DH team.
The news that Aaron had signed with Specialized, like the news that Sam was joining another team, leaked before either party intended for whatever reason and the back lash amongst fans and from Trek World Racing has been brutal and the team just issued this harshly worded statement….
“The last several weeks have been a very difficult period for our company as owners of the Trek World Racing program. Despite the fact that on August 9 of last year, Aaron Gwin signed a legally binding Letter Of Intent with our team for the next three seasons, his agent wrote an email to the team in mid-December stating he had decided to race for another bike brand. Mr Gwin confirmed his agreement with our team in public statements, and he and his agent repeatedly confirmed the existence of, and commitment to, the agreement in written correspondence with us. Yet, only weeks before the team was required to submit the official team roster to UCI, Mr Gwin informed the team that he was abandoning TWR in total disregard of his contractual obligations.
The team reached out on several occasions in December in order to try and remedy whatever concerns Mr Gwin had, but these were ignored until the team received a letter from his Attorneys on December 27 stating he would not ride for our team. In the interests of the team and our sponsors, we are actively pursuing all options open to us at this point, including legal action, and remain completely surprised by Mr Gwin’s unprofessional actions.
Team Director Martin Whiteley says: ‘This has not been an easy time for us. In the bigger picture however I find positivity in the fact that the Trek World Racing program will continue regardless of the outcome of this dispute, as no single rider is bigger than the team as a whole. Every rider who has been on our Downhill program has had the best years of their career with us, and we will continue to bring on talented riders. The team has a history of helping riders win who had not previously won, including Aaron Gwin. It’s our intention to continue that type of record with new talent. I would personally like to acknowledge the complete support and loyalty we’ve received from our title sponsor Trek Bikes who have been unwavering in their commitment to the program since this news broke. In the interests of the fans, we hope this matter will be resolved sooner rather than later’.” -23 Degrees Sports
Today, Trek World Racing also posted this video today. They’re not bitter at all.
The press release and video by Trek World Racing only covers half the story. We have yet to hear the details from Aaron Gwin, who stated on twitter this week:
“Proud to announce that I will be riding for Specialized moving forward. There’s much more to the story than what’s been shared and i’m looking forward to setting that straight very soon. Thanks to my team and fans who’ve had my back in this time “ – @AaronGwin1
Regardless, the initial damage has been done and many in the community are content to point out that Aaron Gwin has lost his reputation for honesty and integrity. Although no one seems surprised that the big bad Specialized huffed and buffed and blew Trek’s straw house right over.
This sort of backdoor wheeling and dealing is common in professional sports (F1, soccer, etc…). Leaping from one sponsor to another for better equipment, money, or that elusive chance at the big prize happens. The career of a professional athlete is short and limited by luck, injury, and age. They must act in their own best interest. So while the drama has been very entertaining, it doesn’t mean that the entire racing scene is corrupt and has lost it’s soul. What the sponsor hopping has created is more media attention and more riders reading and commenting about downhill racing.
Update: Gwin has also signed with new sponsor TLD, despite the upcoming release of his signature Bell Full-9 full face. Perhaps this is just an apparel deal. Updates as we get them.
Updated: Aaron Speaks! Read his side of the story here.