The Danny Hart Interview | "Winning the World Championships Has Put a Target on My Back… But I Love It”
...and Danny believes the pressure is on Aaron Gwin, not him, to step it up this season
Posing for photographs with a knight’s helmet, a sword and a kilted bagpiper probably wasn’t the first thing Danny Hart envisioned when he claimed his second World Championship title in Val di Sole last September.
A flurry of photographers are surrounding the Redcar downhill star on the scenic Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh as we meet to discuss the season ahead and launch the Fort William World Cup for 2017.
“A lot of people think Aaron is the guy to beat, but clearly not in the second half of last season..."
Danny accommodates the rather blunt requests of the old-school snappers for over an hour as they dream up new compositions for him, his newly obtained weaponry and the shiny Mondraker Summum sitting to his right.
He’s no stranger to the attention of course, having previously won the rainbow jersey back in Champery in 2011 with one of the most famous downhill runs in mountain biking history – an 11.69 second win in torrential rain. This time, though, things are a little different.
“That first one was out of this world," says the 25-year-old, “Winning by that amount of time in those conditions and being so young. It set my career up. I was never really expected to win, even though I knew personally that I could do it.
“This year there was a lot more expectation from people. They say the hardest thing is to win it again and now I’ve done that."
Danny was only in his second year as a senior when he took that win in 2011. He was still an – albeit incredibly talented – newcomer in a British scene where reigning overall champion Gee Atherton was the main man.
This time around, having turned a first World Cup win in Lenzerheide into successive wins at Mont-Saint-Anne, Vallnord and indeed at the World Champs in Val di Sole, Danny will be going into the new season unbeaten at elite level in four races, and very much at the front of the pack. He has already dusted off the bike to win the first stop of the British Downhill Series in early April.
I ask what made the big difference last season.
“I prepared really well," he says. “I did everything I had to do to be on the podium every weekend and when you're on the podium every weekend it's only a matter of time until you're on top of it. I did what I had to do and once you win that first one, you believe more and you're ready to win.
"It was five years or so difference between the two World Champs so that was a while. I got hurt in 2012 and never saw myself get back to what I was at and it's taken me a while to get consistently back up there but I did that last season and I haven't had any injuries since then so there's nothing to stop me from carrying on."
So was it really about getting the monkey off the back with that first World Cup win in Lenzerheide?
“It looks like it, doesn’t it? After that I went on a bit of a run, so I think so. Now I'm unbeaten across the last four races at the World Cups and World Champs. The monkey is definitely off the back now.
“Mont-Saint-Anne was a big one because it's a proper track and beating everyone on their best day was a big thing. I did the same in Lenzerheide but people argue that the track isn't the best. You can only race what they put in front of you though.
“World Champs was just meant to be. I had been there practising before and I knew exactly what I had to do. I knew where I was going and knew all my lines and I was just on a high. All the races, apart from Andorra where it rained a little bit for me, were dry too. I was starting to get old people saying: "oh it's raining, you can win," but... clearly not. I did win that once in the rain [in Champery] in quite dramatic fashion I guess, so people hold me to that."
Danny knows that the rest of the field will be out to claw back his margins this season, but insists he’s ready for the challenge, and maintains there will be more pressure on YT rider Aaron Gwin than there will be on himself.
Gwin won his fourth overall World Cup title in 2016, but was only able to fend off Hart’s end-of-season rampage thanks to a strong start to the season. The overall title, of course, is now one of the only boxes left unchecked on Danny’s downhill résumé.
The rider continued: “I don’t believe the pressure is on me because I still think that a lot of people think Aaron is the guy to beat, but clearly not in the second half of last season. The pressure is on him to try and get back to where he wants to be, and then there’s [Loic] Bruni and so many others who can put the cat amongst the pigeons.
“Last year I got so close to the overall. After being about 200 points behind at some point I came within 30 points of winning. There's a lot of should've, would've, could've moments – I never scored points in qualifying on two occasions, but that's part and parcel and I just take each race at a time.
“I’ve got all the confidence in the world though. I've got a bit of a target on my back, sure, especially with these rainbow stripes. I love it though. People say the rainbow stripes are a curse, but I love putting the jersey on and going out and showing it off. It's not everyone that can do that."
And a home win at Fort William is high on his priority list as well: “I work hard for that one every year," he adds. “I've just come up short a few times. I've had second there, third last year and I think the year before. It's just a matter of time hopefully until I get the win.
“It's a great event; big sell-out crowd. When you're racing you're so in the zone but once you cross the line it's amazing to see how many people are there watching and cheering for you."
Danny’s off-season preparations this time around have understandably been more of the same, though with further downhill focus. He’s ditched his long-time motocross hobby to spend even more time on the trails and avoid the risk of injury. “I’ve not really missed it", he says. “I’m having fun on my bike and going fast."
Just how fast, we’ll have to wait and see. But before we leave, we have to ask; how good would it be to become Danny Hart, three-time World Champion in Cairns this September? The English shredder is far from ruling it out.
“It would be unbelievable. Obviously there isn’t that many people who have done it. You've got Nico [Vouilloz] who has done it a lot and there are a few guys in that club. It would be great to join.
“Cairns is going to be a tough race for the World Champs. I’ve got my work cut out there but I’ll do what I can and being World Champion, at least I don’t have to fight for a place in the team this year!"