On Rainbow Road | We Speak to Danny Hart About the Aura of the World Championships
“They say the hardest thing is to win it again and now I’ve done that...”
We've teamed up with Dainese to shine a spotlight on some of the luminaries from the world of action sports and adventure travel - from big name athletes to epic events that showcase ambition and achievement that goes above and beyond. There are few bigger names in downhill mountain biking right now than Danny Hart. In this exclusive feature, we ask Danny about his past, present and future with the competition that wrote his name into the history of his sport - the World Championships.
Words by Stuart Kenny | Photos courtesy Dainese
It was 2011 when Hart made history in the World Championships with what many would dub the most memorable downhill run of all time. In the hammering rain the then 20-year-old weaved nimbly round a mud-soaked trail that had beaten the rest of the best in the world.
“Nobody had ridden the track in those conditions before," Danny says. “It was a level playing field. I knew I had ridden in that kind of stuff more than anyone else there though so I was ready for it.
“I wasn’t scared. There were a few things that I knew I had to get past in my run and then I would be good all the way to the bottom. I was comfortable. I was ready."
He showed exactly that when he destroyed the time of his rivals and sent a huge whip on the home stretch to settle any remaining doubts over his control or composure – and send the crowd into chaos in the process.
The commentary from Nigel Page and Rob Warner on the footage is almost as famous as the run itself. “How does Danny Hart sit down with balls that big," Rob Warner screams after the Redcar rocket flies over the finish line 11.669 seconds faster than the second placed Damien Spagnolo.
“It’s crazy," Danny laughs. “But it’s just not the same if you watch the run with the sound off. Pagey [Nigel Page] and Warner did a great job of hyping it up and I guess I also did a great job of enabling them to go off their heads like that."
Danny never felt like he was going to go down that day. He had confidence in his skills, and confidence in his kit.
“I knew personally that I could do it. We’re always crashing but that’s why we have good protection. I’ve been wearing Dainese gear since I was a little kid – first the top and the bottoms and now the knee pads." Though he didn’t need either that day. “It set up my career, that run. It was out of this world."
The race would see Hart forever linked to both Champery and indeed to the World Championships, but for Danny, the rainbow jersey had always held a certain aura around it even before Champery – an aura that it has held for many riders before him and will hold for many more to come.
“I’d watched Steve Peat try and win that race for a lot of years, so it was always a big goal of mine to win it. I was there when Steve won, standing at the bottom in Canberra [in 2005] and saw how special that was."
The World Championships are special. It’s the race at the top of every rider’s bucket list, and Danny got it early on. His struggle to fulfil the expectations that came with that win would plague him for years though.
Danny was pigeonholed as a ‘wet weather rider’ by many; the one who could win in the mud and the rain – but only in the mud and the rain.
It wasn’t until last year that Hart really returned to his best and proved this wrong. He followed up his first World Cup win in Lenzerheide with his second in Mont-Sainte-Anne and his third in Vallnord before claiming a second World Championship in the dusty sunshine of Val di Sole.
A relief for Danny? “Yeah, totally. Even previous to the World Championships a couple of the World Cups I won were in very dry conditions and that silenced a lot of people."
He’s now one of a select few legends who can lay claim to two rainbow jerseys in downhill mountain biking. Not many people have won the World Championships twice, and as Danny reminds me, “not many people have won it at all."
“There’s Sam Hill and Nico Vouilloz that have done it twice of course. But it’s great. It means that I know how to do it now. It all just clicked in Val di Sole. It was the same sort of feeling as Champery. I was ready to win.
“They say the hardest thing is to win it again and now I’ve done that."
Quietly behind Danny in Val di Sole was Mondraker teammate Laurie Greenland in second place. Laurie was just shy of his 20th birthday at the time and was riding in his first ever season on the elite tour.
I ask if Danny gave him any tips before he set off. “No, he can ride!" he replies. Though Laurie admits he has learned a lot from riding extensively with the two-time World Champ.
“He really can motivate himself so well for anything," Laurie says of Danny. “Whether that’s just a tiny little race in Spain or a World Cup. He’s able to summon that motivation up really well. I’ve learned to treat every race the same from him."
And as Hart himself points out, Greenland might be young but he’s not exactly lacking in riding experience. The Englishman won the 2015 Junior World Championship in Vallnord with a time that would’ve put him in the top 20 in the men’s event.
He finished eight at Fort William and ninth in Vallnord before heading to Val di Sole. And even if he is still learning how to treat every race the same, if there’s one weekend you’ll never struggle for motivation – it’s World Champs.
“It’s got that novelty behind it," he says. “It’s a race that everyone gets real amped up for; where the motivation comes purely from just how big the race is. It’s the one that fans are going to stay up all night for even if they’re on the other side of the world. There’s nothing like having a rainbow jersey. It really is one of the biggest things you can achieve in the sport.
“I had felt really good on my bike all week last year at World Championships but actually executing it and managing to get second place was not something I expected at all. I just have to keep building and in the next couple of years aim to get to the top. Nobody is racing for second place."
Getting to the top, and winning World Championships, is something that seems to get increasingly difficult each year in what is a field of riders that only seems to be getting more and more competitive.
If anyone knows how to win though, it’s Danny Hart, and Laurie Greenland has every intention of following in his senior’s footsteps.
We can’t help but sign off by asking Danny to dream. How good would it be to become ‘three-time World Champion Danny Hart' at the big showdown in Cairns, Australia on September 10 this year?
“It would be unbelievable. There isn’t that many people who have done it.
“Cairns is going to be tough though. I’ve got my work cut out but I’ll do what I can. 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."
It most certainly is not, and it won’t be easy, but it’s safe to say that should Danny be back in rainbow stripes for a third time next season, there wouldn’t be many people who would be awfully surprised.
Stay tuned to our Dainese Luminaries hub for our next journey into ambition and adventure. Next month we speak to French mountain biker Simon Pages about the high-flying dangers and thrills of riding slopestyle, possibly the fastest progressing discipline in the sport of mountain biking.