Roll on 2016
Val di Sole left both bikes and riders battered and bruised but there’s no rest for the wicked as the World Champs in Andorra are just around the corner. So before we get caught up in that, we thought we’d take a look back at the 2015 season – it’s been a cracker.
1. Gwin still pins
For a couple of seasons we were all questioning whether Aaron Gwin had lost his special spark. He didn’t necessarily have bad results, but after his domination of 2011 and 2012, we all expected more.
This was the season he turned it all around. He won four of the seven races (one without a chain) and proved just how far ahead he is of the rest of the field. He has won nearly half of all World Cup races in the last five years and remains the only rider to have won five World Cups in a season. We are witnessing the birth of a legend of the sport and we feel like this is only the start – Gwinter is coming.
2. Rachel Atherton is untouchable
Quite simply, who is going to beat Rachel Atherton if she doesn’t get injured in the next few years? Her winning margins this year were: 7.989 seconds, 3.108 seconds, 5.006 seconds, 9.360 seconds, 3.417 seconds and 2.239 seconds – that pretty much puts her in a race of her own.
She was so dominant, she finished the year nearly 600 points up on second placed Manon Carpenter – the equivalent to three race wins. With Emmeline Ragot now retired, it’s tough to see where Atherton’s challengers are going to come from. We predict this streak will continue for some time.
3. The track selection was bang-on this year
This year must surely have provided the biggest variety of tracks in recent memory. From Lourdes’ nasty rock gardens to the Lenzerheide dustbowl, the Mont-Sainte-Anne mud, and finally the brutality of Val di Sole, the riders have been truly tested at every round.
Next year’s calendar looks pretty much identical except with Windham swapped out for Cairns, hopefully it provides an equally enthralling season.
4. Loic Bruni is the unluckiest man alive
Loic Bruni has qualified first three times and finished second four times this year but has been unable to push through and claim the top step of the podium. Whether it comes down to bad luck or frayed nerves we can’t say, but he definitely has the pace to clinch his maiden win at some point soon.
What’s great to see is that no matter who beats him, Bruni is always the first congratulating them on a great run. We hope that there’s still a place for sportsmanship at the top of our sport for a long time to come.
5. The talent is just going to keep coming
A whole new wave of young riders have stepped up their game this year to make the top 10 more tightly packed than the Lourdes funicular.
In particular, Loris Vergier, Dean Lucas and Connor Fearon claimed their first World Cup podiums this year and marked themselves out as potential stars of the future.
Having said that…
6. You’re never too old if you have the skills
What a season Greg Minnaar had. Just when everyone had written him off, he came back swinging and was the only rider to consistently challenge Gwin. His languid style is timeless and it shows that there’s no substitute for smooth, controlled riding. Even at the age of 33 he is more than capable of beating any given rider on his day.
This was the year that Minnaar beat Steve Peat’s record and became the most successful male downhill rider in history and there’s nothing to say he can’t add to that record next year.
7. Technological flops
Downhill is the Formula One of mountain biking. It’s where the latest technology is trialled until it is ready to trickle down to the consumer. Bikes this year are more advanced than ever before and the riders are using them to their full extent.
Having said that, the chainless runs by both Gwin and Bruni showed us just how far behind we may be in terms of understanding aerodynamics and chain growth.
This does leave the door open to some exciting developments in future though.
8. The team competition needs a rethink
As well as the individual competition, the UCI also runs a team competition which combines the results of a team’s racers. Unfortunately, this year’s was a bit of a farce.
The year started with one of the sport’s biggest teams, the Santa Cruz Syndicate, being denied proper team status by the UCI because their kits did not match.
The Syndicate ended up revelling in their demotion though with both Greg Minnaar and Josh Bryceland still having great seasons while using the hashtag #notatradeteam.
The year ended with the team competition being won by Specialized Racing, a team with only two riders (out of a maximum of four). We can’t help but feel that the team competition is a bit redundant in modern downhill and we’d love to see a bit of restructuring to make it more competitive in future.
9. The junior series is worth taking seriously
The junior competition has been hotly contested this year by three up-and-coming riders. Laurie Greenland won the title and put in a couple of runs that would have seen him place in the top 20 of the elite competition, but there were also several impressive performances by Ireland’s Jacob Dickson and Australia’s Andrew Crimmins.
All three of these guys will graduate to seniors next year and have the potential to cause some shocks – much like Loris Vergier did this year. It’s time to take these young rippers seriously.