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Athlete of the Year Nominees

Narrowing a mega-talented field of male and female athletes down to three nominees would be tough enough if we only had to choose from one discipline. The magnificence of this sport, however, lies in its many facets. Before Pinkbike could begin the task of nominating athletes, we first had to narrow down the categories. World Cup Cross Country was a must. Race course designs were off the chart, rife with technical sections and grade change-ups that forced competitors to show up with their A-game or go home. No-question that downhill was a selection category, this is Pinkbike, after all. To seek out our third nominee, we compared stand-out performances from the 2016 freestyle and enduro calendar - which turned out to be the most contentious battle of this nomination process.

With the venues selected, all that was left was to figure out how one compares the courage, raw power and gymnastic ability of a freerider; with the predatory focus and trigger-fast acceleration of a downhiller; with the ability of a cross-country racer to lay down 500 watts at Vo2-max for over an hour while negotiating mud, roots, drops and rock gardens; and then there is the enduro competitor, who has to perform all of those skills at some point over two days of racing. In the end, it was easier than we expected - these three athletes were so outstanding that it would be difficult not to choose them:

The 2016 Nominees for Athlete of the year are downhill's Rachel Atherton, cross-country's Nino Schurter, and enduro's Richie Rude.

Rachel Atherton's unprecedented winning streak began way back in 2015 after she placed second behind Emmeline Ragot at the World Cup season opener at Lourdes, France. From that point onward, the women's World Cup downhill series was a one-woman show. Riding for GT/Atherton Racing, Rachel won the remaining six World Cups and capped 2015 with gold at the World Championships.

Rachel and Atherton Racing then switched to Trek for the 2016 season, where she managed a clean sweep of all seven World Cup DH races and once again, rallied on to win the World Championships. That's fifteen in a row - on every type of race course and in every conceivable weather condition. Oh, and while she was on holiday from the World Cups, Rachel also bagged the 2015 and 2016 British National DH Champs.
Tip of the hat to 4 gold medals and the perfect season. Congratulations to the unstoppable Rachel Atherton from all Pinkbike
Nathan Hughes photo

Bronze in 2008 and silver in 2012, Swiss phenom Nino Schurter put the Olympic gold medal in his cross-hairs at the outset of the 2016 World Cup cross-country season and did not flinch. As a warm up, Schurter won three out of six World Cups, bagged second overall in the series, and then won the World Championship XC in Nové Mêsto (his sixth). When he finally pulled the trigger at the start line of the Olympic XC in Rio de Janiero, he left no question about who was going to cross the line first.

Nino didn't win the Olympic cross-country event - he owned it. He danced across the boulders. He threw shapes over the jumps. He rode a real mountain bike, and he showed the world why we love this sport.

If you wondered why promoters put teeth back into their race courses, and why cross country suddenly became a must-watch event - you are looking at him, right here.
The Hunt for glory in the finish
Michal Cerveny photo

Until Richie Rude, the Enduro World Series was a pension plan for active elders who had recently retired from pro downhill racing. Like most of enduro's brightest lights, the 2013 Junior DH World Champion also transitioned from the World Cup gravity circuit - but at a much younger age. Richie had the skills, but few believed the 200-pound Yeti rider could get up to speed in a venue that favored leaner men.

So, Richie taught himself how to pedal, and in 2015, he earned his first EWS victory at Samoens, France, in a battle against the legendary Nico Vouilloz that came down to a final-stage shootout. Richie's long-awaited win set him on fire. He stormed to the overall title that year and came out swinging in 2016, dominating the first two races in South America, and then shrugged off a mid-season shoulder injury to earn his second EWS Series title. At only 21 years old, Richie's best years lie ahead. Be afraid.
When you flat and finish 70th on stage two losing 22 seconds to your closest rival in the race and then come back to finish third overall... Just 4.6 seconds back.
Dave Trumpore photo

Three famous athletes, nominated from three different disciplines. It is often said that "It's the rider, not the bike, that matters." If that holds true, then "Athlete of the Year" is arguably the most prestigious of Pinkbike's awards. We will soon be releasing our year-end winners. In the meantime, the comment section is ripe, and we would love to hear your take on the top athlete of 2016. - RC

Click here for information about the judging and selection criteria for Pinkbike's Year-End Awards

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Member since Jul 22, 2013
3,441 articles

  • 245 36
 Where is Danny Hart?
  • 304 29
 Dunno, check his instagram. Probably in UK #feelinlikebeingadick2day
  • 26 57
flag fantaman (Nov 16, 2016 at 0:46) (Below Threshold)
  • 22 10
 @WAKIdesigns: I feel we could be more specific than country here. I mean, right now, at the time of writing, I'd guess he is sitting at his kitchen table eating a bowl of Sugarpuffs?
  • 16 107
flag kpilar (Nov 16, 2016 at 0:55) (Below Threshold)
 hmmmm all fox or manitou riders...interesting
  • 79 2
 @kpilar: you're a statistical genius!
  • 38 14
 @kpilar: yes it's this time of the year - "Pinkbike got paid conspiracies". Goes well with the idea that reptilians from Nibiru killed Kennedy, 9-11 was an inside job, we ever landed on the moon because Earth is flat (and hollow) anyways
  • 57 1
 @kpilar: Nino rides DT Swiss. I don't think anyone has ever accused PB of having a love affair with DT Swiss suspension products.
  • 20 0
 He doesn't care about a PB award - he as the W Champs medal!
  • 48 10
 @kpilar f*ck u dude
  • 37 7
 Yea @kpilar f*ck that @WAKIdesigns guy!
  • 13 13
 @WAKIdesigns: i expected better #jokestealer
  • 38 10
 @kpilar: i expected better #jokestealer
  • 2 1
 Very good point! !!! Bad slip PB!!!
  • 10 5
 @WAKIdesigns: The US election was rigged for Hillary.......oh wait.
  • 8 5
 Rude for the win
  • 6 5
 @WAKIdesigns: SASSY!! 100% Sass today, huh, Waki? you muppet
  • 1 18
flag chyu (Nov 16, 2016 at 6:39) (Below Threshold)
 Editor willing to sacrifice Danny and Brandon for Rachel.
  • 12 4
 Would have loved to see Jenny Rissveds on the list, this year she proved herself as one of the world's best athletes, and at such a young age, too!
  • 1 3
 @kpilar: Waki must be so chapped today.
  • 6 16
flag pigit77 (Nov 16, 2016 at 8:11) (Below Threshold)
 where is Donald trump? He went against all odds and beat the "rigged system" he showed real sportsmanship and showed great strength and resilience. bahahahahaa
  • 32 3
 Can we keep religion and Donald Trump away from a bike site? please note that football/soccer and any other stupid mass phenomena for crowd following idiots, also qualifies as a religion. Thank you and may science bless you
  • 4 6
 @WAKIdesigns: you make me wet troller boi
  • 31 2
 @kpilar: Yes! I am planning to work with @Maxxis to develop my signature tyres High Troller and Minion DNF
  • 3 2
 He was nominated for come back athlete.
  • 2 0
 @GH29orBust: @GH29orBust: It was amazing to watch her win Gold in the Elite field after being barred from competing in the elite field in world champs due to her age.
  • 3 2
 @WAKIdesigns: Llamas eat sexy paper clips
  • 134 8
 If a dude was undefeated would it even be questioned?
  • 20 3
 I think that depends on how many people were in it
  • 50 10
 No it wouldn't, but you also have to consider how much more dominant female athletes tend to be in mountain biking compared to male athletes. I don't know exactly why, but successful women in mountain biking, when on form, tend to completely demolish the competition. You only have to look at ACC, Tracy Moseley, or more recently, Cecile Ravanel to see my point. Rachel's success is hugely impressive, and it's hard not to argue that she is the best female mountain biker we have ever seen. However, it's just not realistic to compare her success to a male racer winning that many world cups in a row, because the turnover rate for success is much higher in men's racing.
  • 32 10
 There's nothing better than a dude being butthurt because women get special treatment because they are women. That's a meta white knighthood. You are a black knight. You want men to respect you for fighting for their gender rights.
  • 25 4
 @LavenderGooms: yea we can just forget about when Gwin was winning every race by 5+ seconds
  • 15 2
 @toad321: He never won every race in a season though. Performing at that level was a win or crash/puncture/mechanical situation, those performances were right on the edge of what was possible, he was always being pushed by the rest of the field to give 100%. Rachel is so dominant right now that she can give 95% and still win by 10 seconds,allowing her to win every race with that bit more reliability. I am not trying to take anything away from her, that level of dominance doesn't come by accident, it comes through years of hard work and dedication as well as the most professional race setup and discipline at every race weekend.
  • 8 1
 I think there is no question about it, but saying "Rachel won the athlete of the year price everybody go home" means less views and less comments for pinkbike.
  • 10 5
 @Patrick9-32: and riding with your brothers
  • 22 7
 @Patrick9-32: have you ever heard of Ms Seagrave? Because no, Rachel is absolutely not 5sec away and giving only 95%. She's like the others: working hard and giving everything every races. Her perfect season is a team win and luck has it's part, so it may never happen again.
That's why Rachel is my athlete of the year
  • 4 1
 @fracasnoxteam: Seagrave has been getting closer for sure but look at the times over the win streak. Atherton's average winning margin was probably somewhere between 5 and 10 seconds (I have not done the maths) but during her runs she doesn't look like she is on the ragged edge, pushing for every microsecond, she is hitting her lines calmly, smoothly and with precision, she isn't just pulling a string of wins out of the bag with luck and "death or glory" lines, she is simply a better rider than the rest of the women's DH field right now. Not getting punctures or other mechanicals definitely requires luck but it is a level of domination which we haven't seen (and probably won't ever see again) in the modern DH era in either men or women. Attributing it to luck is taking away the calculation and restraint it requires on race day to not push to the absolute limit and risk something happening.
  • 11 1
 Rachel's talent and dedication are undeniable, but I think @jaame is on to something. Choosing a race from last year at random--Vallnord--there were 162 people in the elite men's class and 26 in the elite women's. If you randomly benched 5 out of every 6 competitor's in the men's field, the gaps between first place and everyone else would get a lot bigger and it would be that much easier for someone to keep winning all season. Not to say Rachel didn't have to give it 100% all year, because she clearly did--but with the amount of competition in the men's field, I don't think that kind of consistent success is even possible.
  • 3 13
flag JoseBravo (Nov 16, 2016 at 8:37) (Below Threshold)
 @ryetoast: if Rachel doesn't win she needs to get a dick transplant and compete against the boys.
  • 7 6
 No because the men's field is much harder to master than the women's because the racers are much closer in skill level so the racing is tighter. In the men's field any mistake knocks you off the podium. Rachel had several runs this year where she said she was getting lazy and making mistakes and still won. The men's field is higher stakes and thus more impressive to dominate. Cue the butt hurt women.
  • 10 4
 @poozank: all I see here is butthurt men. The problem is that we are actually talking about this sht. It is called building an altar to stupidity. if people weren't talking about flat earth, chemtrails, reptilians or other bollocks, those fkng idiots would have a fraction of the audience they have.
  • 4 1
 @poozank: My butt feels fine but thanks for your concern!
  • 6 0
 @WAKIdesigns: It's not a conspiracy that the men's field makes for closer racing and if a large number of people didn't feel that way we wouldn't see this conversation on a regular basis and yet here we are for the 10th time in the past few months.
  • 2 0
 Not this again
  • 109 15
 she only had been nominated because of her brother... lol
  • 13 7
 Comment of the day!
  • 69 18
 Rachel for sure!
  • 21 10
 Yep, Atherton by a mile. Sheer dominance of the sport. Mega.
  • 47 4
 Gwin 1st season with a new team and a bike many said to be "not world cup proven"? Hart comeback? Semenuk mind blowing videos and Rampage? Mcaskill? Way too many great athletes to take only 3 " above" them.. I feel like this also with the other pinkbike awards to be honest, but with people it's even more noticeable
  • 13 4
 I feel all of the athletes you mentioned achieved more than rude but I guess they feel they have to have an enduro person. Rude won the overall, and so did gwin in a much more challenging fashion. In fact the more I think about it the stranger it gets. Rachel and Nino absolutely make sense
  • 32 3
 Semenuk is not an athlete because.... He's not human #iwanttobelieve
  • 2 1
 the bike wasnt world cup proven though. Its is now though :-)
  • 35 5
 Steve Smith - RIP
  • 4 2
 RIP chainsaw
  • 32 7
 Of course it should be Rachel. Undefeated? That's a lock in my opinion.
  • 2 0
 Absolutely. There should really be no question about it. What more could she possibly do to prove that she's the best, regardless of gender?
  • 1 0
 @ldhbaker: she could break her arm or something so it levels the playing field a little.
  • 28 7
 How can it not be Rachel Atherton?? Unbelievable achievement!
  • 14 29
flag jclnv (Nov 16, 2016 at 8:29) (Below Threshold)
 Because Nino and his level of competition makes Rachel's look like a joke.
  • 5 2
 @jclnv: i think theres a strong chance you may have had Veet in your eyes for the entire 2016 DH season...........
; )
  • 4 2
 @Schcotti: The girl in 15th in a WC DH will be barely quicker than a Whistler BP ripper girl. The guy in 30th in Nino's races will rip the legs off your fastest local racer.

Not even comparable.
  • 2 2
 @jclnv: your point being?

The last time i checked this wasn't Whistler BP Athelete of the year.


Whats more difficult xc or dh.

What it was though, was an award for athelete achievement. Which in this case, i cannot see (regardless of Whistler ripper girls) anyone's achievements more outstanding than Rachels.
  • 4 3
 @Schcotti: Nino won literally every race he entered, including the World Champs and the Olympics, against 70 other elite racers. He was utterly dominant in a type of racing that is far harder to remain dominant in over the course of a season.

Rachel beat maybe 10 good riders at every race. She's obviously the best but the level is piss weak. If you don't take that into consideration then voting for anyone is pointless.
  • 2 1
 @jclnv: I agree but it is like banging your head against the wall on this website - there should be 2 separate categories for men and women. It is a really stupid award as they are promoting it - best athlete in any sport should come from the highest level of competition and as good as Rachel is she is way behind even the Junior boys. Then we could have a proper debate between XC, DH, Enduro and Freestyle etc of both genders.
  • 1 0
I fully recognise, and respect Nino, but sexism - and the genetic limitations created by gender aside, Rachels achievement is fundamentally ever so slightly superior within her elite field.
From a PB point of view there is a definite lean towards DH over XC though, which makes Ninos case a little harder to value - we simply don't get enough insight into him & his achievements as an athelete.....or i'm not paying attention....one of the two.
I think 2 gender categories would is a solid idea though.
  • 26 8
 Rachel hands down!
  • 11 1
 Rachel Atherton should get this. Nino and Richie are awesome, but Rachel is an undefeated champ on tracks that the majority of us would piss our pants on. Not even a single mistake spells perfection. That includes the small things like: flats, technicals, line choices.... I vote Rachel.
  • 11 2
 Semenuk should be in there for sure. Danny had an epic season, so did Gwin. But you cannot go past the resilience, skill and strength of Richie, what a rider! Huge up to Rach for another epic season, she is an inspiring athlete.
  • 18 5
 Rachel has done something HISTORICALLY UNPRECEDENTED
  • 14 5
 Who in this list went undefeated for an entire season and stepped up and smashed worlds! Sorry boys but this year no one can compete with Rach's domination! Has to be Atherton!
  • 12 1
 Nino because he whips xc bikes.
  • 9 2
 Rachel hands down. She has been undefeated for almost two straight seasons and the factor that makes her able to do that over other riders is her skill and her skill alone. Training, practice, mental prep and the focus to deliver on race day rarely align to deliver a win for elite athletes, Rachel does this consistently, more consistently than any pro rider has in the history of the sport. That's how she is so dominant and makes it look easy at the same time.
  • 14 5
 Rachel Atherton!!!
World Cup Sweep..AND Worlds..Never been done and may never be done again..=AOTY!!!!
  • 5 0
 As for the XC side, Nino wasn't a surprise, we all knew he was the man to beat. But Jenny Rissveds on the other hand was a surprise! She won the Olympics and had an incredible season in the elite even though she is still U23. But I guess she has time at her side to dominate even more
  • 17 9
 Donald Trumps 'come from behind" win should have seen him nominated.
  • 6 11
flag stumpymidget (Nov 16, 2016 at 7:50) (Below Threshold)
 It should have seen him shot.
  • 10 4
 @stumpymidget: easy there turbo
  • 20 13
 there should be a male and female category!!!
  • 19 14
 No there shouldn't...
  • 5 13
flag jaame (Nov 16, 2016 at 0:24) (Below Threshold)
 @StupidFastRebound: That would be totally sexist
  • 8 7
 Or at least the equal number of male and female candidates, if there are three nominees.
  • 8 2
 @karoliusz: there could be one male, one female and one x.
  • 3 0
 When I opened this article up and saw Rachel, I was like, "Yeah, great choice!"

Then I scrolled down and saw Schurter, and I was like, "Ooh yeah! Now it's a tough one."

Undefeated on the World Cup circuit vs. World and Olympic Champion... Definitely not an easy decision to make. Good luck, PinkBike!
  • 6 0
 What about Paul Bas? He was paralyzed from the chest down, and is now riding a MTB again. Paul is a savage!
  • 7 0
 Nino, because he has made XC watchable again, the man has skills.......
  • 4 0
 Champions come and go... But Nino made XC cool again...

How many gravity riders would plunge into a rock garden on a skimpy lightweight bike weary nothing but tights and still climb hills like a machine?

He is a beast.
  • 14 7
 Rachel definitely
  • 11 5
 It has to be Rachel. Just the pure domination.
  • 8 2
 Rachel Atherton hands down is the rider of the year!!!!!!!!!
  • 3 0
 Thanks to NBC's stranglehold on coverage, I couldn't watch the Olympics MTB race. I cut the cable TV cord long ago and not going back Smile Is there a DVD/etc. available? Would love to see the full men's race.
  • 6 0
 Not to be Douchy but clearly Trailforks is the Athlete of the Year!
  • 8 7
 It is so hard for any of us to quantify the achievements of any of these athletes. Am I voting for who I like the most or who is the best Athlete?
If it's who I like the most then sadly it is none of the above. I do like them all but if you put Ratboy in there or Minaar then I would be voting for them.
For sheer Athletic dominance of the sport I will say Rachel.
  • 1 2
 Best athlete. There is no indication here that it's a category for who you like the most.
  • 6 1
 Two words: Atherton Undefeated.
  • 4 1
 Am I the only one who thinks Finn Isles should be in the mix too? Overall champ and World Champ after almost breaking his neck two days before race day? #smh
  • 2 1
 Yes these are all great racers. They compete in different categories, I don't see the point in comparing them for some website award when they've already won awards that made sense.

But this year my mind isn't on the riders who've done well in their category. For some reason it seems overshadowed by the riders who've left racing or left the scene entirely. McGazza, Zarja, Mirra, Stevie, I'm sure I must have forgot some. And then some of the most iconic racers have left full time racing, ACC, Peaty and Vouilloz.These have been legends for decades, left this year. (I suppose Barel and Mosely left earlier right, I'm a bit lost there.) Has there been any other year in which something like this all happened?

Allright they, Rachels performance is amazing. Alongside what she's been doing for female racing in the UK (sponsoring, coaching etc). Then again I just simply haven't given the others enough attention to fully appreciate what they've done.
  • 1 0
 The only ones that belong on this list are slope/DJ, big mountain & street/trials riders, the rest are riffraff. I know ya wanna make racing something that matters again, but it don't. it jus' don't. Not 'dat much. Say'n?
  • 8 6
 I cant knock any of the nominees but also cant believe Danny Hart is not there, surely this is a special case where 4 nominees are needed
  • 7 1
 Already competing in come-back of the year
  • 7 2
 Nino for sure
  • 3 0
 Congrats Richie, we are all proud of your achievements. Can't wait to see what the future holds for you.
  • 9 6
 Nino is the best XC racer of all time. Rachel has to race 5 other women. It's not even close.
  • 5 7
 Nino is on the list because of 1 race this season. Rachel because of every race.
  • 3 0
 @leopaul: What are you on about? Nino won all but one race I saw him enter and that was because of a flat. There are 70 other riders in Nino's races...

It's another world.
  • 3 0
 I agree with the PB choices, but would add Cecile Ravenel. Stellar season from her!
  • 3 0
 Without a doubt Rachel has done something that will be hard to recreate for a long time!
  • 6 4
 Sam Hill?...... I have to say Rachel Atherton. How do you not give it to the most dominant woman.
  • 13 26
flag its-joe-44 (Nov 16, 2016 at 6:29) (Below Threshold)
 Because the womens field is trash and she is annoying as fuck.
  • 10 0
 @its-joe: Well aren't you a ray of sunshine
  • 3 2
 SEMENUK! He puts the biggest progression into the sport so far so he should be a winner, there aren't many racers that did so much to push the boundaries of MTB.
  • 5 1
  • 5 2
 If its not Rach, I quit everything
  • 4 1
 I'm voting for Rachel but only because of her brothers
  • 4 0
 Dick Rude!!
  • 2 0
 Nicholi should have been nominated. He landed a first ever and won the world FMB.
  • 3 0
 That's a tough call, but I'm going with Rachel.
  • 1 0
 Rachel all day, you just don't dominate like that unless you're some sort of goddess. Also the second guy wears Lycra. Never heard of enduro, what's that?
  • 1 0
 Where are the slopestyle awards??? They are out there risking themselves for others entertainment and so Pink bike can make videos, and we get awards for roadies.
  • 9 11
 Rachel probs had the best season, and is the best athlete. She is just a bit boring to watch because she is just so far above everyone else. So I'm going to go for Richy, plus it looks more like he does it for fun over results.
  • 7 4
 So you are saying she's the best athlete so you'll vote for someone else? It's best, not most popular, athlete!
  • 1 0
 Rachel is in a class of her own. Not her fault the other women can't hang with her. No doubt she deserves it.
  • 2 0
 Nino wins because it's an Olympic year and he won the gold!
  • 10 9
 Rachel should get it for the next ten years tbh
  • 3 3
 Where's Semenuk, I thought he had a pretty super year. He won a few comps and came out with a banger edit to boot.
  • 7 5
 Has to be Rachel.
  • 8 6
 Rachel FTW.
  • 2 0
 Rude for the win!
  • 2 0
  • 3 2
 Richie deserves the win. You can't dominate that much and not win...
  • 2 3
 Ummm, Rachel?
  • 1 0
 No cecile ravanel? Wtf? She totally dominated.
  • 1 0
 i should be there as the funniest crash.. ouch
  • 1 0
 Ruuuuuuuude!!!!!!! For sure!!!!
  • 1 0
 Anyone else want to see Richie and Yeti back in DH racing as bad as I do?
  • 1 0
 where's jason english? The multiple 24hr solo world champ
  • 1 0
 All three seriously deserve it
  • 4 3
  • 4 3
 Dany is A hero
  • 2 1
  • 4 3
 Rachel, no question
  • 3 3
 Rachel... if she were a roadie she would be 'Dame Rachel Atherton' by now.
  • 2 2
 Rachel because perfect saison !
  • 1 1
 Hart and Gwin should be there. but 100% Atherton. purely dominant.
  • 1 1
 Lets see if Rachel can continue with her undefeated streak!
  • 1 0
 Nino !!!! #huntforglory
  • 1 1
 Although they all deserve it ... GO RACHEL ! She wrote history !
  • 1 0
  • 4 4
 Rachel, of course.
  • 3 3
 Rachel. Next.
  • 8 9
  • 4 2
 I hear you, big fan of the Rat, he fell off in a big way. Seems like after the string of injuries his head wasn't In the right place. Here's hoping a he'll take a year to refocus and get back in the zone, and come back smashing berms faster than ever for 2018.
  • 1 0
 @Mojo348: Dude - he quit the UCI jet fuel circus. He's a different kinda bloke and good for him.
  • 6 9
 Nino kicks Raches ass shes only good because of her dad xx
  • 1 5
flag EastCoastDHer (Nov 16, 2016 at 8:56) (Below Threshold)
 You idiot, she's good because she trains her butt off. Last I checked I never saw her dad racing in her kit. Grow up.
  • 1 0
 @EastCoastDHer: hahahahahaha they all work there butt of but only rach has rachs Dad
  • 2 5
 Think, a women shoud get this award
  • 2 5
 Atherton. 15 wins in a row, nuff said.
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