What a year of racing we've had in 2019. As the riding and coverage continue to improve, the events just become more compulsive viewing each year. The only downside is that we spend so much time watching racing, it starts to eat into our riding time!
This year was the first time we've had more than one XC athlete nominated as both Kate Courtney and Mathieu Van Der Poel got nods. We've not changed our criteria, but XC has continued to grow as a discipline - courses are no longer velodromes where you have to steer around the rocks, but real trails with brutal climbs and technical descents. If you want proof, just watch Levy's recent Humbled video with Nino Schurter to see the level these riders are at.
That's not to say we've forgotten about the gravity side of things either. Courdurier delivered a perfect run of 8 victories in a championship-winning season that she's been threatening for so long, while Loic Bruni emerged victorious from a titanic duel with his countryman and friend Amaury Pierron to claim his maiden World Cup overall win and becoming the first man to do the double since Sam Hill in 2007.
So four very worthy contenders, but who triumphed and claimed the top prize?
ATHLETE OF THE YEAR
It would have been all too easy to fall at the last hurdle, but Bruni held it all together and emerged as champion.
It's said that championships are won on your worst days, not your best. When Loic was in his groove this year he was simply untouchable - take a look at Vallnord where he found 3 seconds on the entire field in the first sector alone despite most people writing it off as a place where practically no time could be gained. Contrast that with his final race run of the season, far from his usual smooth and clinical self, this was scrappy, off line and wild.
It was the run of a man who was feeling the mental and physical toll on his body after a season of intense scrutiny. Crucially though, it was fast. It would have been all too easy to fall at the last hurdle, but Bruni held it all together and emerged as champion. Loic's struggle to the title made the World Cups compulsive viewing this year and the final in Snowshoe will probably go down as one of the greatest in history.
Bruni has come of age this year and found the consistency that has been missing from his arsenal since he moved up to elites. He is the first man to win the double since Sam Hill in 2007 and only the second man ever to win 4 World Championship titles. At 25 years of age, there's still plenty more to come.