Comeback of the Year Nominees
Whether you're a weekend warrior or a professional athlete, there's no two ways about it - it sucks to have to take time off the bike. Watching from the sidelines as your friends and fellow competitors get stronger and faster, while you sit in the hospital or physio's office wishing you'd done things differently. This year, it seemed like we had a major injury to report on every week. Rachel Atherton, Yoann Barelli, Cecile Ravanel, Damien Oton, Annika Langvad, Tahnee Seagrave, Aaron Gwin, and Brook Macdonald are just a few of the riders who found their seasons cut short due to injury, but the full list is even more extensive.
While we hope to write comeback stories about each and every one of these athletes next year, here are a few riders whose grit and tenacity landed them on the podium this year despite having major setbacks before or during the 2019 race season. The list includes World Champions Myriam Nicole and Pauline Ferrand-Prevot, World Cup winners Lars Forster and Jenny Rissveds and Enduro World Series medallist Adrien Dailly.
Last year's winner was Emil Johansson, finishing 4th at Red Bull Joyride after ten months of the bike due to a congenital 6th lumbar vertebrae defect combined with an auto-immune disease that slowed down his ability to recover and rehab from his back injury. Who will it be this year?
Why she's nominated
For two years in a row, Myriam Nicole has been nominated for Comeback of the Year. Last year, she came back to claim third in the overall despite a massive crash in practice at Val di Sole that had her helicoptered off the mountain and missing a round of the World Cup. This year, she had even worse luck, not even being able to make it to the first round after a training accident in April that left her with a horrific foot injury. She ended up being off the bike for four months and missing seven rounds of the World Cup circuit.
It seemed unlikely that this would be the year she would finally win World Championships, but she headed to Mont-Sainte-Anne to compete regardless. Against all odds, starting with over a dozen riders still to go, she put down a time that couldn't be beat. She finished just over a second ahead of Tahnee Seagrave, who was also coming back from an injury of her own. On a track that is known for is brutality and despite the pain in her ankle that caused her to limp as soon as she got off her bike, she made an amazing comeback, winning the World Championships stripes. Further adding to the perfect comeback, she took second at the World Cup final in Snowshoe, West Virginia, the following weekend.
Why she's nominated
Jenny Rissveds won her first Elite World Cup in 2016 at the age of 22, shortly after winning the U23 World Championships. Later that year, she became the Olympic Champion. Since then, it has not been smooth sailing for her, however. She suffered from severe depression and an eating disorder in 2017 and had no option but step away from the sport and her Scott-SRAM team to focus on recovery.
It was two years before she was able to take the start line of a major cross-country event again, with her new Team 31. Just being able to make it to the start line was a victory in itself. She said before the start of the season that she wanted to be less focused on social media likes and results and use her racing to inspire children to stay active. It was anyone's guess as to how she would do in the race.
Start position is incredibly important in cross-country races, and yet even after missing Albstadt due to illness, Jenny was able to make her way to the front of the field from the very back, podiuming in Andorra and Val di Sole, before taking the win in Lenzerheide, Switzerland in August. From the highest highs to the lowest lows, and back to the top. An astonishing comeback from the Swedish rider.
Why he's nominated
Adrien Dailly won almost every U21 EWS race he entered and continued his winning ways with three podiums in his first year in the Pro ranks. Then, in June 2018, after the third round of the Enduro World Series, he broke his elbow on the notoriously unforgiving trails around Peille in France.
After eight tough months and many surgeries, he finally got back on his bike in March, just in time for Rotorua. However, the comeback wasn't to be. Heading into the race weekend, he crashed on his elbow again. He was able to suffer through EWS Rotorua, but finished 56th. The following weekend, he finished 13th at EWS Tasmania. Over a year after his initial injury, Dailly made it back to the podium in Les Orres, France. Despite another crash that required stitches on his poor elbow in Madeira, he ended up finishing in the top 6 in five rounds this year. An impressive comeback indeed.
Why he's nominated
After the duo won the Absa Cape Epic, it looked like Lars Forster was going to give his Scott-SRAM teammate Nino Schurter a run for his money at the first round of the World Cup in Albstadt. Forster came second in the short track and was leading the cross-country race when he first slid out on the grassy turns before the tech zone. That was followed by an alarming second crash on the single track section
before a final, race-ending crash came in the woods.
A concussion and a bone bruise meant Forster had to sit out the Nove Mesto round. He was back to racing at Vallnord but obviously not in the form that he showed at the first round, taking 29th. He progressed slowly throughout the season before his ultimate comeback at Snowshoe in West Virginia. Forster made his move in the final lap and shot ahead of Schurter for a dramatic win.
Why she's nominated
In 2014 and 2015, Pauline Ferrand-Prevot was a threat in every cycling race she entered, no matter the discipline. In 2015, she did what no rider had done before, holding World Champion titles in road, cyclocross and mountain bike disciplines at the same time. 2016 through 2018 saw her land on the podium several times, but it wasn't with the consistency of earlier years.
In December, the French rider revealed that the inconsistent results were due to leg pain and that after frustrating years where she didn't know what was wrong, she was diagnosed with iliac artery endofibrosis. The painful condition was affecting the blood flow to both of her legs and required surgery. Ferrand-Prevot wasn't able to ride for months.
She started the season off with a 42nd place in Albstadt, before progressing to 9th place in the next round a week later. After a 12th place in Vallnord, she didn't finish further down than fifth, winning the Val di Sole and Snowshoe World Cups as well as the World Championships, and sealing third in the overall standings. A comeback four years in the making.
With fairy tale returns from the lowest lows, Nicole, Rissveds, Dailly, Forster, and Ferrand-Prevot all showed true heart and determination in 2019. Which one are you most impressed by?