2020 Pinkbike Awards: Athlete of the Year Nominees

Dec 16, 2020
by James Smurthwaite  

Athlete of the Year Nominees

After we described 2019 as one of the best years for racing ever, 2020 probably takes the title for the most fascinating. The year started so regularly with Crankworx Rotorua in its usual slot as the season kick-off, however that was the last bit of normality we would experience. There were many points when it looked like we wouldn't have any racing at all but in the face of extraordinary odds, race organisers put their reputations and livelihoods on the line to put on the best shows they could. And what shows they turned out to be! All credit goes to anyone who put on a race this year in extraordinary circumstances.

The athletes themselves faced hardships too. How could they stay motivated with no racing confirmed in the near future? How do you train and time your fitness peak with no clue when you may have to use it? How do you adapt to new rules and regulations on the fly, sometimes in the middle of a race weekend? How many COVID test invasions can your nose take in one month? Despite it all, the athletes delivered and racing this year was as exciting as ever. Here are the athletes that left us awestruck in 2020.

Why she's nominated

After finding her feet and coming so close to the overall title in 2019, 2020 was set up for Marine Cabirou to kick on and dominate. Despite a shoulder injury at team camp in July, her pre-season form was good and her first race saw her claim a silver medal at the French Championships. However, she felt unable to recover and then received the news every athlete dreaded in 2020 - a positive COVID test.

Cabirou announced the news just over a month before the World Championships, meaning she would be unable to train at a crucial time and faced the prospect of lung damage or worse. Thankfully, she made a full recovery and was back between the tapes in Leogang in October. That race didn't go to plan for the young Frenchwoman, but when the World Cup season kicked off, she really got into gear.

Cabirou earned a win in both Maribor and Lousa and finished second in the races she didn't win, taking the overall by 50 points from Myriam Nicole at the end of the year. If there were question marks over the strength of the field during her 2019 breakout performances, they could now be dismissed. Cabirou faced down established champions Seagrave and Nicole while also battling off the younger up-and-comers such as Hoffmann, Balanche and Farina, and truly earned her title as champion.
Marine Cabirou had the fitness and finesse to take win on this tough track and with that the overall title.

Why he's nominated

Before this year, Tom Pidcock had never competed in an international level mountain bike race and would be pretty much unknown to most race fans unless you were an avid follower of cyclocross. There are no excuses for not knowing him now though as he took the Under 23 races by storm and, we think, could have seriously troubled the elite ranks too given the chance.

Pidcock came into the season fully admitting that he didn't really know what he was doing but what he lacked in technical nous and racecraft, he made up for in raw power and ability. In Nove Mesto's first race, he started from the back row of the grid and battled past the field to win by more than 20 seconds and then followed that up by winning by more than a minute in race 2. He recorded lap times that were faster than the fastest Elite men and marked himself out as clear favourite for the coming World Championshsips.

True to form, he won his Under 23 Rainbow Stripes at a canter but, more than that, earned himself a second Rainbow Jersey in the eMTB XC race too. If he was a country, he would have finished second in the medal table, with only France ahead of him.
By the mid point Pidcock had made his way through most and was closing in on the leaders.

Unfortunately, Tom's mountain biking talents may not be something we see again for a while. Not only is he successful on dirt, but he also has huge potential on the road where he won the Under 23 Giro D'Italia this year and was subsequently snapped up by Team Ineos. It's not currently clear if we'll see him ride mountain bikes again in the near future but it has been a privilege to do so in this COVID year.

Why she's nominated
We've never nominated any Under 23 XC athletes before but in this topsy turvy year, she's a second young XC rider that shot to the top of the sport in 2020.

Loana decided to move up to the elite ranks two years early and made an impact in her first-ever race, taking 3rd in the short track and then taking the win at the full distance after a race-long battle with Pauline Ferrand Prevot and Anne Terpstra. She rounded off her week in Nove Mesto with another brace of podiums in the second round. At the World Championships, Lecomte was placed back in her age group and was predictably dominant, taking the win by more than a minute.

Loana Lecomte is only 21 years old so technically has two more seasons in the Under 23 ranks, but we doubt we'll be seeing her race there very much as she continues to show the elite ranks that she's the next superstar of women's XC.
Loana Lecomte tires to shake off Pauline Ferrand Prevot through the rock garden.

Why he's nominated
His hometown glory at Whistler in 2017 aside, Jesse Melamed has always been one of the fastest riders on the Enduro World Series circuit but he frequently lacked the consistency to turn that into race wins. Well, consider that issue put to bed.

Melamed got more racing in than most this year as he started his season at the Crankworx Summer Series where he was even beating Finn Iles in downhill races (although, in the interest of balance, Finn also beat Jesse in enduro races). This proved a great warm-up for his race season and he was able to hit the ground running in Zermatt. It was a wild weekend with weather throwing the schedule up in the air, but Jesse battled through to take his second ever EWS win in the truncated race.

He backed it up at the most famous enduro venue of all in Finale Ligure. The list of winners here is a roll call of the greatest enduro racers ever and Melamed can now comfortably include his name in that list. There wasn't an Enduro World Series overall this year but if there was, Melamed would have won it by a healthy 200 points.
Jesse Melamed took control on stage one and never looked back.

Why he's nominated
Matt Walker won the 2020 World Cup overall in the most Matt Walker way possible - he kept his head down, avoided the spotlight and let his hard work and talent do the talking on the track. Matt is never showy and often gets overlooked in favour of his more flamboyant peers, but you can't deny the British rider's pace and ability when the blips start ringing in the start gate.

From his junior days, his two-year battle with Finn Iles prepared him well for the fierce competition in the elite ranks and he emerged from that period with a Junior World Championships and a clutch of race wins. His first World Cup top ten took just two races to achieve and his first podium followed a year later. He's still hunting for the elusive win but that didn't matter this year.

2020's truncated blitz of races proved too intense for some racers but it was relentless consistency that carried Walker through. Four races meant four podiums for Walker and he was the only rider to do so, adapting to the new normal arguably better than anyone. A thoroughly deserving World Cup champion.
Impressive one from Matt Walker. He almost had it until the G.O.A.T. was unleashed from the pen.

Honorable Mentions

Thibaut Daprela

Not only did Daprela have to adapt to the COVID world but he was also thrust into the elite ranks for the first time too. He rose to the challenge with aplomb. His run at the World Champs was looser than a flat Earther's grip on reality and it landed him 11th. Following that up at his first World Cup, he became the first-ever graduating junior to grab a podium in their first race with a third and didn't leave the top ten for the rest of the year, ending up fifth in the world in his very first elite season.
Thibaut Daprela was three back and only half a second off of the podium.

Greg Minnaar

The GOAT only got GOATier this year and proved that old saying once again - "You can never write off Greg Minnaar". At a brand new track, racing on the verge of winter, he showed the young dogs some old tricks, turned back the clock and came away with 1st and 2nd in the two races. He extended his own records for being the oldest World Cup winner, the oldest rider ever on a World Cup podium and, of course, the big one, with win number 22 taking him a bit further out of Gwin's reach. Legend.
Greg Minnaar looking for grip during practice making mental notes of where he can push a little harder without too much consequence.

Melanie Pugin

With or without a motor, this year Melanie Pugin proved she is one of the women to beat on an enduro bike. On her eMTB, Pugin won the opening round of the E-EWS in Zermatt and then backed it up in Leogang as she was crowned the eMTB XC World Champion too. Under her own steam, Pugin proved peerless in Pietra and was second only to Morgane Charre in Finale Ligure despite winning two stages. We expect we'll be seeing plenty more of Pugin in the future.
Melanie Pugin too the win here in Pietra today.

Author Info:
jamessmurthwaite avatar

Member since Nov 14, 2018
1,770 articles

  • 144 3
 Is there gonna be a comeback athelete category? Cuz where's Bulldog?
  • 28 0
 There typically is a Comeback Athlete Award. Since Bulldog's comeback has been mind blowing and almost inconceivable, he should be a shoe in.
  • 4 0
 Yeah I would agree with the comeback of the year for Bulldog. What he overcame was just absolutely amazing.
  • 1 1
 @rockyflowtbay: give him both.
  • 2 0
 Agree with you. Though MacDuff would also make a great nominee in comeback of the year. Also Semenuk keeps on dropping mindblowing edits, hopefully he gets recognized in another category.
  • 87 3
 Why is (insert name) not nominated??????????
  • 68 3
 Brendog was robbed!
  • 14 5
 @chris-brown225: this is not the YouTube award Smile =>
  • 10 18
flag stefan24 (Dec 16, 2020 at 2:16) (Below Threshold)
 The pointless jumping over a house in a pandemic award goes to...
  • 12 7
 Also I'm getting some mixed signals on whether Lecomte is male or female...


We've never nominated any Under 23 XC athletes before but in this topsy turvy year, he's a second young XC rider that shot to the top of the sport in 2020."
  • 12 0
 Loris? most DH wins of this short year.
  • 3 0
 (Insert Name) is one of my favorite riders to watch! Where does all that style come from? They're a complete enigma in a world full of more recognizable big name athletes.
  • 3 2
 where dem Gwin fanboys at
  • 1 0
 @stefan24: pointless?
  • 1 0
 @chris-brown225: Norbs got robbed!!
  • 39 1
 Brook McDonald !! against the odds surly
  • 36 0
 Minnaar should've been a nominee for this, not just an honorable mention. 38 and still ripping like a champ.
  • 2 6
flag jomacba (Dec 16, 2020 at 9:52) (Below Threshold)
 Agreed!!! Matt Walker won by default
  • 3 16
flag lefthandohvhater (Dec 16, 2020 at 13:23) (Below Threshold)
 He's had 20 years of the spotlight give it a rest.
  • 3 0
 @lefthandohvhater: Booooooo!!!!!
  • 23 5
 Cabirou for the win!! The XC youngsters can wait, they have plenty of time. And despite he won the overall and well deserved it, no doubt about that, Matt Walker didn't win a world cup race, and it doesn't have the same flavour.
  • 9 0
 I've never liked this line of thinking for awards. We don't know what the years ahead have in store for young riders. So let each rider's year stand on its own merit regardless.
  • 2 0
 @rrolly: Don't take me wrong, it was more a second degree joke than my real point of view. You can athletes being mature really young. Pidcock got an impressive win agasint VDP last week in cyclocross.
  • 22 2
 Minnaar Minnaar do do do do do Minnaar Minnaar do do do do
Minnaar Minnaar do do do do do do do do…
  • 17 0
 I respect your nominees but... BULLDOG!
  • 12 0
 Loana Lecompte I feel thoroughly deserves this. She stepped up at such a younger age and didn’t just survive she dominated seasoned riders and took podiums. Stepping up that early in such a physical discipline has the upmost respect. You cannot deny the bulldog deserve a mention for over coming injuries though. Hats off to him.
  • 1 0
 All the while showing her countrywoman that mountain bikes are meant to be ridden over rocks, not walked. Power and skill, interested to see how she progresses over the coming years.
  • 1 0
 Props to her - That pic in the rock garden is the gnarliest of the bunch in this article!
  • 15 0
 Brook McDonald, come on Pinkbike
  • 24 9
 Trump surely? He just would not die.
  • 7 51
flag Thirty3 (Dec 16, 2020 at 3:02) (Below Threshold)
 According to your little flag thing you're not even from the United States why does Trump matter to?
  • 23 2
 @Thirty3: Pure comedy value
  • 18 4
 @Thirty3: Trumps like the gift that keeps on giving.... Such comedy value for the rest of the world, he even puts our shitty politicians to shame for comedy value
  • 30 10
 Yes, Trump won the “Retarded man of the Year” award, by a landslide.
  • 34 4
 Can't be Trump. He's still complaining about a race he lost 5 times, 6 weeks ago.
  • 11 6
 @Thirty3: I know this is very hard to understand. America first is cool, but it’s kinda a global economy. So the leader of one of the largest economies does kinda just a little matter.
  • 2 1
 @Thirty3: Because the "telly" says he's a bad, bad, bad man, much worse than the politicians that are controlling everything behind the scenes. . . and much worse than anyone with a 'D' at the end of their name. . . Everyone knows the BBC is an unbiased, unpolitical media network that always attempts to tell the truth no matter what it means to their access to the elites, or advertising money. . .

(FYI: I'm a registered Democrat. . . that hates the democratic party just as much as the republican party. . . and the media outlets that work for each party).
  • 12 0
 I love Cabirou because she's always sending it big ! A bit à la Amaury, always on the edge, looking sketchy and spectacular !
  • 12 1
 If there's been a rider that has clearly excels by it's skills and speed over the rest this season is Reece Wilson... and everyone knows except PB.
  • 2 0
 even UCI knows it...
  • 6 0
 They usually do a performance of the year, i.e. outstanding performance at a single race/event. Reece would be probable for that.
  • 1 0
 @kcy4130: he was far superior too on slovenia till he crashed... He had that extra grace on his form only aplicable to certain riders in
certain momentss of his trajectory...
  • 13 0
 Jesse for the win!
  • 10 1
 How does Pauline Ferand-Prevot not get a mention? She won two of three races in this year's shortened season, and did so with ease in what had been a very competitive field the previous few seasons.
  • 4 0
 PFP set her own bar pretty high. There's a strong case to be made calling her out as the greatest cyclist ever. No one else in history has held the road, cyclocross, and MTB world championship titles simultaneously. Holding three rainbow jerseys at the same time is a hat trick that's difficult to top for her or anyone else.
  • 14 3
 Are only racers considered athletes? Asking for half the industry.
  • 6 0
 I would say that in the sense of receiving a nomination of "Athlete of the Year" that only racers/competitors would be athlete of the year. Since we didn't have rampage or any mega free ride fest this year, that pretty much only leaves racers.

It's cool to watch social media stars land a backflip to a manual off a trail feature, but it's entirely different than dedicating your entire life to training, and then having one run (or one race) to put it all down.
  • 2 1
 @fullendurbro: you don’t know how hard some of these riders work...
  • 5 1
 @mcdog: I've been racing pro enduros for years and tring to qualify for the EWS for the last two, so, I actually do think I have a very good idea of how hard they work. The level of dedication it takes to be at the top level of any aspect of this sport is insane. But dedication to putting together a banger insta-edit is entirely different than orienting your entire life around a race result. Free riders and influencers don't structure their life around how much they need to sleep, what they need to eat, how they need to eat, how they need to train, when they need to train, and how much they need to train.

Just look at DJ Brandt vs Loic Bruni. Bruni isn't out smoking pot in the desert every weekend and shotgunning beers while eating gas station burritos...
  • 1 3
 @fullendurbro: Why do you give me you Curriculum Vitae? Imagine mine is better... I respect your opinion but if I understand your point of view, a Pro Road racer is an athlete and SuperBruni is not...
  • 1 1
 @mcdog: Literally no idea what you're saying there, mate. I also just saw your 2020 GoPro Line of the Year submission and it would take quite the imagination to imagine that your "curriculum vitae" is better than mine.
  • 1 3
 @fullendurbro: Thanks a lot for watching me following my buddy on a Blue Trail between your training plans! For sure following a buddy who haven't ride since more than a year show you my level... Oh wait...you haven't read the short text under this video! I understand, you're in a hurry, you have some races to win!
  • 10 2
 I think the unofficial EWS champ, that happens to live next to pinkbike HQ and comment regularly on the site might have a shot Razz
  • 11 0
 There's a new donut shop around the corner, next to a brewery. Pinkbike might be getting an 'anonymous' delivery.
  • 10 0
 I don't care, Eddie Masters is the best for me.
  • 6 1
 Matt walker hands down, he pressured the dominant guy-Loris into mistakes and stole the title, excuse me, earned the title from steady head and powerful riding-no fluke either, his Jr career was unreal and overshadowed by 'let Finn in' and has proven to be the most successful Jr turned elite-ever-because yes, winning the overall title, is massive.
  • 2 1
 Brilliantly put, I would say Matt too. All the riders have done well in such difficult times but Matt definitely shone in my eyes.
  • 3 0
 So Matt Walker pressured Loris to flat? I don't see how a mechanical has anything to do with that. Yes I will agree that Matt was consistent, as he has always been, and you are correct in saying it was no fluke... but let's face it, if Loris hadn't had a flat, we would likely be seeing a differant result.
  • 10 1
 Where is Bulldog?????
  • 8 1
 Jack Moir! Dude barely got support this year and ended up killing both EWS and UCI. Shark attack got robbed!!!
  • 1 1
 Didn’t think of him, but u ain’t lyin
  • 11 3
 Bulldog was robbed
  • 12 0
 Bulldog was Brendogged!
  • 5 0
 Evie Richards, Jamie Edmondson, Oisin O'Callaghan, Ethan Craik, Charlie Murray, Jackson Riddle, Jackson Goldstone, Reece Wilson
  • 7 0
 Gregory Minnaar of course!
  • 8 1
  • 5 0
 It not about where you come, it about where you came from Bulldog was robbed!!!
  • 3 0
 Oh c'mon Pinkbike, after all that Bulldog has been through and come out the other side he surely deserves a nomination at the very least? Massive own goal here.
  • 4 1
 Has the Pinkbike user database been hacked? I just got a phishing email from "Google" addressing me as my Pinkbike user name
  • 5 0
 Go Jesse !! Got my vote !
  • 1 0

1. He showed up and against all odds slayed it.
2. He is actively present on here repping his sponsors but doing it honestly.
3. Seems to be a real rider, not a superstar. Reminds me of some of the best guys I ride with. But 100 times better.
4. He now needs a push and this award will give him that.
  • 1 0
 I'd love to see PB get away from the race winning events, someone is going to win...

I'd love to see someone like jeremiah bishop nominated...unlike a race win or progression in slopestyle, which will always happy, bishop and others are pushing the limits in ways where there won't necessarily be a winner/PB nominee.

check this out, simply amazing...and i hate climbing!

  • 5 1
 Matt, because I’m British and biased!!
  • 3 0
 How the heck is Brook Macdonald not on this list? Does anyone at PB even follow this sport?
  • 4 2
 hands down Pidcock. Not only did he jump on a mtb and slay it. He's already putting it to Van der Poel. Freaking Van der Poel! The kid is next level.
  • 2 1
 Watched my first cyclocross race this week just to witness that. Pretty incredible.
  • 2 1
 Hi @jaymztrigga: Mathieu van der Poel had a mild concussion after a fall into a drainage ditch at Driedaagse Brugge-De Panne on October 21. He was supposed to return at Essen on December 22, but decided to race Antwerpen and Gavere last weekend, and finished first and second respectively. He is building up towards the World Championships on January 16, so I wouldn't rule it out just yet. On the other hand, Tom Pidcock did better than Eli Iserbyt and Toon Aerts, which is no small feat.
  • 1 0
 "hands down Pidcock".

Careful! That's what got Jeffrey Toobin fired.
  • 4 0
  • 3 0
 Emil dominated slopestyle this year
  • 5 3
 Are racers the only athletes of the MTB little world? Remy Métailler is my Athlete Of The Year 2020.
  • 3 2
 Youtubers category....
  • 4 0
  • 1 0
 Jordi was robbed ! Not a competitive athlete I know but the shit that guy went through deserves a medal.... but on a more serious note, BULLDOG .
  • 4 0
 Right, Brook or Emil
  • 5 1
 My boy Jack Moir
  • 3 0
 bruh. Loris? Or maybe Evie flippin Richards instead of Leona Lecomte?
  • 3 1
 Finn Iles won like everything at the Crankworx Covid series which was the best competition all year.
  • 1 0
 Also Benoit Coulanges unless theres a most improved award. Thought Melanie was gonna be a shoe in too. My fantasy pinkbike award team is doing terribly
  • 2 0
 Which is a more challenging obstacle on the road to success: overcoming #Covid19 or overcoming the surname #Pidcock ?
  • 1 1
 Tom Pidcock. But not because he's the U23 champion. It's because he's the e-bike world champion, which is all the industry cares about anymore, and therefore the only thing I care about.
  • 3 0
 Figured Dolores should be on here
  • 3 0
 Pidcock neeeeeeeds to come to elite XCO
  • 1 0
 FYI typo: "...in this topsy turvy year, he's a second young..." in Loana's first paragraph. "he" should be "she".
  • 2 0
 Kasper woolley, came outta nowhere and dominated in the summer series!
  • 2 0
 What about that slopestyle kid from Sweden?
  • 2 1
 Lets keep things to mountain biking here. Brook all the way anyway.
  • 1 0
 The fact that Brook MacDonald is not listed here is a crime.
  • 2 0
  • 1 0
 Matt McDuff and Minnaar FTW
  • 2 1
  • 1 0
 Henrique Avanwining
  • 1 0
 Jesse Melamed W
  • 1 0
 Wout Van Aert.
  • 1 0
 GOAT all the way
  • 1 0
 Cletus JR
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