1. Matt Walker has Been Seriously Under-Rated for Years
Matt Walker’s incredibly consistent season saw him finish every race on the podium and clinch the overall title in his final run. It has been a meteoric rise to the top for the young Brit who has always enjoyed success but never tasted the stardom of some of his contemporaries.
His World Cup racing career began in 2016 in the same junior cohort as the much-hyped Finn Iles. The pair battled it out for two years and, while Iles may have had more World Cup success than Walker, it was always close between the pair of them and Walker had the last laugh by winning the Rainbow Stripes in their final race together as juniors. Entering the senior ranks, Walker took just two races to pick up his first top ten and less than a year later climbed onto the podium at Maribor.
His 2019 season was marred by struggles with a concussion but this year he has paired speed and consistency better than anyone and clinched the overall title. Not many would have predicted it at the start of the year but he ended the year as the fourth ever Elite Men's World Cup Champion from Britain and the first since Josh Bryceland in 2014. Matt is hard-working, humble and crucially, deadly fast. It's an approach that doesn't always grab him the headlines but it has sealed him a World Cup overall title.2. Young Athletes Seem to be Better Suited to a Disrupted Season
3. The Goat gets Goatier
As we saw in the cross country earlier this year, younger athletes came out swinging this year in the World Cup downhill. Matt Walker (21) and Marine Cabirou (23) took the overall titles
and there were also two wins for Loris Vergier (24) and a first win for Nina Hoffmann (24)
. There were also podiums for first-year elite riders such as Thibaut Daprela and Jamie Edmondson
Young riders making their mark after a disrupted year is something we noticed in the XC season this year too with Simon Andreassen, Leona Lecomte, and Evie Richards all tasting victory. We don't know whether older riders are more used to peaking for mid-summer or maybe younger riders stayed hungrier during the long lockdown hours. Either way, it's great to see the new generation come out swinging.
4. We Owe Huge Thanks to all the Event Organisers this Fall
Of course, there's always an exception to the rule. And exceptions don't come more exceptional than Greg Minnaar.
Minnaar will turn 39 in November but he shows no sign of slowing down as he beat his own records this weekend to become the oldest rider to ever win a World Cup on Friday, then the oldest to ever podium on Sunday. Of course, the other record he improved is the all-time win tally that now stands at an imposing 22. His longevity at the top has allowed him to beat every single great of the sport and there's plenty of fight in the goat yet. The fact that he described the win as 'bittersweet' following the bad luck of his teammates gives you a glimpse into his champion's character too.
5. Reports of Aaron Gwin's Demise Have Been Greatly Exaggerated... in the Dry
For most of the year, it seemed like we wouldn’t get any racing at all. COVID-19 tore a swathe through the race season and when the UCI announced this late-season flurry of races, it seemed more like a far-fetched fantasy than a feasible reality. In this case, we were glad to be wrong.
Organizers has to think on their feet with the double rounds and COVID precautions throwing all their plans up in the air and Leogang even stepped in at the last minute to build a whole new track for the XC world champs. With a lack of spectators and the increased measures, every venue that held a World Cup made a loss this year
but bloody-mindedness and love for the sport got the series over the line and all the organisers and the UCI should be commended for their part in it.
Following his domination of the first half of the 2010s
, any dip in form from Aaron Gwin is quickly jumped on by downhill fans as the end of his career. At Lousa and Maribor this year, he again showed that he's still one of the fastest racers in the year... as long as it stays dry. Wet races in Leogang, Maribor, and the slippery track on Sunday in Lousa saw Gwin slip back down the rankings but when the dirt was dry he finished 6th in Maribor then backed it up with his first World Cup podium since June last year
in the first race in Lousa.
Gwin makes no secret of the fact that he mainly trains on a handful of local tracks near to where he lives in Temecula that are about as far as it gets from Fall racing in Europe as you can get. If we get a full race season in its normal place in the calendar next year, we're backing Gwin to be back up near the top of the standings.