Bikes With 29'' Front and 27.5'' Rear Wheels
Mixed Wheel Size Bikes Are Winning
For 2019, the rules have been changed so that racers can run two differently sized wheels on their bikes, an announcement that quickly led to a whole load of mixed wheel testing by teams and racers. They've obviously found something that they like - the first two Enduro World Series events, as well as the first World Cup downhill of the season, were all won on the men's side with bikes rolling on 29'' front wheels and 27.5'' rear wheels
So, are they actually faster? That's up for debate, and outright speed might not be the only reason were seeing this crop of mixed-wheel bikes - rider height and whether a company has a race-ready 29er may be playing a role as well. However, World Cup contenders typically don't use something without doing some timed testing to verify things.
There are all sorts of reasons to poke fun at the mixed wheel size combos, but isn't downhill racing all about getting from A to B in the least amount of time as possible? Last weekend's World Cup in Maribor saw the top four men finish on the same second, with Bruni just 0.4 ahead of Danny Hart in 2nd place. We're talking split seconds here, and if a top racer can make up 0.1 seconds over a handful of sections on a track because they're using two different wheel sizes, they'd be crazy not to do exactly that. Then again, weren't all the winning bikes of 2018 on the same size wheels front and back?
Young Racing Talent
The Up And Comers Are Ready
For a long time, it looked like Peat, Minnaar, Atherton & Co. would be keeping their names at the top of the results sheets forever, but it was really only a matter of time until the young guns arrived. We saw exactly that during last season, and it's more of the same in 2019. At 27, Danny Hart was the oldest man on the podium in Maribor, with Charlie Harrison and Matt Walker (4th and 5th) being born in '97 and '99.
There were also top 20-placings for Adam Rojcek, Reece Wilson, Laurie Greenland, and Amaury Pierron, all of whom were born in 1996 or later. I've never felt so old as I do after typing that.
There are up and comers in the women's field, too, with Vali Holl putting in a time that would have been good enough for 8th place against much more experienced pros, despite having to deal with a muddier track. There's Marine Cabirou and Nina Hoffmann, too, both of who raced as juniors before earning legitimate podium contender status before turning 25. It looks like the kids are doing just fine.
Walmart and Red Bull Stir Things Up
A lot of us mountain bikers like the idea of going down to our local bike shops to buy whatever it is we might need, even if it doesn't always quite work out like that. You know what a lot of mountain bikers don't seem to like? Riders going to Walmart for their new bike
, apparently, with the announcement that the American multinational retail corporation plans to offer a range of carbon performance bikes garnering mostly critical comments.
The bikes will be sold under the Viathon name and initially only available at viathonbicycles.com, but they'll show up on walmart.com at some point soon as well.
Regardless of how you might feel about the news, Walmart's massive purchasing power and direct-to-consumer business model has the ability to shake up our little industry.
Speaking of angry comments, the UCI revealed that Red Bull would like to keep all other energy drinks off of the downhill podium and hot seat
. Talk about a PR gaff and a half. Many racers are sponsored by other energy drink brands, but the ban, if enforced during the rest of the World Cup season, would only allow racers to drink Red Bull or from a Red Bull-branded bottle. Further fogging things up - or maybe clearing them up, depending on how you look at it - is the fact that Red Bull and Red Bull Media House have supported the UCI Mercedes Benz World Cup series for years now.
Racers Getting Injured
Broken Feet, Arms, and Shoulders
With the return of racing comes the inevitable return of injuries. April has been particularly hard on the pro field, with perpetual podium threat Myriam Nicole letting fans know via Instagram that she broke and dislocated her foot on April 14th, just before the first World Cup of the season.
The Syndicate's Luca Shaw went down while training in San Romolo, Italy, but his broken collarbone wasn't confirmed until he tried to ride during practice at the Maribor World Cup, while YT's Angel Suarez waited until qualifying to injure his shoulder.
It wasn't just the downhill crowd, either, with Pole's EWS racer Joe Nation breaking his arm badly enough to need surgery and a bunch of hardware. The New Zealander came home 13th at the Tasmanian round, but there's no word on when he'll be back on the circuit. Also on the sidelines is Katy Winton, who's decided to sit out while recovering from multiple concussions.
Atherton Bikes' World Cup Debut
A Near-Win and a 26th
With carbon tubes bonded into 3D-printed titanium lugs, Gee and Rachel's new race rig is probably one of the best looking and most interesting bikes in the World Cup pits. That aside, the Athertons were likely hoping for a better debut for their namesake brand; Gee ended up 6.3 seconds down in 26th, while Rachel was much closer in 2nd at just 0.8 back from Tahnee Seagrave. Let's not forget that standing on the second step of the podium at a World Cup race is a hell of a feat, but she was surely hoping for a debut win given that, well, she wins a hell of a lot of these things.
One race doesn't sum up a season, though, and there shouldn't be any doubt that one (or both) of the Athertons will ride that new bike to a victory soon.
Greg Minnaar in Maribor
Bad Weather Foils the GOAT's Qualifying
The last time the World Cup circus pulled into Maribor was in 2010 when Greg Minnaar took the win, but things were a lot different nine years later. Saturday's qualifying saw Minnaar and some others face a rain-soaked track that was massively slower than what a lot of the field had to deal with, and sometimes it's just not your day.
A crash placed the South African way back in qualifying and watching the race from the sidelines come Sunday, reminding us all that not even the GOAT gets it right all the time.