Finally! Right? A simple 'how to' on the seemingly complex issue of how to pick out the winners for the race season ahead... it's long overdue on Pinkbike. Well sorry for that; it's here now. No longer will you have to stand up, wipe the honey lager froth from your upper lip, stick out your delicate neck and take that risky punt in front of your friends, blurting out names willy-nilly just in time for the live-feed to come beaming in and explode your far-flung theories into a soul-destroying ash of regret and shame. This is a clear-cut way to make the right predictions and gain the respect and pocket-money rewards you deserve among your mountain bike fellows and females. You know what great riding is after all, so who's taking those wins? Let's dive right into the method.
The world cup Doomsday Clock shows two minutes to midnight and stoke is high as we await the first tracks of 2016.
Step 1: Study Up
Past performance predicts future results, everybody knows. This might involve a little effort, reading even, and a visit to at least one rather indispensable ranking site, but a little research goes a long way. What could be better than a straight-forward appeal to the facts?
On his refreshed spree of dominance following his 2013 sabbatical and Gwin is the name on everyone's lips. Add in a fresh ride, a sharp haircut and a winter of burpees and blowing up Cali corners and you have the ultimate solution to your inability to gamble wisely. While the cream of the crop talk about 'what it takes to win' Gwin's thinking 'what doesn't it take?' and finding answers like, for example, drivetrain. Is he the top pick for Lourdes? Hell, the man's on for three-peat for Round 1 victories anyway...
Stack up the numbers and one guy's on top of the pile. Or the bottom even, because he has the lowest numbers - but never mind - it's, of course, the mighty AG.
Step 2: Listen to Your Heart
How many of the world's best mention 'having fun' in their interviews about the races? There's no stat for it, but we can say it's a lot. Well, surely there's something in that? Before long, those who have the best time on the bikes will surely prosper. Did you see Remi Thirion destroying the rainy ruts of Vallnord at mach-a-billion? How about Brendan super-hooning the chicanes of Mont St Anne? And Danny's famous whip at Champery a few years back? Say no more - your choices on who can do it this year should revolve around who you can see is visibly sending it to the moon and those who stink the most of stoke.
Year of the dog? Or back to the rat once more?
Step 3: Choose Experience
Over 100 World Cups and still racking up the wins, it makes hella sense to add the official 'greatest of all time', Greg Minnaar to your hotlist. Never count him... ah you wouldn't count him out, especially as he took two wins last year and there's literally no reason to doubt the unrelenting magnificence of the veteran South African GOAT. So who else has done it all before in recent years? Well there's a little-known, old-timer by the name of Sam Hill who appears to have a clean bill of health and a long-haired Englishman known as the Ratboy who made 2014 his own who landed 5th overall last season. Throw into the mix 2013's dominant force and we could have some sort of massacre on our hands all over again.
We wouldn't fall over backwards if a healthy and revitalized Stevie 'The Chainsaw Massacre' Smith steps up and knocks it out of the park from the off.
Step 4: Go With a Young Gun
Ah, the upward curve, just look at the trajectory of these guys - take Mike Jones in the latter half of 2015: 76th at Mont St Anne, then 10th at Windham... come Worlds in Andorra he gets 4th, so what's next!? Seriously though, there's this solid troop of these relative newcomers climbing the ranks that just can't be ignored.
Loris Vergier, Luca Shaw, Dean Lucas and Mark Wallace are all ready to send it onto the podium this year, once again in some cases. Then we have Alex Fayolle who broke the top 10 last time now on Polygon, Gwin's promising young team-mate Angel Suarez with a point to prove and none other than Junior World Champ Laurie Greenland on a Mondraker. All are ready to make their mark or perhaps leave a more punishing scar on the face of the old guard. Strike while the iron's hot and call it now on an up-and-coming prodigy before everyone else sees their potential.
Step 5: Think 'Balls'
'Pain is temporary, glory is forever'... says the tattoo on the inside of this kind of rider's lip. If you're going to back someone to storm this season, select a smasher who truly throws caution to the wind and goes on the rampage. Look at Richie Rude, continuing to bulldog his way to the top at the EWS. Heck, look at the Bulldog himself. When he gets angry, he gets podiums and the rocks get out the way.
Choose Brook, Branny or maybe 'Big Balls' Danny for the Top Step.
Step 6: Pick a Woman
How could you forget? The women's category is ripping along just nicely these days and there's a lot of scope for a good shake-up of the 'musical podiums' of recent years gone by. Rachel Atherton's out in front, no question, but Manon Carpenter already took her down before in 2014. Who else is right up there now ready to scrap for Queen and country? Tahnee Seagrave is. With the gap less than 100 points behind her Welsh rival at the close of play last season, it's obvious she has the pace and consistency to take a win and we should expect 2016 to be the year to produce those very goods. Tahnee's your gal.
Tracey Hannah's won two world cups previously, Morganne Charre was of course 2012 World Champion and these she-demons will be mixing it with podium-capable Miranda Miller, Emilie Siegenthaler, Curd and more.
Myriam Nicole will sadly miss the start of the season once again with a superbly unlucky second strike of shoulder injury, but look for her to pounce mid summer.
Step 7: Scout Video Talent
Evidence by edit goes a long way. Why? Because the camera never lies. George Brannigan has all the right moves. Connor Fearon's 'in the know' too. Both of these guys have almost pipped it with second place runs in their careers and both look like they mean it now more than ever. Think about Kerr; able to snatch a cold beer mid-stoppie. These are horses that should be backed. Case closed.
Step 8: Remember True Athletes Make Champions
Wheelies and whips sure look awful nice, but let's be real; downhill is physically brutal and it will take an inhuman balance of raw power and endurance to come out on top. Best to go with someone who can win Fort William or hey, come third overall, like Troy Brosnan. Not forgetting an enduro behemoth like Sam Blenkinsopp, who's capable of seeing a long season though to the end with the lethal finesse it demands.
How about a boss-man like Marcello Gutierrez or say a proven, multi-time, world champion, powerhouse such as Gee Atherton. Yes, you should pick him.
Step 9: Look out for Wild Cards
Always be vigilant of anyone who looks canny on track and obviously any rider that's ever lurked in and around the podium previously. Heath, Simmonds, Hannah, Dale, Needles, BEAUMONT, Mullaly type folks... and be wary of an almighty send-off resurgence for the man, the myth, Steve 'Peaty' Peat. Be suspicious of such individuals, and remember to voice your suspicions...vocally. Perhaps putting your money where your mouth is a little bit. Also bear in mind those sneaky Masters bros and the new boys on Cube and Propain. Anyone on a new team looking feisty in fact.
Step 10: Consider 'Who is the World Champion?'
Loic Bruni. Loic Bruni is the World Champion. And he was second overall last year, so he's going to tick the consistency box also. He has a new Specialized bicycle as well.
So with all said and done, that just about wraps it. 10 simple and definitive steps; all pretty straight-up and logical. Thanks for reading, we hope you've picked off all the info you were hoping for and when the time comes to fire up the old Red Bull TV, you'll know what to do! Clearly with the application of a little well-placed thought, just as we've shown, it's possible to cut right through the 'what if's' and those dastardly 'how about's' and get right down to the nitty-gritty, bottom line decisions...
Who's got it this time? Boom! Done. You're welcome, friend.