I don't have the smarm and gall to sit here now and tell you what an amazing family a race team is, how it's this amazing experience with amazing people, going to amazing places, that transcends any experience anyone has ever had and it's just amazing, and so deep and so... wow... wholesome amazing fun. Like. Follow. Subscribe.
The truth is, working on the World Cup circuit is like any job that asks a lot of you. Demanding work is tiring, but also has its own reward. Starting from zero, as a new team, was tricky at times. Other times, it was so unbelievably hard. As we close off this season, I don't mind telling you that it wasn't perfect. Results are the ultimate justification of any race program and I think as individuals, some of the PBR racers are going home disappointed. And, what do I think of that? I personally think it's quite a good thing. If all your dreams haven't materialised as you thought they would and you weren't disappointed, I'd be downright concerned.
As we look back at the year, with each high and low merely another brush stroke on the canvas of what PBR is, let's also remember that these racers, these humans, are doing something that a lot of us wish we could do. Maybe we lack the grit, the guts or the gusto to be a pro mountain biker, but we can follow their journey, tip our hats and thank them for being so real, and being brave enough to let us document their struggles and tribulations. Because, although you have to be brave to be a World Cup downhill rider, it's another level entirely to open yourself up to that level of scrutiny. So here's to the PBR racers, brave, both on two wheels and on their own two feet.
We left Part One
as we departed Lenzerheide. Here, we jump back in for the Andorran World Cup. Again, thank you Ross Bell, Andy Vathis, Nathan Hughes, Nico Widovitch and Jack Tennyson for working with the team this year.
Round 5 - Andorra - Dust in the Smoke
I'm going to let you in on a little secret. This year, especially at the start, we were occasionally guilty of making lemons out of lemonade. In some ways, it felt novel to be present in the eye of the shit storm and it not actually be our own fault. The organisation at the Vallnord World Cup wasn't worthy of the definition. It was pretty much non-existent. Meanwhile, they were still happy to charge for you pit space, even if where we actually pitted was miles away in a literal gutter. Either way, it was great to see how well the team coped with adversity.
It was our second race with Leona on board and she was enjoying the dry and dusty conditions. Aimi, on the other hand, initially found them challenging. The junior category is for learning though and it was great to see Aimi acknowledge that it didn't suit her, process it, accept it and just get on with doing the best she could. The result may not have been the highlight of her season, but I think this was where her winner's mentality really shone through.
Cathro still struggled with his wrists and didn't make finals. Thibault, on the other hand, came away with 46th. I know this might not sound like great news
, and I don't think Thibault would totally disagree with that, however, after the early season turbulence it was just great to see him tick off finals consistently.
Round 6 - Snowshoe - On Trail Technophilia
Snowshoe has been on the calendar for a few years and always tends to provide excellent racing. This year, however, was the first year it was wet for a race weekend. Honestly, the muck was like nothing else. It wasn't helped by inadequate washing facilities that made a labour-intensive weekend even worse. Forty-five minute queues to lay your hands on a low pressure hose with a broken gun was to be expected.
The weekend offered some important moments though. Jackson, who broke his wrist six weeks prior in Leogang, was back with the team. On the day before track walk he did two uplifted blue runs, his only bike time since the injury, and then managed to qualify. This achievement, again, just shows what potential he has. I'll always talk about Jackson in the highest terms. I've just this feeling he's got it - whatever it
is. However, he also needs to just get into a rhythm of riding his bike and enjoying it, and not having to jump into the deep end to get back racing.
With him back, and everyone qualifying, it was also the first time we had all the riders make the cut for race day.
The last was Aimi genuinely being in contention for the win. In fact, at the top of that run was the first time we'd ever mentioned the W-word
. The worse the weather gets, the more sketchy the track, it just doesn't seem to bother her. I really hope she can break her duck next year.
Round 7 - Mont-Sainte-Anne - Brawn and Brains
I know that a lot
of North American and Southern Hemisphere riders struggle with the Euro-centric calender, and I really sympathise with that. I think that the North American leg is just a snapshot of what their life must often be like. That said, because of where the trucks are, I would say that there are plenty of non-Europeans that have a pretty good time of it on teams in Europe, too.
MSA came around after the Swiss, Andorran and US rounds. There was a weekend of downtime after Vallnord, but with travel that didn't really mean much. After the 5 weeks on the road, everyone was pretty cooked by the time MSA rolled through. Six months sitting in a ditch getting trench foot it certainly wasn't - but that doesn't mean it was easy.
It also had the added fun of there not being enough space on the flight that most teams had booked for all the equipment. There were a lot of last minute rentals and deals going on as people hastily got vans to drive up to MSA, and avoid risking their bags not making it on the plane.
Round 8 - Val di Sole - The End is Nigh
It's only a mountain biking team, and it's only really a few bikes with a few people cycling down mountains on them but boy, was it great to get to the end. At the start, I worried if we, as Pinkbike staff and individuals, were going to get through this season giving the riders what they needed. After the lows of Lourdes, I felt a large amount of relief to get to the end. Cathro did as well, I imagine. I think that there are so many levels to Ben. Yes, he races, presents and manages, but there is also a family man that's spending a ton of time away from his wife and young children. There have been learning curves, false starts and emergency stops, but damn - he's a kind man that never shied away from toil or trouble when it came his way. He always took it on the chin and got stuck in.
Sadly, the final curtain call of 2022 left came a day earlier than we would have liked for half the riders, with both Ben and Jackson not making finals. It really wasn't Jackson's year. Again, applying the same lens as we do to Ben, it's easy to see an 18-year-old trying to make his way in the world. His results might not quite add up, but you need to realise what an incredibly demanding time his mind, body and spirit have been through over the last year or two. I know it doesn't show on paper, but the fact is that he's been kicked about a bit and is still coming back for more. That only increases my hopes and wishes to see him do well in the future and realise his potential. This year served a purpose in terms of development and learning lessons that I really hope will serve him later in his career. They're lessons everyone has to learn at some point, Jacko's just got his out the way early.
Aimi, of course, has been something like the golden child of PBR. Her results have been fantastic and she should be enormously proud. She's developing at such a rate, who knows where it could take her? I really hope to see Aimi continue to unravel the complexities of racing at World Cup level and develop so that when the elite category come calling she can take it in her stride. So much about racing World Cups isn't about getting wild or hanging it out, but rather efficiencies in a rider's procedures. How fast can they learn a track? How quickly can they hone their lines? How much do they plan for contingency? As much as seeing Aimi's talent has been fantastic this year, and the results do speak for themselves, we also have to appreciate her efforts in the less blockbuster aspects of race craft.
Thibault had a season of highs and lows. Coming to a new team he really helped mold the culture at PBR and I think he's been a real role model for both Aimi and Jackson. He's got the passion, he's got the skill and the bravery, it's just as if now he needs to break the glass ceiling to take it to the next level. I would not be surprised whatsoever to see him get in a good winter's off season and finally crack that top 20. Then again, we could say that about 50 riders. With Thibault, his incredible appetite for life and work ethic sometimes seem like a double edged sword. He's insanely busy with school and his placement, as well as trying to be a World Cup athlete. I think the fundamentals are there, which were shown in flashes in 2022. I think for Thibault it's more about evolution in 2023. I really think he can do something special and I would love to see it.
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