Athlete of the Year Nominees
Has this been the best year for racing ever? It seems like a lofty claim, but among our staff of former World Cup racers, armchair enthusiasts, and encyclopedic nerds, we're scratching our heads to think of a better one. All categories across every discipline offered intrigue, suspense and some of the greatest on-track action in memory.
At the centre of it all are the athletes that leave nothing on the hill, week in, week out. Whether it's willing heavy legs to propel you over the line in a final sprint or dancing between rocks and roots on a 200mm travel downhill bike, these athletes consistently amaze us with feats of strength and skill. Of those, a few are able to be consistently impressive throughout the season and stand above the crowd to claim glory. Here are the athletes that left us awestruck in 2019.
Why she's nominated
Although she came into the 2019 season as World Champion, there were doubts over whether Courtney's performance in Lenzerheide last year was just a fluke. She was prolific as a junior, but this was only Courtney's second season as an elite in what may be the most competitive field in mountain biking today. Plus, she had the pressure of the Stripes looming over her and a new team to settle in; there was understandably some skepticism over her ability to deliver over a full season in 2019.
Courtney immediately put those doubts to bed. She won the first XCC in Albstadt and, despite an early crash, took the main race at a canter too, ending up 50 seconds clear of Jolanda Neff. As soon as she smelled blood in the water she went on a feeding frenzy and won three of the first four races of the season, quickly establishing herself in as the rider at the top of the food chain.
Courtney ended the year as she started it, as the pick of the field and with a new line to add her to her resume. She may only be 2 years into her elite career but the only thing she has left to win is a gold medal at the Olympics. Roll on 2020.
Why he's nominated
Van Der Poel crossed over from the cyclocross world in a flurry of hype. We've heard him called the most talented bike racer on the planet
thanks to his dominance of the discipline and his legend has only grown thanks to some unblieveable performances
during his flirtations with road cycling.
However, in his first 2 years of competing, he never seemed to shine quite as much on a mountain bike. Yes, he was dominant in short track last year, but you aren't going to be considered a great of the sport unless you can mix it in the bunch of an XCO race.
In Albstadt, he was recovering from a broken hand and racing with a broken shoe, so had to settle for yet another podium, but in Nove Mesto he really showed what he could do. On the last lap, he finally took his opportunity to untether his legs and burst into the lead, leaving Schurter, who normally finishes super strong, panting in his wake. Further wins came in Val di Sole and Lenzerheide, but then Van der Poel simply stopped. With the World Cup overall title in the palm of his hand, he took a month off and began prepping for the road World Championships in Yorkshire, UK.
The sad truth is that we've probably only got another few races to admire Van Der Poel's talents before he hangs up his mountain bike cleats good. After the Olympics, he's strongly hinted that he's going to try to become a World Tour rider on the tarmac and that will be a full-time commitment. We had best enjoy it while it lasts.Why he's nominated
It was a question of "when", not "if", Loïc Bruni would piece together a championship-winning season and 2019 was his time to shine. In the pre-season, he said he felt more prepared than ever before, and under intense scrutiny during the season itself he continued to fight off mental demons and a charging Amaury Pierron to finally claim that World Cup overall title. He calls 2019 his maturity year and it symbolizes his transition from wildcard threat at every race to a measured pro who knows exactly what needs to be done to win consistently and build a campaign over the course of the season.
Why she's nominated
In any other year, a World Championship race in Mont Sainte Anne might have thrown Bruni off his stride with the World Cup title so close and just one race still to go but that wasn't the case this year. He actually made it look easy and claimed his fourth World title in five years, putting him well within reach of Vouilloz's record seven, a marker that was recently thought to be unattainable. Bruni is also the first elite male racer to collect the double title since Sam Hill in 2007. Bruni's name now sits comfortably alongside legends of the sport and, at 25, he's just getting started.
Every mountain bike athlete is looking for perfection, but very few ever get close. In a sport fraught with mechanicals, minimal practice, shifting tracks, inclement conditions, and hours upon hours of competition, enduro makes that search even harder, but this year, Courdurier overcame it all and ended the 2019 season unbeaten.
The French rider has been on an upward trajectory for the past few seasons having picked up her first EWS win in 2017 then finishing second at every round in 2018. In 2019, she found another gear, won the first round in Rotorua and didn't stop winning for six months. She only dropped 16 stages out of 48 all year and mainly finished second on the ones she didn't win. She was in another class this year and about the safest prediction you could make in any discipline this year. Even after the main EWS season, she just couldn't stop winning, leading the French women's team to victory in the inaugural Trophy of Nations.
Honorable MentionsTracey Hannah
Tracey Hannah battled all season long to claim the women's elite World Cup downhill title this year. By racing smart and squeezing points out of every session, she was able to just hold off a charging Marine Cabirou. If you want to see the mental torture World Cup racers like Tracey subject themselves to first hand then watch the emotionally-charged team videos from Snowshoe
2019 wasn't quite as prolific as 2018 for Vali Höll but her season was impressive nevertheless. The first chinks in her armour were exposed as she was beaten twice in the year, but on the other hand she was faster than any of the elite women in Les Gets and Lenzerheide and finished 2nd while racing in the elite category in the Canadian Open DH at Crankworx Whistler. Next year she moves into the elite categories and has the potential to cause some serious upsets.
An illness kept Sam from pushing hard at the start of the season but the momentum he built by the end of the year made his EWS Series win end up feeling almost inevitable. He became the first EWS champion that didn't win a single round of the series but his crushing consistency elevated him to the top of the timesheets. Crucially, though, he was fastest when it mattered most, on the final stage of the final race of the year. He put 8 seconds into his competitors, claiming the Queen Stage points and his third EWS title on the bounce.