Comeback of the Year NomineesI've never been able to watch any sort of crash reel, and it's always felt a bit wrong to be seeking out that sort of carnage. You know the kind; they're always filler at the end video to remind us that yes, despite the professionals looking like they nail it all the time, that's far from being the truth. Hitting the deck hard goes hand in hand with pushing limits, of course, and especially when racing is involved, which is where most of our nominees come from.
Seeing riders get injured sucks, but we all know that a good comeback story can pull on the heartstrings in a way that maybe only a box full of puppies is able to do. Jesse Melamed, Myriam Nicole, Emil Johansson, and Gee Atherton all had their own comeback stories in 2018, but which rider has had the most impressive resurgence?
Why he's nominated
Jesse's steady rise up the Enduro World Series ranks has mirrored his move from part-time pro a handful of years ago to full-time racer and EWS winner. The Canadian went into the 2018 season surely hoping to build on the career-best results that he had the prior year, but it wasn't meant to be. Instead, he ended up injured and on the sidelines at two rounds of the series; a broken collarbone at the French round in May required surgery and six weeks off, only for Melamed to come straight back with a conservative 10th overall at the next round and then a season-best 4th overall at the Italian stop. Things were looking up, especially because the next round was in Whistler, Jesse's hometown and an event he won in 2017.
The momentum stopped abrutly when he hit the ground during practice, breaking his hand and putting an end to a glorious repeat victory at home. Two different forced time-outs from two different broken bones during a single season is enough to take the wind out of anyone's sails, but Melamed showed that he's got grit to spare by returning for the final two EWS rounds to bag 8th and 7th places. You know, just a couple casual top-tens against the fastest racers in the world after breaking his collarbone in May and his hand in August.
Why she's nominated
Italy's Val di Sole World Cup track has a fearsome reputation as a rough, fast monster that's about as forgiving of mistakes as the Soup Nazi; mess up and you'll probably get tossed pretty quickly. And it'll probably end up being a Big One, too. If we look back to 2017, it's also where Nicole sealed her overall championship with a victory at the final round in Italy, so she's had some good times there. It wasn't to be in 2018, however, with a massive crash in practice ending her bid for a repeat win in the Valley of the Sun. It also saw her get taken off the mountain in a helicopter due to suspicion of a serious back injury.
Thankfully, that wasn't the case and it ended up being one hell of an impact and bruise that was enough to see her skip the following round in Vallnord, but she would make a full recovery. In an effort to keep ahold of the series lead, Nicole returned to action on the infamously rough Mont-Sainte-Anne track where a rough day saw finish in 14th place. Just two weeks later came the final round in La Bresse, France, and you know the French racer wanted to end 2018 on a high note, even if the overall was now out of reach. She ended up doing exactly that, with an impressive 3rd, just behind Tahnee Seagrave and Rachel Atherton.
Why he's nominated
Emil Johansson wasted no time in 2017, podiuming in four FMB Diamond events and snatching the overall title away from well-known veterans like Rheeder or Semenuk. The immediate future looked pretty bright for Emil, but that's when he got hit with one of life's curveballs. This particular pitch meant that he was dealing with significant pain and issues from his back that was eventually diagnosed as a congenital 6th lumbar vertebrae defect
. I'm no doctor but that sure doesn't sound good, and it was about to get worse: He was also diagnosed with an auto-immune disease that slowed down his ability to recover and rehab from his back injury.
All told, Emil was on the sidelines for ten months, something that makes his 4th place at Red Bull Joyride, on the gnarliest course of the year, all the more impressive.
Why he's nominated
If you started watching World Cup downhill racing only a few years ago, you might think that Gee Atherton is more pack fodder than one of the fastest in the world. After all, the past couple of seasons have been rough for the two-time World Champion, many time National Champion, and World Cup series champion. I'm sure that some fans had even written him off as ever being competitve on the big stage again, but the truth is that Gee has had a hell of a time with injuries in recent years, the kind that are always nagging at you. His 2017 season made him a low-cost pick in the Pinkbike Fantasy league, but 2018 saw him ride and race himself back into contention.
A 19th in Lošinj kicked off the year, followed by Fort William and a 15th. Gee was surely not that stoked with those, just as he probably wasn't all that happy about the 18th in Leogang, 26th in Val di Sole, and 33rd in Vallnord. Things turned around after Andorra, however, with an 8th on the rowdy Mont-Sainte-Anne track and then, finally, a 2nd at the final World Cup of the season in France. More recently, he won the Red Bull Hardline event, AKA the scariest downhill race this side of an urban race in Mexico. How's that for an upswing in form? He might have finished 2018 with just 524 points, or less than half of series winner, Amaury Pierron, but it's obvious that Gee is still a huge threat.
While there are no fairytale returns from injuries that culminate with a championship or victory, Melamed, Nicole, Johansson, and Atherton all showed true heart and determination in 2018. Which one are you most impressed by?