We've already looked at a handful of juicy World Cup rumors, some with real meat to them and some obviously just hot air, but there's plenty more who's-going-where gossip left still to cover.
The big one last time around were Americans Aaron Gwin and Neko Mulally leaving YT and talking to Trek, Specialized, Canyon, and Intense, but it gets even foggier now with whispers of Gwin buying into the latter. Sticking with the downhillers, the Atherton clan is said to be talking to Merida (yet again) and Norco. At the opposite end of the career spectrum, young gun Reece Wilson has been linked to a ride with Trek, while Joe Smith and Phil Atwill could both be seeing a change of scenery for 2019 and beyond.
Rumor: Gwin and Intense Status: possible
Back in October, I had Gwin and Neko leaving YT for one of four possible options: Trek (again) or Specialized (again), Canyon, or Intense. It would be quite the coup for the latter, especially given that Intense has had a roller coaster of a time over the last few years. On top of that, former CEO Andrew Herrick left Intense Cycles after four years and Jeff Steber (pictured below) returns to the role. Gwin ain't gonna be cheap - I've heard numbers ranging from $500K to $1.2M USD - and while the structure of the team would allow Intense to be just
the frame sponsor, it'd still be a huge chunk of money for a brand that's rumoured to have recent money troubles.
Is Gwin's future with the American brand Intense? It'd make for one hell of a good story.
But what if Gwin injected some capital into Intense instead of the other way around? The American has always said that he enjoys the product development side of the sport and that there's more to this game than just racing bikes down hills. There could be a connection to a development team as well. The most successful US downhiller, who also happens to be a bit of a patriot, going into business with the most storied US downhill frame builder... I mean, it's a pretty good fit, isn't it?
A good fit doesn't make it true, though, and Gwin shot this theory down when I questioned him on it: ''I can't comment on next year's sponsors right now, but I can say for sure that I am not 'buying into' anything. All of my deals will be structured as usual where each company will pay a salary for the services provided. I can say that I'll be continuing ahead with the majority of my current sponsors.
So it's a no-go on that front, but Aaron and Intense coming together in some way is a whisper that I keep hearing over and over again, and from people who've been right about more than one tasty team rumor in the past. My gut tells me there's something to this one, but my gut has seen better days so who knows. Rumor: Athertons to Merida but riding Specialized DH frames Status: unlikely
I know, all of that sounds confusing and maybe a bit unlikely, but it makes more sense than it sounds like at first. If it seems like the siblings have been around forever, it's because they have; Gee made his World Cup debut in 2004, and Rachel arrived (already winning) in 2006. While most of the women's field is probably hoping that Rachel is going to retire, I don't think she's ready to hang up her helmet quite yet, especially given that the Brit is still winning a lot of weekends. Tahnee Seagrave made it close in 2018, and with Valentina Höll soon knocking on the door to elites, Rachel could have more competition than ever.
It's hard to believe that Gee made his World Cup debut back in 2004 and Rachel in 2006. Where'd the time go?
At thirty-three-years-old, Gee was
mostly having a season to forget (again), but a second at the final round in La Bresse, France, was a reminder that The Vulcan still has it. In fact, Gee rode himself back up to World Cup pace after dealing with injury after injury, and I'm sure he'd love nothing more than to return to the top.
It's just that it won't be with Trek as their contract is up and more than one source has said that the trio is shopping around, and also that Merida is in the running. Again.
Rumor: Athertons to Norco Status: likely
Who the hell is Merida? Only one of the largest frame manufacturers in the world, selling somewhere around 2,000,000 annually. They gross enough to make them one of Taiwan's largest companies, and they happen to also own part of Specialized after dropping a cool $30,000,000 back in 2001. Merida isn't shy about paying athletes, either, with Jose Hermida, Gunn-Rita Dahle, the Bahrain–Merida Pro Cycling Team, and more than 30 World Cup wins behind them. But they don't have a downhill bike... Do you know where they could find one?
To be fair, the Merida rumor comes up every time the Athertons move teams, and it hasn't panned out yet. I reached out to Gill Harris, the Head of Communications for the Athertons, but she declined to comment, at least for now. It's more fun that way anyway.
Merida, Marin... Retirement? Plenty of theories have been thrown out about the Athertons this off-season, but we think that Norco could be the ones to snag them, or maybe even just Gee. There’s no doubt that the Athertons are still a lucrative prospect on the World Cup circuit, with Rachel continuing her march towards Anne Caroline Chausson’s records (along with an EWS rumor that won't die), and Gee looking like a resurgent force. Let’s not forget Dan, either, and especially his Hardline exploits.
He might not look all that stoked here, but his La Bresse weekend included the top qualifying spot and a 2nd come race day. Gee still has it, of course.
Considering the recent announcement of Todd Schumlick's PerformX Training parting ways with the program, we know there are changes afoot within Norco's World Cup outfit. Why might that matter? Often where the Athertons go, their entourage come with them, which could explain the split with PerformX Training.
The Trek Session big-wheeler didn’t seem to suit the Athertons as well as it has others, with Rachel only starting to ride it this off-season and Gee not getting comfortable until the last couple of races of 2018. To be fair, Gee also had a rough season until he rode himself back up to speed by the final rounds. We didn't gel with the new Session, too, whereas the Aurum HSP1 is one of our Bike of the Year nominees and bang on World Cup trends with a high main pivot and 29'' wheels.
It’s also proven to be fast under Sam Blenkinsop, who had a resurgent season with his first World Cup podium since 2015 and a King of Crankworx crown to boot.
We reached out to Norco and Gill Harris, the Head of Communications for the Athertons, with both denying that we'll be seeing Gee, Rachel, or Dan on an Aurum. I still feel like this one is a real possibility, despite the denials, but time will tell. Rumor: Reece Wilson to Trek Status: likely
With his Fort William heroics backed up by a Val di Sole top-ten, Reece Wilson was one of the breakout stars of 2018 season. And get this: He's only been riding mountain bikes for five years after making the switch from doing the moto thing. Remind you of a certain racer who's been more than just a little successful over the last few years? The Scotsman will no-doubt keep improving as his career continues, too, and he’s pretty nifty on a scooter if the big wheels don't work out.
Wilson took his debut podium this year and had a top-ten on the fearsome Val di Sole. Not too shabby for doing this mountain bike thing for just five years.
Wilson has been vocal about his deal with Commencal being far from ideal; he was apparently operating almost as a privateer with the 100% team, so he was probably open to offers all year long. He's also been spotted this off-season riding a Trek and hanging out with Kade Edwards and Charlie Hatton, two of Trek's young guns, and he's familiar the Trek Session, having ridden it for three years as part of the Unior Tools team. That said, Wilson recently checked in from Morgan Hill, where Specialized is based, so this may not be a done deal yet...Rumor: Joe Smith to Propain; Phil Atwill to Cube Status: likely
There were rumours swirling around about Phil Atwill moving on from Propain last year, but it's only now that he will almost certainly be biting the bullet and heading for a new team. It was a tough 2018 for Phil, with a lot of it spent recovering from an ACL injury. Even so, he was comfortably back in the top-twenty by the end of the season and will be pushing to regain his 2017 podium form next year.
Atwill to Cube and Smith to Propain? Maybe.
So who will replace Phil at Propain? Ben Reid’s team has always had a big-name British rider on the roster (Atwill, Heath, Reid himself), so there’s probably little chance of that changing now. With the Athertons looking likely to be moving into Norco, we suspect that Joe Smith could be the one to fill those boots.