Do you guys remember when you pretty much knew who'd fill out the top-five on a World Cup results sheet? It was only a few seasons ago that you could more or less say who was going to do well; Gwin, Atherton, Minnaar and the rest of the crew were the safe choices, and you'd be a dumbass to ever bet against Rachel stomping on most of the women's field. The old guard is up against it now, though, with the likes of Pierron, Vergier, Shaw, Bruni, and Iles on the men's side, and Seagrave, Cabirou, and young'n Vali Höll for the ladies looking to bump the veterans down a few spots.
The fresh blood hasn't only shaken up our Sundays, however, with sponsorship silly season looking like it might be just as disruptive as the racing. There are rumors, and only rumours, of World Champion Miranda Miller leaving the big red S to race enduro, Brendan Fairclough leaving Scott and World Champion Kate Courtney joining Scott, Emily Batty and Trek going separate ways, Jack Moir throwing a leg over a Session for 2019, and Maes still not being locked down by GT. Just give the Belgian whatever he wants, right?
The wildest rumor of all? Both Gwin and Neko are leaving YT and currently talking to other companies, including American brands Intense, Trek, and believe it or not, Specialized.
Rumor: Aaron Gwin and Neko Mulally off YT Status: likely
We might as well start with the juiciest one of all: the most dominant male downhiller in recent times, Aaron Gwin, along with current teammate and fellow American Neko Mulally, are reportedly both moving on from their YT program.
So, where are they going? The rumor mill has several companies poking around: Trek (again), Specialized (also again), and Intense. Yup, Intense.
Just imagine Gwin, an American, winning World Cups and possibly even an overall title (you'd bet against Gwin?) on an Intense, which is also American. If it happens, there better be some bald eagles on Gwin and Neko's bikes. Will we see an all-American dream team of Gwin and Mulally? Will this put Intense back to the top of the downhill bike food chain for the first time since the M1 was making us drool back in the mid to late-90s and early 2000s?
There's one more name in the running, too, with the Germans at Canyon reportedly putting their bidding hand up as well, but I suspect that we won't be finding out where Gwin and Neko will be calling home until closer to 2019.
Having Gwin on your bike isn't exactly an inexpensive proposition - he's rumored to be commanding a significant cheque. The team's structure is something to keep in mind as well; The Mob is the actual team put together by Gwin and Martin Whiteley, and is supplied frames by YT and parts by their sponsors. I suspect that Gwin will want that arrangement to carry over with another frame sponsor for 2019.
Gwin was tight lipped beyond confirming that he's "currently unsigned and still working on everything," and YT declined to comment, so we're left to get our TMZ on (errr... PMZ?) for now. Where do you think Gwin and Neko are heading to, if anywhere?Rumor: Maes to stay with GT Status: likely
He didn't take any overall titles in 2018, but Martin Maes had one hell of a season. The Belgian powerhouse became the first racer to stand on the top step at both an Enduro World Series race (Whistler no less) and a World Cup downhill event (a slick La Bresse) back-to-back, and on very different types of terrain. Oh yeah, he followed that up with a second place, just 0.213 behind Loic Bruni, at this little thing called the DH World Championships. Maes beat Hart, Vergier, Gwin and the rest of the full-time downhill gang on the Lenzerheide track, thereby proving that he's one of the most versatile gravity racers out there, as well as giving credence to just how gnarly the EWS guys actually are. Not that anyone should have ever doubted that.
Maes' contract with GT is apparently up, and his current run of results makes him one of the hottest free agents out there. If you ask me, GT should just give him whatever the hell he wants, especially since it's been a long time since they were a force (see what I did there?) on the racing scene. No one with insider knowledge wanted to comment on the record, other than the man himself: ''GT picked me up when I was 15 years old. The years went by so quick and we achieved some of my dreams together. I can't thank the whole team enough to make such rad bikes and be so supportive. We are determined to achieve so much while having a good time,'' Maes told me when I asked him his plans.
Given that quote, it's likely that we'll see a 'Maes re-signs with GT' press release any day now, although I don't doubt that other brands are sniffing around.Rumor: Miranda Miller to race EWS Status: likely
Miranda Miller didn't have the smoothest of 2018 seasons after her World Championship victory in 2017, and there's talk of her switching it up for 2019 by moving to the Enduro World Series. Whether she does it under the Specialized banner or another brand remains to be seen—there are other reported suitors, including Kona. Confirmed: Fearon re-signs with Kona
While he wouldn't comment on anything to do with Miranda Miller, Kona's Caleb Smith did confirm that they've re-signed World Cup downhiller Connor Fearon. He'll be doing at least three Enduro World Series events in 2019, making him yet another World Cupper who's dipping his toes into the multi-stage gravity scene. Rumor: Fairclough off Scott Status: false
Rumor: Kate Courtney on Scott Status: possible
Brendan has long been one of the most stylish and popular racers around, as well as being one of the few World Cup regulars who dabbles in all sorts of other events. He's been doing exactly that for years while riding for Scott, but it's probably fair to say that his results have rarely matched his ridiculous talent. Maybe it's time for a change of scenery? That's what the completely unconfirmed rumors were saying, but...
This one is false. Ben Walker, Scott Product Manager, tells us that they have indeed re-signed Fairclough to ride their soon-to-be-released new downhill bike
At the complete opposite end of the spectrum is freshly crowned cross-country World Champion Kate Courtney. While she certainly brought the heat in her junior years, Courtney wasn't the obvious pick for the top step in Lenzerheide, especially with the likes of Neff, Langvad, and Batty on the hunt for medals. In the end, Courtney used her superior technical skills to get a jump that Langvad couldn't close on the final lap, and the American notched her first huge win as an elite. The hugest win, actually.
She's been with Specialized since forever, and I'm sure they'd like to keep the newly crowned champ, but we've heard a few whispers that she could be leaving. Scott's name has come up more than once, and her and Nino Schurter would make for quite the roster.
Specialized wasn't eager to comment on whether Courtney was staying or not, with Sean Estes, their Global PR Manager, saying ''You should expect to hear athlete-related news from us sometime pretty soon.'' All quiet from Kate herself, too, which could be a hint in itself.
Rumor: The Rat to Cannondale
Status: very likely
Josh Bryceland's departure from Santa Cruz is surely the biggest surprise of 2018, at least so far, but, if the whispers are true, where he ends up could trump that - Cannondale. Sounds crazy, right? It totally does... until you realize that Cannondale doesn't have any big-name gravity riders to send it on their near-new enduro bike, especially since Jerome Clementz stepped back from full-time action. Another clue: Cannondale has now debuted their new cross-country bikes (the Scalpel and F-Si), as well as both their new all-mountain and enduro bikes (the Trigger and Jekyll), so what's next? Exactly.
The Rat does what the Rat wants - we're talking about a guy who stepped away from World Cup racing while being among the best - so don't be surprised to see a curveball from Bryceland.