What a wild season! Racing in 2021 went down to the wire and we're still not finished yet, with more fireworks due at the final round of the EWS taking place in Scotland this weekend. For some race fans, the off-season shenanigans are even more intriguing than the racing itself and so we begin the silly business of internet investigation and rumor filtering until the UCI team list is revealed.
To get a head start, we've tapped up sources and spoken to riders to try and get a clearer picture of what might be happening next year. Below are rumors, and only rumors, of some rider movements for 2022. These include Luca Shaw to Specialized, Laurie Greenland off to a new team and some very in-demand racers.
Luca Shaw to Specialized - Possible
The Santa Cruz Syndicate has rarely featured in these round ups in the past simply because they generally hold on to riders and nurture them over a long period of time. The last time the team saw any riders added to the team was in 2017, when Luca Shaw and Loris Vergier joined the fold
. With Loris moving on to Trek
last year, there were just two riders on the team this year, Greg Minnaar and Luca Shaw.
Luca has ridden to three of his four Elite podiums in the Syndicate colours. However, it sounds like it might be time for Luca to try his hand with a new team and the strongest rumor we've heard is that Specialized is where he'll end up. Luca started his journey as a World Cup racer with Specialized when he was racing as a junior in 2013, so it would be a poetic return for him nearly a decade later.
Laurent Delorme, Specialized Gravity team manager, said "Luca was part of Specialized family, back in the day. Many people in Morgan Hill still supports him. He's a well-known rider, did great results, and Loic, Finn and Chris really like him.
I spoke personally to him this end of the season, to talk about his physical condition, his injuries, his future: he's somebody I really like and appreciate (same for his brother and his father...)
It doesn't mean that we will sign him for the future, because I talk with many riders who I like, and to help them to find the right mood... Santa Cruz, with Rob Roskopp, Kathy, Steve or Greg, is a strong team, and we love racing against them because they are fast. I'm 100 per cent sure that we will never steal a rider from another team because it's not how the business of our sport should be. It must be the rider and team's choice.
PureAgency for Specialized Gravity Team confirmed last year a long term agreement with Specialized Bicycles, including its Elite riders."
Luca and Santa Cruz declined to comment.
Martin Maes to Orbea - Possible
Martin Maes and GT seemed like a combination as timeless as berries and cream as GT took Maes on board as a teenager and have nurtured him into the world-class racer he is today. Well, that might not be the case anymore. Martin has come to the end of a three-year contract he signed in October 2018
and has apparently been shopping around for a new deal. We've seen a lot of chatter that links him to Orbea, but the truth is his future is still in doubt.
Martin told us, "I can confirm that I've been approached with Orbea as well as other brands. Myself and my manager are still negotiating with the interested brands so I can confirm that nothing has been signed yet."
Of course, this could mean Martin is off to a new team or, simply, he's just trying to gauge his worth so he can sign a stronger deal with GT.
Xabier Rodrigo, communications manager at Orbea, told us, "The season has not finished yet and we have to respect the right moments. For sure, the enduro category is key for us. We want to keep our progression next year and we want to perform in EWS. So of course, we’re having an eye on some riders and potential leaders for next season. Martin Maes could be one of these names. We’ve already got in touch with him some years ago, but he stayed in his team. Let’s wait and see what the future will bring. And don't worry, because as soon as we have official information about the roster for 2022, we will inform everybody who is supporting our team and to all the people who are making this sport bigger."
Izabela Yankova Considering Big Team Offers - Confirmed
One of the breakout stars of 2021 has been Izabela Yankova. The 17-year-old Bulgarian rider clean swept the final three Junior women's World Cups of the year and finished the season as World Cup overall champion
and World Champion. She currently rides for the Riders United team, a Bulgarian domestic squad that focuses on youth development, but her exploits this year have earned her the attention of some far bigger setups.
There are quite a few teams without a top woman heading into next year and with Izabela promising to develop into an even faster prospect, we expect she'll land herself a big deal for 2021.
4 Brands Tried To Sign Benoit Coulanges Mid-Contract - Confirmed
Another rider whose results have caused a stir this year is Benoit Coulanges. In the past couple of years, he's really grown into a consistent top ten racer and finished eighth in the overall standings last year. If I was a betting man, I'd put money on him being the next new World Cup winner in the Elite men's field.
I'm clearly not alone in seeing his potential as there are apparently four different brands with offers on the table for Benoit. He said, "4 teams have expressed their interest, I can say that I have already made my final choice and we are close to the final details."
At this time, we don't know who the brands were or what his final choice was, but it sounds like it won't be long until we find out more.
Laurie Greenland to the Santa Cruz Syndicate - Possible
If Luca is set to depart from the Syndicate then there's no doubt a big name will be needed to replace him. We've heard from our sources that Laurie Greenland could be exactly that rider.
Laurie is definitely keeping his cards close to his chest with this one. He said, "Funny you should ask, I'm actually making the big switch to pro swingball for 2022, watch this space for the announcement." We'll keep an eye on this one with interest.
Florian Nicolai Parts Ways with Trek - Likely
It seems like barely any time has passed since Florian Nicolai's season-long battle with Sam Hill for the 2019 Enduro World Series title
. With his big move to Trek that offseason
, it seemed like Florian was set up to be a regular challenger for wins. 2020 was a great (if short) season for Florian with two podiums from three races, but it hasn't quite clicked in 2021 where his best result has been a 14th.
We've heard that Trek and Florian will be parting ways this off season and that Florian will race for a French team next year. Trek and Florian declined to comment for this piece.
Tuhoto Ariki to the Syndicate - Not True
The final name linked to the Syndicate is Tuhoto Ariki. The young Kiwi has been picking up some great results on the Santa Cruz sponsored Union team, which could have been a great launchpad for a seat on the Californian brand's A team. However, it seems like Tuhoto is happy where he is for now.
Team manager Joe Bowman told us, "It's been rad to see him get the attention he deserves, but unfortunately Tuhoto won't be jumping to the Syndicate this year. Hopefully at some point, the Union goal of giving the riders a lily pad to bigger things does result in a move like this for him though!"
Joe also gave us a little tease about a new female rider for the Union team, "a certain Viking that invaded America some time ago."
Mark Wallace to Norco - Not True
One of the big rumors that has been going around the pits this year is that Mark Wallace may leave his long-term sponsor Canyon to join a fellow Canadian brand in Norco. Well, we're here to knock that one on the head. Mark still has a year left on his contract so will be racing on the Sender again next year.
Norco team manager Kevin Haviland told us, "We are looking some potential options, but nothing is that close to be honest. So no real news to share from our end."
We have a few more leads we're chasing down and will be producing a second part to this article in the coming weeks.