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Athlete of the Year Nominees

Narrowing a mega-talented field of male and female athletes down to three nominees would be tough enough if we only had to choose from one discipline. The magnificence of this sport, however, lies in its many facets. Before Pinkbike could begin the task of nominating athletes, we first had to narrow down the categories. World Cup Cross Country was a must. Race course designs were off the chart, rife with technical sections and grade change-ups that forced competitors to show up with their A-game or go home. No-question that Downhill was a selection category, this is Pinkbike, after all. To seek out our third nominee, we compared stand-out performances from the 2016 freestyle and enduro calendar - which turned out to be the most contentious battle of this nomination process.

With the venues selected, all that was left was to figure out how one compares the courage, raw power and gymnastic ability of a freerider; with the predatory focus and trigger-fast acceleration of a downhiller; with the ability of a cross-country racer to lay down 500 watts at Vo2-max for over an hour while negotiating mud, roots, drops and rock gardens; and then there is the enduro competitor, who has to perform all of those skills at some point over two days of racing. In the end, it was easier than we expected - these three athletes were so outstanding that it would be difficult not to choose them:

The 2016 Nominees for Athlete of the year are Downhill's Rachel Atherton, Cross-country's Nino Schurter, and Enduro's Richie Rude.

Rachel Atherton's unprecedented winning streak began way back in 2015 after she placed second behind Emmeline Ragot at the World Cup season opener at Lourdes, France. From that point onward, the Women's Downhill was a one-woman show. Riding for GT/Atherton Racing, Rachel won the remaining six World Cups and capped 2015 with gold at the World Championships.

Rachel and Atherton Racing then switched to Trek for the 2016 season, where she managed a clean sweep of all seven World Cup DH races and once again, rallied on to win the World Championships. That's fifteen in a row - on every type of race course and in every conceivable weather condition. Oh, and while she was on holiday from the World Cups, Rachel also bagged the 2015 and 2016 British National DH Champs.
Tip of the hat to 4 gold medals and the perfect season. Congratulations to the unstoppable Rachel Atherton from all Pinkbike
Nathan Hughes photo

Bronze in 2008 and silver in 2012, Swiss phenom Nino Schurter put the Olympic gold medal in his cross-hairs at the outset of the 2016 World Cup cross-country season and did not flinch. As a warm up, Schurter won three out of six World Cups, bagged second overall in the series, and then won the World Championship XC in Nové Mêsto (his sixth). When he finally pulled the trigger at the start line of the Olympic XC in Rio de Janiero, he left no question about who was going to cross the line first.

Nino didn't win the Olympic cross-country event - he owned it. He danced across the boulders. He threw shapes over the jumps. He rode a real mountain bike, and he showed the world why we love this sport.

If you wondered why promoters put teeth back into their race courses, and why cross country suddenly became a must-watch event - you are looking at him, right here.
The Hunt for glory in the finish
Michal Cerveny photo

Until Richie Rude, the Enduro World Series was a pension plan for active elders who had recently retired from pro downhill racing. Like most of enduro's brightest lights, the 2013 Junior DH World Champion also transitioned from the World Cup gravity circuit - but at a much younger age. Richie had the skills, but few believed the 200-pound Yeti rider could get up to speed in a venue that favored leaner men.

So, Richie taught himself how to pedal, and in 2015, he earned his first EWS victory at Samoens, France, in a battle against the legendary Nico Vouilloz that came down to a final-stage shootout. Richie's long-awaited win set him on fire. He stormed to the overall title that year and came out swinging in 2016, dominating the first two races in South America, and then shrugged off a mid-season shoulder injury to earn his second EWS Series title. At only 21 years old, Richie's best years lie ahead. Be afraid.
When you flat and finish 70th on stage two losing 22 seconds to your closest rival in the race and then come back to finish third overall... Just 4.6 seconds back.
Dave Trumpore photo

Three famous athletes, nominated from three different disciplines. It is often said that "It's the rider, not the bike, that matters." If that holds true, then "Athlete of the Year" is arguably, the most prestigious of Pinkbike's awards. We will soon be releasing our year-end winners. In the meantime, the comment section is ripe, and we would love to hear your take on the top athlete of 2016. - RC

Click here for information about the judging and selection criteria for Pinkbike's Year-End Awards


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