Pinkbike Award Winner: Comeback of the Year

Jan 18, 2015 at 23:34
by Richard Cunningham  

Perhaps the popular choice for Pinkbike's Comeback of the Year award would be Sam Hill - especially for the large number of riders who emulate the way he attacks the courses and for his espoused devotion to flat pedals. Aaron Gwin has his share of devotees and no other rider has dominated the World Cup Series more convincingly. Truth be told, Hill's and Aaron's comebacks in 2014 marked returns from somewhere around tenth to first place. Granted, nine spots off the box may seem like a lifelong goal for sixty or so hopefuls on the World Cup DH Tour, but to those who have stood on the highest step of just one World Cup race, tenth place represents a big disappointment. For the handful of men and women who have won the entire series and those who wear the rainbow stripes, tenth place is no less than a fall from grace. So it was for Sam Hill and Aaron Gwin, two popular heroes who both made much heralded returns to glory last year. There was, however, a more compelling story that earned the win for 2014.

Pinkbike MTB Awards
Comeback of the Year


Fabien Barel


Fabien Barel earned Pinkbike's Comeback of the Year award for 2014 for his triumphant return to enduro racing after suffering a serious spinal injury in a terrible crash in the first stage of the first EWS race in Nevados de Chillan. Barel applied himself to a steady and demanding rehabilitation regimen that was originally intended to allow the former DH champion to simply ride his bicycle once more without pain or an acute risk of a re-injury. Those who know Fabien would have bet on seeing him back on the trail, but nobody, even the man himself, would have predicted that Fabien would roll up to the start box of the last EWS race of that same year and crush the field for the win. When Fabien took the top step at Finale Ligure, Italy, it marked an astonishing comeback - especially when one considers how much of a hotly contested series that the 2014 EWS season was.

Canyon Bicycles J r mie Reuiller
  Jeremie Reuiller photo


There was a second reason we chose Barel that reveals a facet of the man which deserves to be noted. Fabien doesn't have to win any kind of races to maintain his sponsorships. He has proven to be invaluable as an ambassador and a product developer for the various bike companies he has worked with. He needs no fame, as he is a multiple World Cup and World Championship winner. Barel could have walked away after his rehab and lived a happy life as a highly lauded cycling celeb. The only remaining motivation to return to enduro racing at the highest level with such drive and determination is that Fabien must love the sport enough to devote every fiber in his body to making it happen. That's an honor paid forward to those who worked hard to make the EWS a reality. Welcome back Fabien.

What can you say about Fab Barel In Chile this year he fractured five vertebrae and is still in physio trying to fully overcome that horrific injury. This weekend he came here with no expectations he just wanted to take it day-by-day and see if he could complete the race. In the end even he could not seem to believe what he achieved. He was still trying to get his head around what he achieved when he headed for the podium.
  Does this look like a man who was forbidden by his doctors to ride a mountain bike four weeks earlier? Barel storms his way to victory at Finale Ligure, Italy.



103 Comments

  • + 207
 I cannot believe that anyone would still think that either Sam Hill or Aaron Gwin should win this title "comeback of the year" over Barel's accomplishment. Hill and Gwin may have overcome some inner demons that kept them underperforming for a season or two, but what are they "coming back" from? 7th place finishes? Wow - compelling. Sam Hill's comeback a few seasons ago from injured shoulder to World Champion was impressive, but just returning to form after mediocre seasons doesn't quite compare. Perhaps the fanboys who ignore Barel's nearly miraculous accomplishment have either never tried to come back from serious injury themselves to compete at the highest level in the same season, or simply hate the EWS so much they have to have a DHer or free-rider as their choice.
  • + 55
 Was going to argue, then read article. Cancelled argument.
  • + 42
 I think the argument for Sam Hill is that he came back after years of inner demons, not one or two mediocre seasons. There is no denying that Barel earned this reward by far, but knocking Hill's comeback to a couple of mediocre seasons is hardly fair. For many it was the return of the King.
  • + 11
 AND, Fabien Barel is an advocate not only for our sport, but for family, for charity, and for human culture, frankly. If I turn out to be half the man he is in regards to my children, my determination, and my fellow man I'll say I nailed it!
  • + 0
 Sam Hill's comeback was much more tangible and exciting for DH fans who watched him dominate and usher in a new era not too long ago.

Fabien has mastered the comeback(DH fans will remember he's done it a couple times and made impressive comebacks before), no doubting that and much respect for Fabien for having so much drive/passion. Just thought Sam deserved it more, I think he proved everybody wrong who thought he didn't have it anymore. I don't think Fabien had anything to prove, he's already proven he can comeback with a vengeance.
  • + 4
 couldn't agree more. everybody, not just some bike nerds, should look up to this guy! most people seem to forget this isn't the first time he comes back from a serious injury to win something on the world stage.
  • - 3
 here i am being a proud canadian of stevie over here , "where r ya buddy "
  • + 5
 Fab deserves it for sure, but for those not aware, Sam hill came off his second acl reconstruction at the start of this last season. Before that was his shoulder, before that his first acl job. So he didn't just come back from inner demons, he came back from very physical ones too.
  • + 2
 I think it's a credit not only to Fabien's mental focus to get healthy again but also to his patience. During and after recovery, you have to be acutely aware of how you're feeling and make those adjustments to protect yourself. If you remember, Fabien didn't go all out or push his limits but he rode smart. It goes to show riding smart and carefully (which turned out to be pretty darn fast) can still get you far.
  • + 3
 Fab wins this one, hands down. The reason why Sam's is being talked about is that so many people had already written him off to win races. Flats can't compete on the WC and all that noise about his time having passed. For the record, I am pumped as hell that Sam is back mixing things up on the podium. He makes things exciting. But Fabien's win here is spot on. And props to him for getting back.
  • + 1
 ditto I woulda said Hill until I got the facts on Barel. Fab deserves this one. Hill for WC Champ 2015.
  • + 5
 As a World Cup DH fan (and not so much of an Enduro fan - it just doesn't have me glued to the screen like WC DH) I'd like to give it to Hill. It was truly exciting to see Sam back as a champion on the podium where he used to be time after time! I know Fabian's history in DH and Enduro and he's had a number of inspiring comebacks. He is amazing. So, for me there were two comebacks for 2014.
  • + 6
 I dont think specialized really counts as an inner demon.
  • + 49
 Hat's off to him, anyone that even rides after an injury like that is awesome!
  • + 11
 well, broken back if spinal core is fine is just like any other broken bone, so whatever. hats off to aaron chase who overcame paralysis after spinal core injury and still rips.
  • + 7
 You're over simplifying it ^, so many nerves in close proximity to delicate bones and tissue, any malformation/abnormalities healing means pain and issues
  • + 11
 Never had a serious back injury huh?
  • + 15
 @nikifor88 I broke 3 vertebrae in a biking accident in 1993,I didn't have any neurological problems but take it from me,speaking as someone who has broken my femur in 2 places,my wrist twice and my hand numerous times,it is very different to breaking other bones.I couldn't tell you how many visits I've made to osteopaths and chiropractors over the years.
Still riding though,and hopefully still progressing:-)

Very happy to see Barel get this,for me it was no contest (but then again I am biased).
  • + 3
 @CircusMaximus thats funny, couse i broke my spine as a result of epic otb on crabapples this august. with spinal cord compression. that makes me quadraplegic, and more aware of back injuries than i would like to be. cheers from my wheelchair.
  • + 3
 @nikifor88, I am very sorry to hear about your accident and hope that it will be treatable someday. But please don't say "whatever" about this award winner or act like it was no big deal, possibly if Aaron had been nominated, he would have won. We can only vote on what is put in front of us.
  • + 3
 thats fine, just rising some awareness
  • + 1
 @nikifor88 For someone that has done such damage to your back,you dont seem to be that sympathetic to Barel and those that have commented below you. I broke my back 5 years ago, it took 3 years to rehab and still I have my bad days. Your attitude is all wrong for someone with a broken back.
  • + 3
 i had bad day, sorry
  • + 1
 Sorry to hear that man.
  • + 30
 Well, well deserved. What an ambassador for our sport.
  • + 16
 I hope Soderstrom does something spectacular to win this next year.
  • + 2
 Just riding his bike again would be amazing. Hoping for the best for him!
  • + 7
 Haaaa Barel, a legend, really. This man has inspired me and I ride MTB because of him (Les Gets, 2004, never forget).... I was there in La Bresse when he came back to fourth place (amazing run, outstanding!). I nearly shed a tear (really, i was devastated, couldn't say a word) when he announced his retirement from DH racing. Broke 3 ribs and manage to do 10th in Champery 3 weeks after (again unbelievable performance) the same year.... There's tons of examples of his dedication to our sport. That only proves how much he loves MTB, he lives for it. He's such a great racer and human being, always nice and gentle. He deserved this award more than any other rider in this sport. What he has achieved is what makes me saying our sport is the most beautiful one.
  • + 6
 Huge respect for Fabien Barel, I remember reading an interview with him in Dirt magazine a few years ago about dealing with serious injuries. At the time I was recovering from surgery and found him to be truly inspiring, I have had to deal with numerous injuries since then and whenever I'm struggling for motivation I go and read that interview again. The dude knows the score and was so good to see him make such an incredible recovery, we should start calling him Wolverine.
  • + 1
 He does great interviews hey. It's easy to root for someone who shows such intellect and humility. True champ. Sam hill's was more exciting for many but not of the same order.
  • + 5
 Fabien has this weird chain ring so that he can pedal at all. If I remember correctly, one of his legs is shorter than the other one due to an accident.
  • + 10
 Yeah, he's had busted femur's, both knees are totally replaced, multiple TBI's. It's amazing he can even walk.
  • - 1
 that is an oval ring, some riders prefer them from a power standpoint, I dislike how they pedal on technical climbs. It is not made specifically due to his injuries, likely due to his power preference.
  • + 2
 Yeah he rides like he was on somebody else's body
  • + 7
 The perfect choice. From Potential Zero to Complete Hero in one season.
  • + 6
 I'm going to modify my training plan to win this award
  • + 2
 Barel is an amazing story, almost to good to be true... Coming back from a near death experience to dominate world class athletes? This seems either more an indictment on the level of competition or..... I remember another cyclist who cane back from near death to dominate races.... Just saying. Now flood me with your down votes lol.
  • + 6
 there wasn't question, who have to win this category Smile well deserved
  • + 1
 Still loved Sam's come back and Josh's come UP! Its going to be a crazy year with these two performing at such a high level! Sam was in the past was an absolutely dominating rider, no one could touch him when he's on, he's the only guy you see winning by seconds and not fractions.
  • + 2
 Gwin also won by huge margins during the two years of his domination (2011, 2012). He won 9 out of 14 WC races over those two years, and podiumed in the rest, I believe. Sam Hill is great, and I am glad to see him return to form after physical and psychological demons. Gwin was great - and hopefully will be again. Wouldn't it be awesome to see previous and current champions Hill, Gwin, Smith, Rat, Minnaar, Atherton all at their best in the same season? And wouldn't it be great to see Peaty on the podium at least one more time?
  • + 1
 I think it should be Hill!!!!! ( he won no WC in four years, and then in 2014 two WCs and then almost the world champs and that on flats and with an aluminium bike!!!!!)
But Barel still deserves it, just sayin'
  • + 2
 I looked at the title on the home page and guessed it was Barel without thinking. The man deserves it. Broken back to winning a enduro round, pretty impressive. Top bloke!
  • + 2
 Un choix juste et incontestable ; peut-être à partager avec Absalon pour le crosscountry
  • + 2
 I don't speak/read Francais, and I'm too lazy to look it up to interpret (I am American after all - laziness and ethnocentrism runs in my veins) so I'll just try to decipher (clears throat) - "This choice is incontestable, but perhaps on par with Absalon's accomplishments in Cross Country." How did I do? Is this even close?
  • + 4
 Hi Herzalot ! sorry but my american language is quite poor ; anyway i think you have well interpreted my affirmation ; The return of Absalon during 2014 was extraordinary and could have merited as well a price in pinkebike. These two guys are real champions.
I'm not american, and i'm too proud to ignore these french bikers (i 'm french after all i could be anti-american ... but absolutely not because Americans have been able to resurrect the bike when this great invention was diing in Europe during the 70-80'). Wink
  • + 2
 It was a helluva comeback. Well deserved title.
  • + 2
 Haha the Mavic Magic Marry Big Grin
  • + 1
 Mavic Mary?
  • + 4
 Well... ;-)
  • + 2
 Does his front chainring look bent?
  • + 1
 yep it does
  • + 1
 It's not bent, it's supposed to be like this. One example Mostly because he also has pretty much busted both knees and had to have multiple surgeries but that doesn't keep him from winning races!
  • + 1
 "you better come back with a goddam sandwich" is the greatest comeback of the year.
  • + 2
 that oval chainring looks super weird!
  • + 1
 ...yes, looks oblong :p
  • + 1
 Seized chainlink. Not quite Mulaly standards.
  • + 1
 What is it for?
  • + 8
 Riding around in circles
  • - 1
 It's definitely not circular. It is hard to tell from the picture, but it also looks like his chain isn't engaged very well in the front.
  • + 5
 Barel has been riding with assymetrical chainrings much of the time since his WC DH win.
  • + 1
 What are the advantages? I have one leg longer than the other one...this might be a solution. Thats why i am asking
  • + 2
 it does not fix you if one leg is longer than the other. The theory is that it makes the power stroke longer on your down stroke, they are interesting to ride with but I dislike them for technical terrain, and if you are already used to pedaling in circles (not in squares) then they are less than ideal IMO. Many road athletes in Pro-Tour Time Trials will use oval rings, others will not. Personal preference.
  • + 0
 If it was meant to fix the issue of one leg being shorter than another, it would not be an oval but an egg. That is the future I think. Everyone knows that they have one leg stronger than another, just as it is with arms (even though I try to do "it" by alternating), so egged chainrings will be on press release on your favorite website anytime. Furthermore there will surely be a company that will make a machine that will test you and come up with the most optimized chainring for your pedal stroke. Don't think of the money, think of the PROs and KOMs!
  • + 1
 fab has been running oval rings since he broke his leg and ended up with one shorter than the other.....
  • + 1
 Not too many people understand your hummor @waki. +1
  • + 2
 @wolfguerrero Biopace is not the same. Go look at any of the manufactures of oval rings, and you'll see that they have different goals in mind. Stop spreading that crap around!
  • + 0
 @xyphota, it seems that you know what it is for... care to explain?

thanks
  • + 1
 Biopace put the larger radius at the top/bottom of pedal stroke, with the intent of evening out the pedal stroke to make for a smoother ride. This actually doesnt really make alot of sense, even on paper, so I have no idea why it got put into production... It does not make sense because your feet are naturally moving slowest at the top and bottom of the stroke, and than with biopace, they further reduce your available torque on the chain, further reducing your speed. This makes for a very uneven pedal stroke, completely opposite of what they had in mind.

Modern oval chainrings (such as absoluteBlack) put the larger radius at the horizontal part of the pedal stroke. So if you think about it this way, it makes more sense: As your leg starts approaching the horizontal crank position, the torque you produce actually increases. So as the radius increases, it counteracts your increasing torque, and makes the pedal stroke smoother. Its kind of hard to explain without having some basic knowledge in physics.

(P.S. for all you physics nerds, I know the correct term/phrase is 'Moment about an axis', but 'torque' is more generally accepted)
  • + 2
 This comment is not aimed at anyone in particular, but what kind of bike riders have no knowledge of oval chainings?! They've been around a long time
  • + 0
 @davidsimons, a rider like me Wink
read my profile you may get a better idea of what type of rider. What are you going to do with the info now that you have a response to the question?

@xyphota, thanks for the response it does make sense. I am actually interested on one now.
  • + 2
 one shorter leg? wouldn't it be better to have one shorter crank arm??
  • + 1
 Maybe you just came up with a revolutionary idea.
  • + 1
 Oh the sarcasm! WAKI is funny and Narro2 and some others get it.
  • + 1
 Don't call it a comeback, he's been here for years
  • + 1
 Hill, Hill, Hill change mind fair play to Barel respect
  • + 1
 S.H. and A.G.and F.B. Rock
  • + 0
 best comeback…"l know you are but what am l"? haha
  • + 0
 Well deserved indeed, it must be "challenging" after so many set backs!
  • + 1
 ...The Seattle Seahawks!
  • - 8
flag bkchef2000 (Jan 21, 2015 at 6:18) (Below Threshold)
 Go Hawks!
  • + 1
 Wooot! Well deserved!
  • + 1
 Holy F@CK Yeah!
  • - 2
 Well duuuuh...
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