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. Comeback of the Year
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.
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.