Breakout Rider of the Year Nominees
When we sat down to discuss the 2021 Athlete of the Year Nominees, there were several riders we wanted to acknowledge who stood out because of the ways they took 2021 by surprise, so we created a new category to honor them. Below, you'll find our 2021 Breakout Rider of the Year Nominees.
2020 and 2021 have clearly been abnormal years for racing, but amid the abbreviated race seasons, uncertainty, and shifting priorities for riders, some athletes not only maintained their fitness and skills but found new motivation, drive, and focus. For the below riders, some of whom had their first chances to really show what they could do at the world level, 2021 was a year of immense growth and their time to break through to the next level.
After their performances this season, all of these riders are now favorites as we look ahead to 2022.
Why she's nominated
After some of Hattie Harnden's performances as a U21 rider, we know she would do big things. Still, we didn't know she would win two EWS races in a row during her first season in the elites, becoming the youngest-ever elite women's EWS winner at just 20.
Not only did Hattie race the full EWS season, but she also raced several U23 World Cup cross-country races and is now gearing up for her winter cyclocross season. She rides all kinds of bikes, and she rides them well, nearly always with a smile on her face.
Her first win came at the second La Thuile race this season, which featured steep, rocky tracks - Hattie's favorite type. At the next stop, in Loudenvielle, Hattie dominated the Queen Stage by 20 seconds, pulling ahead of Noga Korem and Isabeau Courdurier who had won the previous stages. When the dust had settled on the EWS season, she was sitting fourth.
Regardless of what discipline(s) Hattie chooses to race in the future, it's safe to say we will keep seeing big things from her.
Why he's nominated
This time last year, we nominated
Tom Pidcock for Athlete of the Year after he took the U23 field by storm despite having never raced an elite mountain bike race before the season started. "If he was a country, he would have finished second in the medal table, with only France ahead of him," James Smurthwaite wrote of Tom's 2020 U23 season.
This season, however, Elite Tom Pidcock has dwarfed U23 Tom Pidcock's achievements, starting the season on the 11th row of the start grid in Albstadt and fighting up to fifth place, and only improving from there. At the next race in Nove Mesto, he took the win by an entire minute over Mathieu van der Poel. Then, even after breaking his collarbone, he went on to win the Olympics. If that's not a commanding season, I don't know what is.
He's also just 22 years old and a phenom on curly-bar bikes as well. It seems he has decided to focus on mountain biking for the time being, but he'll continue to develop in his other disciplines as well, bringing a breadth of experience on the bike that is uncommon at any age.
Why she's nominated
In years past, we've watched Vali Holl match the times of the elite women and speculated about what would happen when she was among their ranks. Now that we've watched Vali take her first two elite World Cup wins, it's time to move on to talking about another up-and-coming junior female: Izabela Yankova.
The Bulgarian rider hit her stride midseason in Val di Sole, taking the World Championship win - becoming the first Bulgarian cyclist of any discipline to win a World Championship event - and continuing that streak to win the next three World Cup races, first in Lenzerheide and then twice in Snowshoe, and she's just getting faster.
Her times slot her among the ranks of riders like Eleonora Farina, Millie Johnset, and Monika Hrastnik. At just 17 years old and already riding at a pace to keep up with factory pros, we're quite impressed. We're also pleased to see that she's fielding team offers
for next season, so we look forward to seeing her on the course with some more support next year.
Why he's nominated
19-year-old Jaxson Riddle hasn't exactly been incognito in the freeride scene, even earning himself a Red Bull helmet in 2020. Still, he solidified his name in the history books this fall by becoming the fan favorite and winning the Best Style award at Red Bull Rampage.
Jaxson is a Utah local whose moto background shows in the way he brings creativity and ridiculous style to big mountain lines on his downhill bike. Although this year was his first Rampage, he rides with more familiarity with the Utah lines than almost anyone else, and seems to see lines that no one else can dream up. The young rider is relatively new to mountain biking, first picking up a downhill bike when he was 15, but he started sending it quickly and hasn't stopped. If his past progression is anything to go by, he has tricks up his sleeve and in his future that haven't even occurred to the rest of us.
Jaxson deserves a sincere congratulations for his Rampage performance. The future is certainly bright.