2021 Pinkbike Awards: Comeback of the Year Nominees

Dec 10, 2021 at 10:25
by James Smurthwaite  

After 2020's race season was decimated by the spread of the Coronavirus, the real Comeback of the Year should surely be racing itself. However, as 'racing' doesn't have a postal address, we'll have to award the gong to a racer instead. Comebacks generally involve injuries but don't forget the equally taxing mental fortitude it takes to overcome an injury and fight to be as fast as your peers once again. We aren’t writing this article to glorify injury but do believe that the strength of character shown by the athletes below deserves plenty of credit. Here are our nominees for Comeback of the Year.

Comback of the Year Nominees

Why he's nominated

Less than a week before the Les Gets World Cup, Thibaut Daprela was being airlifted to hospital with his tongue split in two and his face battered following a crash at a French Cup race. With his tongue requiring stitches, Daprela spent the week subsisting on chicken and rice milkshakes and then exacerbated the whole situation by crashing again on the first day of practice.

It's undeniable that rain played a role in his victory but he still laid down a heater time despite the stitches coming loose in his tongue during the run. Some number crunching will show that, rain or not, Daprela was probably on for a time that would have challenged for the top spot.

Why she's nominated

This is Jolanda's second consecutive nomination for the Comeback of the Year Award, simply because her return to the top has been stretched over two years of racing. Neff did well to be even riding her bike at World Cups last year following her near-death experience in the Pisgah woods but what she achieved this year eclipsed even that.

She started the year slowly, first struggling with a high pollen count in Albstadt then having to work her way through the field at the subsequent round in Nove Mesto. However, Neff had a bigger goal in mind. She spent the off-season focussing on technical riding and it paid off where it mattered most, at the Olympic Games. Building up the Olympics, Neff picked up a podium in both the XCC and XCO at the Leogang World Cup but a crash not captured on camera left her with a broken hand. She didn't let this dampen her dreams though and recovered quickly in time for the Olympics. When it came down to it, Neff was unstoppable on the Japanese course and led home a Swiss 1-2-3 sweep of the medals.

Why she's nominated
With the expectations piled on Vali Holl when she first came into the elite ranks it would have been impossible for her to match them. Winning every race? "Well, of course, that's Vali Holl." In reality, her adjustment took a bit longer than people might have expected. An injury at the World Champs scuppered her 2020 season and then she came in 2021 with expectations high once again.

While Holl was fully fit, she seemed to be struggling mentally with the pressures of racing. On more than one occasion, final corner crashes cost her strong results and she was struggling to find even the podium in the middle of the season. However, there was no doubt that she was blisteringly fast. Qualifying domination kept her in the title race and then in Snowshoe she was able to put her demons to rest, recording back-to-back World Cup wins and snatching the title out from Myriam Nicole's grasp.

Why he's nominated

When Tyler McCaul moved to Southern Utah to help prepare himself for Rampage, he couldn't imagine what a purgatory it would turn out to be. After he earned his best-ever result of fifth at the 2019 event, he spent the next 16 months on the couch rehabbing a brutal ankle injury.

Slowly but surely he began to work his way back to fitness with an eMTB to help him ride without his usual leg power until he returned to Rampage once more. Despite being off the bike for nearly a year, McCaul equalled his best-ever result from 2019 with a run that included big flips and high consequence suicide no-handers.


  • 386 2
 Comeback of the year: Jack Moir's DT Swiss rim in Finale Ligure.
  • 2 0
 so good
  • 5 0
 100% correct. Moi Moi
  • 1 0
  • 107 7
  • 36 4
 Omicron world tour doesn’t really kick off till 2022.
  • 11 0
 @Mtmw: will he bringing the other transformers?
  • 3 1
 @Mtmw: It's touring Norway right now, so it's well on it's way.
  • 57 1
 Thibaut for sure. In hospital a week before winning a world cup
  • 83 16
 I’d like to see the comeback (oh wait no introduction) of a proper concussion protocol. And less glorification of recklessness of a rolemodel others shouldn’t follow.
  • 20 53
flag Cameltoby (Dec 19, 2021 at 13:46) (Below Threshold)
 @ESKato: Are you a doctor? Or more precisely, Thibaut's doctor? If not, your comment has nothing to do with this topic
  • 41 0
 I say Bulldogs comeback from a broken back to some pretty dam good results at WC's !!!
  • 1 0
 @glenno: yes exactly...brook Mcdonald has had an incredible comeback to racing
  • 6 0
 @glenno: He was the winner last year!
  • 54 4
 Katy Winton should be an honorable mention. She may not have won anything but she hung in there when the industry basically wrote her off.
  • 46 0
 Jolanda for me.
  • 39 0
 I hear Mike Levy shouting "Nino!"
  • 29 1
 Bulldog. He may not have won races like Depraela this year but there was real wonder if he'd ever even walk again, and within a year and a half was riding downhill at the highest level again. Certainly the most inspiring for me.
  • 7 0
 He was the winner last year!
  • 23 0
 T-Mac 100%
  • 2 0
  • 2 0
 his description on a podcast (Vital? I forget) of his road through recovery was WILD. dude's a warrior
  • 17 0
 Jolanda timed her comeback so perfectly that not even a broken hand a few weeks out let anyone get even close. Legend.
  • 3 0
 From seriously injured to completely dominating the olympics, she’s the top pick.
  • 18 1
 I'm no XC fan, but it's got to be Jolanda Neff. She went from a potential career ending injury to top of the Olympic podium.
  • 19 4
 Gotta be Vali.
  • 15 0
 The McCaul pic is "wow"
  • 15 2
 I'd say McCaul. Being off the bike for a year is brutal enough, then coming back to form is definitely an amazing feat.
  • 7 0
 Especially if you know what he went through.
  • 11 1
 Did Vali "snatch the title from Myriam" or did Myriam concede it through bad luck? Bit of hyperbole in the above article (no disrespect to Vali, and I believe it was obvious that was not how she would have wanted to win).
Looking forward to seeing the most-competitive women's field ever in 2022.
  • 19 7
 I think it has to be Kim Kardashian!
  • 11 0
 A new hobbit movie this year?
  • 30 5
 Because she gets come on her back in the video
  • 4 0
 Ah damn beat me to it. Lol Chris Pratt
  • 11 0
 Greg Minnaar, you can’t come back if you never left.
  • 9 0
 If we get to take the disrupted 2020 mini season into account, why No Jack Moir? From unemployed to champion.
  • 9 3
 How is learning to race in Elites in your first year a "comeback". I'm sure there is someone out there that actually did have to make a comeback due to injury far more deserving of nomination.
  • 8 0
 Brooke Mcdonald ?? Or was that last year, it's hard to tell at the minute?
  • 10 2
 1. Neff 2. Holl 3. T-Mac
  • 5 0
 Can you exspleen?
  • 9 0
 Cavendish got robbed!
  • 2 0
 comeback of the year @JonnaJohnsen from team Mondraker!
Got cleared from cancer in february, raced in april, raced the full EWS tour, crankworx and a UCI DH World Cup in Leogang, also finished Enduro National Champion in Mexico!

That's a comeback.
  • 6 1
 Thibaut or Tyler, I know what its like to be sidelined for a year.
  • 6 1
 T-Mac all day. Such a legend
  • 1 0
 Holl...she is an amazing young rider who managed to shrug off a rough start and live up to, or exceed, the hype! Looking forward to seeing her grow as a racer. She beat my second favorite female rider this year, and if she keeps it up, I want to see her give Rachel A a run for the money as the best DH racer around.
  • 2 0
 I came here to write "Thibault, for sure!" but T-Mac's recovery story was so crazy...and then Jolanda?! I don't know, can't choose.
  • 3 0
 All I see in the thumbnail is the Commençal logo.
  • 3 0
 Thibaut. How is this even a question?
  • 4 0
 Tmac is a boss
  • 4 0
 Mike K
  • 2 0
 Tom Pidock? He got hit by a car breaking his collar bone and then went on to win Olympic gold less than two months later
  • 5 0
 Don't worry, he's a nailed-on certainty for the "best performance on Suntour suspension" category.
  • 1 0
 Tom Pidcock not mentioned? 2 months before winning gold at the Olympics he was in hospital having surgery on his broken collar bone.
  • 1 0
 Vali 100% then Daprela. But I think vail had so much pressure for her first elite year and see what she did the last few races was nothing short of a great come back
  • 3 0
  • 3 0
 No nino!?
  • 1 0
 "struggling with a high pollen count"?
  • 1 0
 Her breathing and oxygen intact would’ve decreased, I experience it too
  • 2 0
  • 1 0
 Vali, she is so strong!!!
  • 3 2
 Thibaut and Vali jointly
  • 1 0
 Steve Smith.
  • 1 0
  • 1 1
 You may need to review the article, I believe you misspelled Bulldog.
  • 1 0
 Jolanda. Neff said!
  • 1 3
 Kim Kardashian

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