The 2017 World Cup and EWS seasons are long behind us; the drama is wrapped up, champions crowned, and losers probably off training harder than they did this time last year. So, with the exception of a few "urban downhill'' events that combine crumbling cement staircases with sketchy wood kickers and street dogs, it's a quiet time of the year for those who look forward to early morning Red Bull live feeds.
In lieu of actual racing, we're left with bench racing. Sure, most big names like Gwin and Minnaar are tied up, but a few are going somewhere new, while others were able to find leftover crumbs from the soggy biscuit of mountain bike sponsorship that sees a few guys get a lot and a lot of guys get very little. And as always, there are a couple of interesting rumors to stir the pot with. Sam Hill leaving Team Chain Reaction Cycles Mavic and going to YT - FALSE
Let's start with the juiciest rumour of them all: Sam Hill, the 2017 Enduro World Series champ and World Cup downhill boss, moving from Team Chain Reaction Cycles Mavic to ride for YT Industries. Sam might not have been winning World Cup downhill races when he left to do the enduro thing, but his stock was still remarkably high because, well, he's Sam Hill, of course. Oh, and that sixth place at the DH World Champs in Cairns after spending an entire season away from downhill racing. But now that the Australian added an Enduro World Series title to his already thick résumé, he's no doubt worth even more to a company that has a lot of coin to spend.
Danny Hart leaving Mondraker and going to Saracen - LIKELY
Enter YT, who are apparently selling a metric shit ton of mail order bikes, enough to cover Gwin and, if you believe the rumors, Mr. Hill as well. Talk about a super team, eh? As awesome as it sounds, Gwin and Hill both riding for YT isn't in the cards according to their Media and Advertising Manager Martina Bogott. ''There were rumors, indeed,'' Bogott said. ''But this is not going to happen.''
The latest whispers have Hill re-signing with Team Chain Reaction Cycles Mavic, but that's an unconfirmed rumor and Team Manager Nigel Page has been tight-lipped whether that is true or not. My money is on Hill staying put for 2018 and beyond.
While Danny's 2017 season wasn't full of wins like the prior year, the exciting Englishman is always a threat, and he's a threat that has rainbow stripes on his jersey. Saracen saw their star racer, Manon Carpenter, move to Radon (and then retire from racing) this year, thereby freeing up a spot on the payroll and creating a need for a big-name rider to be on their Myst downhill sled. Multiple sources say that Hart signed up to ride the all-carbon Myst awhile back, and it would be quite the coup if the UK brand scooped up the quickest UK rider, wouldn't it? Mike Anderson, Madison Saracen Press Officer, declined to comment when I put him on the spot about Danny being on their payroll for 2018 and beyond.
Rachel and Gee Retiring - FALSE (for now)
Mondraker also declined to comment on if Hart, who has become known as a bit of a wet conditions specialist, has left their team (contracts often don't end until January 1st), but this one is a safe bet in my books.
Laurie Greenland is sticking around, but Markus Pekoll announced his retirement this past August, and word is that Mondraker will be filling that spot with a racer who has been on the team in the past. My guess is that Brook Macdonald will be coming back to the outfit where his first and only World Cup race in Val d'Isère back in 2012.
Well, it's not like Rachel hasn't already won everything there is to win, right? And Gee has had a rough few seasons, relatively speaking, so it wouldn't be too much of a surprise to see the siblings move on to a different challenge after some injury-filled last few years. Rumor has it that Gee was going to pursue rally racing of some sort... you know, taking it easy in his retirement years, or something.
This one is false, however, with both speedy siblings being fully committed to racing next year, according to Trek Mountain Bike Marketing Manager Travis Ott. ''They’re currently still rehabbing and getting back to 100-percent,'' Ott said when asked about the Atherton's plans. ''Here’s hoping they used up all their bad luck and it’s nothing but sunshine and podiums next year.''
Considering that she's already dominated the sport, anything but exactly that would probably be a disappointment for Rachel, and Gee no doubt will want to get back to his winning ways. Rally can wait.
Richie Rude Re-Signs with Yeti - TRUE
Florian Nicolai to Canyon - LIKELY
If there's one competitor whose 2017 results don't live up to their skill, it has to be Florian Nicolai. The Frenchman netted four top-tens through the 2017 Enduro World Series, and while the majority of racers would be over the moon with those placings, Nicolai's handling skills are worth far more than what his season shows. But that was the case in 2015 and 2016 as well, so the rumors of Flo moving from the Rocky Mountain Urge bp Rally Team to Canyon's factory outfit do make sense - a change of scenery can make all the difference in the world. Nicolai would then be working with Fabien Barel and racing aboard Canyon's redesigned Strive (which is making the rounds on Instagram) in 2018, which might be exactly what he needs to nail those consistent top results.
An Enduro World Series event is like a whole bunch of World Cup downhills in a row, but they're way, way longer, often gnarlier, and you usually have to get to the start line under your own steam. In other words, it's like a downhill race but on a shorter-travel bike and with way more variables involved.
And after two EWS championship-winning seasons, those variables caught up with Richie, with 2017 probably being a year that he'd rather not repeat.
What the 2013 Junior Men’s Downhill World Champ is going to repeat, though, is racing with Yeti. Richie confirmed to me that he's signed to race turquoise-colored bikes for 2018 and 2019, and you know the two-time champ has got to be hungry after seeing Hill swoop in and take his crown. In a Hill VS Rude battle for during the 2018 Enduro World Series, who would you pick to take the championship home?
ENVE and the Santa Cruz Syndicate Parting Ways - TRUE
Isabeau Courdurier on Her Own Intense-Backed Programme - POSSIBLE
Sunn's Isabeau Courdurier spent much of the 2017 Enduro World Series chasing Cecile Ravanel, with four 2nd places in the first four races and then a 7th in Ireland. The pint-sized French racer finally got the win that she was looking for at the final round of the year in Tasmania, locking up her second overall in the series to Ravanel. You'd think that Courdurier would want to continue on with a program that's obviously working well for her, but there's talk of Isabeau doing her own thing on an Intense-backed program for 2018 and beyond.
It's going to be odd to not see those big white ENVE stickers on the Syndicate team bikes in 2018, but ENVE's Director of Marketing, Jake Pantone, did confirm to me that the US-made carbon brand and the Santa Cruz race team are going in different directions. Given that Santa Cruz now has their own carbon wheel program with their Reserve range, they probably want to spec their own wheels on bikes that they're selling, and it doesn't make a ton of sense to do that while still using ENVE on the team bikes. No, there's no Reserve downhill rim... yet. There surely will be one at some point down the road, though.
Jesse Melamed Re-Signs with Rocky Mountain - TRUE
So, where's ENVE going? Intense Factory Racing will be running ENVE in 2018, Pantone said, as well as an unnamed Enduro World Series team - let the guesses begin. Here's what Pantone had to say about the ENVE and Syndicate split: ''We are sad to see the Syndicate chapter of our World Cup DH story come to a close. The past eight years have been an incredible journey. We legitimized carbon wheels and handlebars for gravity disciplines, we won a lot of races including two world championships, were the first to win on carbon in 26”, and then on 29” wheels this season. Looking to the future, we are committed to continuing our investment in both downhill and enduro disciplines to drive product innovation and performance for riders who demand the best.”
It's been said that nothing beats the winning feeling, but I think I know what can top that: winning at home, of course. And that's exactly what Rocky Mountain Urge bp Rally Team racer Jesse Melamed did last August when he won in his hometown of Whistler, BC, the most prestigious stop of the Enduro World Series. Melamed has had a host of top results over the last few years yet that top step on the podium had eluded him up until Crankworx 2017, but it wasn't an easy win for the Canadian (are any EWS wins easy?) as it was a battle with Sam Hill throughout the entire day.
There's no doubt that the victory put Melamed on the shopping lists of many team managers, but he decided to stay with the team that's supported him for ages now. ''I am staying true to my Canadian roots! I have been on one Rocky Mountain program or another for over ten years,'' Jesse told me when I asked him about his plans for the future. ''There are a lot of great companies and people out there that I would love to ride for, and I wish I could have accepted all of the offers, but Rocky Mountain is in my blood. I like the people, the brand, the bikes, and I'm happy here. It feels good to sign with them for another three years. We are setting up a really good program for the coming years, so watch out!"