No sooner had Danny Hart crossed the line in Vallnord and put a close on the 2016 season overall, the rumour mill once again became a hive of activity, with everyone from experts and fans to downright shit-stirrers weighing in on the potential movers and shakers. For me personally, the rumours and conversations online and in the mountain bike media are often the only way to keep the excitement going until the new season (riding aside, obviously!).
The lead up to World Champs is undoubtedly the best time for wild rumours and suggestions to start flying. For some of those lucky enough to be selected for their national teams, it represents the last chance to race on the world stage with their tried and tested setup before leaving for pastures new, and let’s face it, it’s rare that the top riders experience the same level of success in their first year at a new team, isn’t it? Some speculative moves are confirmed (whether purposefully, or by Claudio putting his foot in it) and dismissed, and the racers get one run, shit or bust, to demonstrate why they are the best riders in the world and deserve some attention.
Since World Champs there have been some substantial periods of quietness on many forums, with no Team Rumours or Ream_Tumours to provide us with debate topic. That was, until an anonymous source provided a cryptic poem for the obsessives to decipher. Thankfully, to ease the January blues the announcements have come thick and fast, with the full list of teams and elite teams announced in February.
I’ll give a breakdown on the major team lineups for 2017, a bit of detail on who has moved, and finally a few words on those who have departed the circuit. Information in parentheses denotes the rider’s former team or arrangement.
TL;DR – sspomer has done a condensed version over at Vital MTB.
*It was only as I began writing on this topic that I realised how long it was going to get (there are over 40 DH teams registered to race next year!), so as not to hold you all hostage I have split it into a series of posts covering the 15 Elite teams, and notable others. Rest assured, I will have finished come Lourdes so hopefully you will be clued up, and no riders should come as a surprise.
To begin with then, here are some of the biggest team announcements:
2017 UCI DH Teams
Santa Cruz Syndicate
- Greg Minnaar
- Loris Vergier
- Luca Shaw
A firm fan favourite, the Syndicate team is a stalwart on the circuit and has experienced amazing success since its inception in 2006. This year however, it has taken on a very different look, with the departure of Peaty and Ratboy, the addition of two up-and-coming stars of DH, everyone’s favourite Morzine mechanic Pierre, and possibly the greatest announcement video ever!
Luca Shaw (SRAM/TLD) – Joining the Syndicate was one of the worst kept secrets of last season, and after videos of him riding with Greg in Morzine appeared, his position was all but confirmed. Last season was spent on a Santa Cruz with SRAM/TLD so although he’s now on Fox/Shimano, he should be up to speed quickly and challenging the top 20.
Loris Vergier (Specialized Gravity Republic) – Due to Loic’s unfortunate injury at the beginning of last year, Loris really had the opportunity to step out of his compatriot and mentor’s shadow, something he grasped with both hands, as demonstrated with his 2nd in Leogang and 7th in Cairns. Now on the Syndicate, Minnaar’s years of expertise should help guide him to some fantastic results this season.
Greg Minnaar – What else needs to be said? The winningest rider of all time, who at 35 shows no signs of slowing down, had a great 2016 season with a win at Fort William, 3 further podiums, and only two races outside of the top 10. How long he keeps racing is yet to be determined, but expect consistent podiums and a renewed sense of purpose at the Syndicate with two promising riders to mentor.
- Loic Bruni
- Finn Iles
- Miranda Miller
Specialized are arguably the biggest name on the circuit in terms of brand awareness, and last year invested heavily in supporting the young talent of the circuit. With Loris leaving, a space freed up on the team to be filled by Miranda Miller, which is refreshing to see some top teams investing more in the womens’ side of racing, particularly in light of the rule changes for 2017. The other big news for Spesh is their move to Ohlins suspension & Formula brakes, departing their long-standing relationship with SRAM. A relative newcomer to MTB, Ohlins have had a minimal presence on the World Cup stage (save for Adam Brayton) so it will be exciting to see how they perform this year.
Loic Bruni – 2016 was a mixed bag for Loic; the 2015 World Champ took a win in Cairns, but followed it up with a shattered collarbone sustained in a training accident. This put the brakes on his World Cup overall challenge, missing rounds 3, 4 & 5, but two podiums at the final rounds show the speed is still there. A full season on the Demo means he should pick up where he left off last season, and be a serious threat from the get go.
Finn Iles – Coming into his maiden season of World Cups, pressure was high on Finn and he didn’t disappoint, finishing out of the top 2 positions only once, in Cairns, where a crash in practice took him out of the race. He topped 2016 off with a victory at World Champs, and it is hard to imagine anyone coming close to him in Junior Men this year.
Miranda Miller (Privateer) – Miranda is starting 2017 on her first pro ride, having spent the last few seasons out with injury or as a privateer. She was supported by Specialized and SRAM last year but also worked for a bike shop in Whistler. With her new setup expect a serious challenge to Rachel Atherton and the other fast ladies, particularly as she completes her first full World Cup season. Along with Finn and Mark Wallace, Miranda presents an excellent sign of where Canadian DH is going in the future.
- Brendan Fairclough
- Gaeten Vige
Sticking with the 2 rider lineup, Scott have a new rider, a new title sponsor, and a renewed energy in racing. Gstaad have left as a partner to the team, so team manager Claudio’s company – Velosolutions – have stepped in to fill the void. Neko Mulally has departed, so in his place comes Gaeten Vige for his first season racing in Elite Men.
Brendan Fairclough – The World Cup’s much loved ‘Freeracer’, Brendog once again spearheads Scott’s assault on the circuit. His preparation for the 2017 season has included a lot of filming for his upcoming film ‘Deathgrip’, as well as competing at Red Bull Rampage. A consistent threat to the top 10, his results last year were a bit disappointing so he will be looking to make amends this season.
Gaeten Vige (Commencal/Vallnord) – Yet another pinner from France, Gaeten finished his final year in the Junior ranks with a 2nd place overall and 3rd place at the World Championships. If past form from young French riders is anything to go by, expect to see Gaeten knocking on the door of the top 20 within a few rounds. It’s a new setup for him, but the experience that Brendog and Claudio can pass over will be invaluable.
Radon Factory DH
- Manon Carpenter
- Raphaela Richter
- Johannes Fischbach
- Faustin Figaret
New on Fox/Shimano for 2017, Radon have invested heavily in supplying one of the best specced bikes on the circuit. Similarly, their investment has gone beyond just the bike with the major headline being 2014 World Champ, Manon Carpenter, announced as the marquee rider. The spending power of Bike-Discount.de (Radon’s owners) have meant they have also attracted a whole raft of fast Euro riders.
Manon Carpenter (Madison Saracen) – Riding on a new team for the first time in her Elite career, Carpenter has struggled to find the same form she showed in 2014 when she took the World Cup overall and rainbow stripes. A broken collarbone at Val di Sole won’t have helped her preparation for the season, but a 2 year contract with Radon should inspire some confidence, and doubtless she will continue to trouble the seemingly unstoppable Rachel Atherton.
Raphaela Richter – Last year’s German National Enduro champ, this year she has been announced as a DH rider making her splash on the Elite women’s field. Having Manon as a mentor will definitely help Raphaela get up to speed, but as with Manon, she is also a uni student. The timing of the season shouldn’t clash too much with the university schedule, but it will be interesting to see if balancing studies and training has assisted or hindered their pre-season preparation.
Johannes Fischbach – Fischi’s second year with Radon, his switch from 4X to DH after the UCI pulled their support for the event has proved to be rather fruitful, taking the overall City Downhill World Tour Championship, 3 wins in the IXS European Cup, and 2 top 30 finishes at World Cup level. This year he will be looking to score consistent top 30 positions, and hopefully crack the top 20 in the men’s field, as well as dominating the City DH series again.
Faustin Figaret – Yet another fast French DH racer (is it something in the water?), Faustin’s best result at World Cup level is a 9th at Lourdes 2015. He has struggled somewhat with consistent high places at World Cups, but his form at the IXS rounds prove that he has the speed. Expect to see some regular top 30 finishes this year as the 23 year old strives to make it on to the French team for World Champs in Cairns. He is clearly very comfortable on the bike if this is anything to go by.
Canyon Factory Downhill
- Troy Brosnan
- Ruaridh Cunningham
- Mark Wallace
Following on from their German direct-buy competition’s World Cup debut last year, Canyon can only hope to emulate the success experienced by the YT Mob in 2016. They have been building the foundations of this new team for some time now, beginning with the hiring of Fabien Barel as a designer/consultant/manager/all-round dude, and culminating in the launch of their new bike and team. One of the most eagerly anticipated team announcements, Canyon have the budget to spend on big name riders and some experienced heads to guide them.
Troy Brosnan (Specialized Racing) – 9 World Cup podiums in 2 years, a victory in 2014 at Fort William, as well as twice Junior World Champ, Troy Brosnan has been one of the most exciting prospects in DH for a long time. His presence in the top 10 is expected week on week, making it easy to forget that he only 23 years old. He continues the legacy of success in Australian DH, from Nathan Rennie & Chris Kovarik, through to Jared Graves and Sam Hill, and beyond. As the lead rider on a new team with an innovative but unproven bike, expect fireworks from Brosnan this season!
Ruaridh Cunningham (Unior Tools Team) – Multiple top 20 World Cup finishes as well as a win and 2nd place at Red Bull Hardline prove that no track cannot be tamed by Ruaridh, and with a full factory ride this year, I fully expect him to excel and turn those top 20s into top 10s. Seeing a home rider at Fort William is a special experience for the fans, and I anticipate the extra support will help Ruaridh achieve his best result on the World Cup stage.
Mark Wallace (Devinci Global Racing) – Along with Finn Iles in Juniors and Miranda Miller in Elite Women, Mark Wallace represents the future of Canadian DH racing. A protege of the late Stevie Smith, few can deny the impact that Stevie’s death had on Mark last year, so to see him continue at the top level has been very encouraging. The welcoming he received into the finish area at Fort William was particularly emotional. Moving to Canyon following the demise of Devinci Global Racing, Mark’s goals for this season will be to make regular appearance in the top 20, and hopefully knock on the door of the podium.
I hope this post gives you a flavour of what the others will be like, stay tuned for updates on the rest of the teams.