Time for another, albeit belated, catch up on the rider and team changes on the World Cup circuit. As before, I’ll be focusing on the UCI Elite teams with a bit of info about each team and rider. So without further delay, let’s jump right back into it!

Commençal/Vallnord

  • George Brannigan
  • Myriam Nicole
  • Remi Thirion
  • Gaetan Ruffin
  • Thibaut Ruffin

The Commençal/Vallnord team have been around since 2007 and in that time, have had their fair share of success and upset. From the highs of World Cup and World Champs victory, to the crushing lows of injury plagued seasons, Thibaut Ruffin and crew will be hoping that their decade anniversary season in DH will be a fruitful one. For 2017 they have left Fox clothing, and their kit will now be provided by IXS.

George Brannigan – Lead rider for the team, George has been there or thereabouts with his results over the last few years. A constant threat to the podium, his aggressive riding style tends to lend itself very well to the rougher tracks (as demonstrated with a 7th in Mont St Anne last year), and makes him a thrilling rider to watch, but does leave him very susceptible to huge crashes and time off the bike. Entering his second season with Commençal/Vallnord, he will be hoping for an injury free season and a few visits to the podium. A few more Raw edits will likely find their way to your screens too.

Myriam Nicole – One of the few ladies to come close to beating Rachel Atherton in the last few years, PomPon is also one of the most unfortunate ladies on the scene when it comes to injuries. In 2016 she started only 2 World Cup races, although she finished 3rd in each, and capped off the season with a 2nd at World Champs in Val Di Sole. You can never count her out for the win at the races she makes, however her last full season of World Cups was in 2013. Her goal this year will undoubtedly to stay fit for the entire season, and to repeat the performances in the races she compete in.

Remi ThirionThe destroyer of tracks! Remi is known for his wild style on the bike, and is one of the loosest riders out there. A fairly consistent top 10 rider, he has one World Cup win to his name at Andorra in 2013. He excels on the steeper, gnarlier tracks on the circuit, and I’m sure there are likely to be more podiums in the not too distant future!

Gaetan Ruffin – Younger brother of team boss Thibaut, the last few seasons for Gaetan have been peppered with mid-pack finishes and a few DNFs. With the continued support of the Cemmençal/Vallnord team, I have no doubt he will crack the top 50 more often, perhaps pushing into the top 30 spots. Consistency will be the key though, and a full season of finishes will go some way to building confidence.

Thibaut Ruffin – Team boss and founder of Commençal/Vallnord, Thibaut created the team in 2007 in order to support his own fledgling racing career. Since then he has built it from strength to strength, and will be looking to improve results across the board. His personal best result was a 14th in MSA in 2012, but since then he has had a few top 20s. He still has a few more seasons of racing to get consistent top 30 finishes, so hopefully we will see him find his past form more often.

Trek Factory Racing DH

  • Gee Atherton
  • Rachel Atherton
  • Graeme Mudd
  • Kade Edwards

The siblings Atherton have always operated as family unit, beginning with their Animal/Giant days, through partnerships with Commençal, GT, and now at Trek. While they rode as a threesome in the Commençal era, their move to GT brought 2 younger riders into the fold with a view to passing on the wealth of experience gathered over the years. Now on their second season with Trek, they have parted company with Taylor Vernon and filled his spot on the team with Graeme Mudd, yet another Australian pinner. Kade Edwards has graduated from the youth academy to race in Juniors, while 15 year old Norwegian, Mille Johnset gets continued support from the Atherton Academy.

Gee Atherton – 2 x World Champion, 9 x World Cup Wins, 2 x Second places at Red Bull Rampage, 6 x National Champion 50+ World Cup Podiums. What more needs to be said? An omnipresence on the scene, Gee had a fairly disastrous (by his standards) season in 2016, and gallantly bowed out of World Champs to let Bernard Kerr take his place. It later transpired Gee had been racing with a torn rotator cuff, sustained at Fort William, for which the only real option was surgery (He still beat me at Foxhunt though!!). Now recovered and pushing hard in pre-season training, Gee will be looking to make amends for last year, and cement himself back at the top of the sport.

Rachel Atherton – The GOAT. Rachel has won 13 consecutive World Cups, and hasn’t been beaten since Lourdes in 2015, and last year completed the “perfect season”. The proud owner of ‘BT Action Sports Person of the Year’, the 33 times World Cup winner and 5 times World Champion is seen by many as mountain biking’s tour de force, with her achievements unlikely to ever be equalled. A fantastic ambassador for women’s mountain biking, she has previously sponsored the Junior Women’s category of the BDS, supports riders in the Atherton Academy, and created the women’s only Red Bull Foxhunt event. More of the same for 2017 I guess!

Graeme Mudd (Summit Cycles Devinci) – Finally landing himself on an Elite team, Muddy has previously been dominant in 4X and the Australian National series, he now has the opportunity to impress on the world stage. A chance invite to Red Bull Hardline got Muddy in front of the Athertons, and although he didn’t finish well, his attitude and professionalism caught their attention and they signed him up. Basing himself in the UK for 2017 will allow for more recovery and training time in between races, but the biggest difference for him will be not having to work 45 hour weeks as before. Expect big things from him this season!

Kade Edwards – Huddersfield’s home grown talent, Kade has graduated from the Atherton Academy and will be racing his first full World Cup season in the Junior ranks. A dominant force in all the Junior categories of the BDS, it will be interesting to see if he can have the same impact on the world stage, particularly with Finn Iles’ example last year.

Madison Saracen Factory Team

  • Marc Beaumont
  • Matt Simmonds
  • Alex Marin
  • Matt Walker

In 2011 Saracen’s new owner, Madison Distribution, decided to launch a fresh assault on the World Cup circuit, seeking to reclaim some of the brand’s glory from the late ’90s. In that time, they have a World Champs and a World Cup overall courtesy of Manon Carpenter, and a number of podiums from some of the British talent that have passed through. Previous riders include Phil Atwill, Josh Lowe, Harry Molloy and Will Weston, and although they have all moved on to pastures new, manager Will Longden will be hoping his current rider range of a multiple World Cup Winner, podium finishers, and a fresh European face, will bring them more success.

Marc Beaumont – 2x World Cup winner-cum-YouTube presenter Marc came out of semi-retirement last season on a two year deal to race bikes for his former teammate’s Saracen team. His stint on GMBN hasn’t dampened his spirit for racing, as shown last year with a win and 2 podiums on the BDS, and some Top 30 finishes at World Cups. Consistency was an issue last year, but a 4th at the first international race in Portugal in 2017 shows he still has the raw speed to compete with the younger lads. Never count Slugger out for a strong finish!

Matt Simmonds – Matt joined the Madison Saracen in 2014 from the CRC/Nukeproof team, and has really flourished under this setup. A second place in Meribel in 2014 shows that on his day he can beat the rest of the field, but he is also a regular Top 20 World Cup finisher and dominated the 2016 BDS series, with his lowest place finish being 7th. He is definitely a well-rounded and seasoned racer, and this year should be looking for a few more Top 10 finishes. If his 1st place finish (by nearly 2 seconds!) at the aforementioned Portugal race is anything to go by, I’m sure we’ll see him up there at the World Cups!

Alex Marin (Giant Factory Off-Road Team) – 3 years of World Cup (2 x Junior and 1 x Elite) racing under the watchful eye of Marcelo Gutierrez Villegas has put Alex in a very strong position for racing with his new team. I must admit, he flew underneath my radar last year and was perhaps one of the bigger surprises I’ve come across while researching this; finishing out of the Top 40 only once in his first season of racing Elites, including 2 x Top 20 results, mean that Alex could be a serious dark horse to crack the on to the podiums this year. That said, a radically different setup riding with a British team this year may affect his early performance.

Matt Walker – Coming into his second season with the factory team, Matt will be wanting to make the most of his final year as a Junior. Racing with the National Champions’ colours on his sleeve, if Matt can pull off similar results to last year (1 x World Cup & 2 x BDS Wins) then he will be setting up perfectly for success at Elite level. I saw him riding at Revolution Bike Park in March (along with half the BDS field, apparently) and he was looking FAST in the new Madison Saracen colours. An exciting prospect for the future, no doubt!

Chain Reaction Cycles / Mavic

  • Elliot Heap
  • Sam Hill
  • Mike Jones

full-team

Having parted ways with PayPal, the CRC team was in need of a new title sponsor. That void has been filled by French brand Mavic, who will be providing wheels, kit and years of expertise. Thankfully, the CRC boys will no longer be wearing those ghastly Leatt helmets, with lid and goggle duties taken care of by 100%. Running a smaller personnel setup than in previous years, CRC are adopting the “quality, not quantity” approach this year.

Elliot Heap – Fresh from a 5th place at his last Junior Worlds, as well as 5 World Cup podiums and strong EWS results, Elliott is moving into his first season of Elites with a certain expectation on his shoulders, but something I’m sure he’ll more than live up to. As well as racing World Cups, Elliott’s an MTB coach in the North West, so he’ll not be wanting for time on the bike come Lourdes. Team manager Nigel Page seems keen on keeping him around too; “He doesn’t mind a pie either which is good with me!” – I guess you can take the boy out of Wigan…

Sam Hill – A living legend of the MTB world and a real rider’s rider, Sam Hill is the proud owner of some of the most legendary runs in Downhill and my personal favourite movie segment in 3 Minute Gaps. Hell, 3 Minute Gaps is just the best film, all the segments are good! Let’s take a moment and watch it again:

Anyway, back to Sam Hill. Quiet off the bike and an absolute Monster (geddit?) on it, he’s struggled in recent times to quite find the speed and consistency he was best known for. 2017 marks a big change for him, as he will only be racing a select few World Cups. Instead, he will focusing his time and energy on the full EWS series, as he finished in the Top 10 at all 5 he raced at last year, even winning 2. On flat pedals. On that bike. We’re gonna miss you Sam!

Mike Jones – The flying Welshman! Slightly hit and miss at World Cups, with podiums and Top 20s followed swiftly by middle of the pack results and injuries. Mike is devilishly quick and has a great attitude towards racing; I’m just hoping his luck holds out in 2017 as he steps up to be the senior rider for CRC/Mavic. His primary focus will be on Downhill this season as he looks to pull in the results we all know he’s capable of, although there will probably be a couple of EWS rounds thrown in along the way when his teammates are racing them.

 

There seem to be a few larger teams this year, so the next post will focus on a couple of them as each team has around 6 riders on (which feels way more when doing your research). I still endeavour to have all this sewn up before Lourdes, and will continue to update the posts when I find any launch videos or cool information.

Cheers!

Dave

 

Cover Photo: Kino Derleyn

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