With the dust barely settled on a sensational World Champs in Val di Sole, it looks like we could be in for a busy winter of team changes before the 2017 downhill season kicks-off in Lourdes next April.
The excitement of Danny Hart’s World Championship win and Rachel Atherton’s perfect season was almost overshadowed by the bombshell from commentator Claudio Calouri that Santa Cruz Syndicate rider and former World Cup champ Josh Bryceland has reportedly said he’s leaving the circuit.
He’s struggled to get back to his best since that jump and broken ankle which cost him the World Champ’s jersey in Hafjell in 2014 – but it’s not unusual for riders to have an off year (or two) and he’s only 26.
Kudos to him if he’s really pulling out because he’s worried about his carbon footprint (he could just ride an aluminium bike, no?) – and hopefully we’ll still see him racing in Europe.
So if Peaty and Josh are both leaving the Santa Cruz Syndicate – it could be that there’ll be another new arrival along with Luca Shaw, whose recruitment seems to be an open secret.
The Athertons only joined forces with Trek this year, so we’ll still see them on a Session for 2017 – but will the industry giant also be bolstering its chances in the men’s competition by signing another top rider to race alongside Gee?
Well Danny Hart has reportedly been hanging round the Athertons’ pits – but I don’t know what to make of the idea that he might join their set-up, especially now he’s back in the rainbow stripes and looking like an overall contender for next year.
Trek certainly have the cash for it, but would Hart want to race under the Atherton banner? Or would the team be rebranded Trek Factory Racing?
The Athertons are now working with Danny’s old coach I believe, but he’s unlikely to want to switch from the set-up that’s seen him win the last four races.
Specialized have this year sponsored three of the fastest guys in DH, on two separate set-ups: Loic Bruni, Loris Vergier and Troy Brosnan.
Brosnan’s contract is up and he’s rumoured to be riding alongside Greg Williamson next year. The flying Scotsman only joined Cube this year – so could the German brand be digging deep to sign the pint-sized Aussie pinner as well?
Or is Brosnan heading to the rumoured Canyon DH team, which could be managed by Fabien Barel? This seems like a better fit, as they will want a rider capable of winning World Cups on their new DH sled, the Sender.
Specialized HAVE to try to keep Bruni on board, as the popular Frenchman is one of the very few riders with the potential to beat their former darling Aaron Gwin to the overall. And it’s difficult to imagine Loic parting ways with his Mini-Me (in a good way) Vergier.
Of course the big S could also afford Danny Hart if they wanted to. Just putting that out there.
What does the future hold for Nukeproof with Sam Hill now pretty much confirmed to be going full enduro for 2017? CRC are not short of money, but will they want to fund a DH team and a team to take on the full EWS calendar?
Or will Nukeproof disband their DH team and recruit more enduro talent to keep the flat pedal thunder company? That would leave rocket-fast Welshman Mike Jones a free agent.
As well as Danny Hart’s triumphant end to the season, 2016 has also seen a number of new names popping up on the podium – and other racers suddenly getting more consistent.
Neither Adam Brayton or Florent Payet are currently on factory teams. Both will surely be in big demand for 2017 – with the Keswick Kestrel a long-time fan favourite and Payet quietly becoming one of the most consistent riders in the sport.
French privateer Amaury Pierron is another hot prospect, while Laurie Greenland’s stunning silver at Worlds saw him delivering on the promise of his junior World Cup overall wins.
Greenland only joined MS Mojndraker this year, so it’s likely he’ll stay on the team – perhaps stepping up to lead rider status if Danny Hart does leave. Or being joint-leader with Payet (who already rides a Mondraker as a privateer).
Of the big bike brands, I’m surprised that Giant don’t put more resources into downhill – especially with their Glory being such a well-regarded bike. It’d be great to see them sign a top-tier rider.
And due to the tragic death of Stevie Smith this year it’s also possible that Devinci may be looking for a big-name rider – who would obviously have some big boots to fill.
With there being so few women at the top end of downhill, it’s unliklely that we’ll see any big changes. Unless Emmeline Ragot makes a comeback of course.
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