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Andrew Neethling: World Cup Team Moves—Highs, Lows and Rider Predictions

Insight on the season ahead from the former World Cup racer


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They say change is as good as a holiday. The holidays can be good that’s for sure. You are refreshed, happy, motivated and also often you have had time to reflect. Sometimes you can’t wait to get back to work. For some riders, this will be the case. But what about those holidays that just don’t go to plan? Canceled flights, rooms that don’t quite look like the photos on AirBnB?  You just want to get home to your bed. Changing teams can be a dangerous game.  Some riders become creatures of habit. Look at the G.O.A.T. himself—Greg Minnaar is heading into his 15th season with Santa Cruz Syndicate.

Greg Minnaar at the 2014 World Championships in Hafjell, Norway. (Photo: Sven Martin)

Then there is the added motivation of changing teams and wanting to prove the new team it was the correct choice. You also are more eager to ride the new bike, which if you get the bike early enough can be an added positive. Get the new bike too late and this is a big disadvantage.

What about when you are forced to make a change? With YT Mob’s pause from World Cup racing, Dakotah Norton, David Trummer and Oisin Callaghan were suddenly without rides. If this news comes late to the riders, it can be very stressful. At least you are forced to make a change. You can’t blame yourself if it does not quite work out.

Highs

Syndicate

The Syndicate loses Luca Shaw but adds Laurie Greenland, Jackson Goldstone, and in the women’s field, Nina Hoffmann.

This is a win-win for Syndicate and all the riders. Some riders move on from teams when it’s clear they are ready to be the lead rider. One problem here. Minnaar is on the team and he is not only the G.O.A.T. but won a little race called the World Championships again in 2021. I don’t see this as a problem for Greenland, though. I see him embracing the experience from Minnaar and the team vibe will suit Greenland to a T.  I could be wrong, but I like this move for Laurie.

Syndicate landed bum in the butter with 2021 Junior World Champ and Overall World Cup winner Goldstone as well. They now have two World Champions on their roster, and Goldstone goes from strength to strength here.

Nina Hoffmann is the first woman to join the Syndicate team. (Photo: Sven Martin)

This is also big news for Hoffmann, the 2020 German National DH Champ. All her hard work and dedication paid off with a full factory ride. She knows the bike well but the question becomes if she can handle the pressure of being on a factory team.  Some might say, ‘what do you mean pressure?’ Well, everything is now done for you and all you have to do is race your bike. That’s your job and when you don’t perform, who do we blame? That often can lead to pressure that you put on yourself to perform. This move is great for her and she has won a World Cup, let us not forget. Can she bounce back from the injuries and health issues? I think a new team is just what she needs.

Laurie Greenland is another headliner on the new Syndicate squad. (Photo: Sven Martin)

Canyon Collective

The rumor mill was alive and kicking with Luca Shaw, who landed with Canyon Collective Factory Team. Again, this will most likely will be a win-win for both team and rider. People might think he suits the Syndicate but a lot of me believes his quiet nature may work better at Canyon. Shaw I think needed a change. This gives him that fresh start with a fresh bike and teammates. His form has not quite been where he and others expect it of late. We saw flashes of form like at the last race of the season on home soil. I know there were injuries along the way but could this be the spark he needs? I feel it will be.

Photo: Sven Martin

Intense Factory Racing

Joe Breeden is underrated and this move if he stays healthy is huge for him. To race under Aaron Gwin in his young career makes sense. Breeden has speed and an all-around work ethic so hopefully he can learn from Gwin and take his racing to the next step.

Dakotah Norton now joins an American team and with past podiums and Gwin as a training partner out east when Gwin is there, it sets up well for him.  Part of me feels this will motivate Gwin even more. Not to say he isn’t motivated, but with Norton’s speed pushing him, it may just spark Gwin back to the top step of the podium.

Mille Johnset in the women’s category just started coming into her own last season but will not be staying at Atherton Racing. Johnset mentioned that she was confident in her decision to move to 100% Commencal, so maybe she had the opportunity to stay. She has grown as a rider so perhaps she is looking to feel more independent than the youngster who was groomed by the Athertons. Let’s see if she likes the team environment as it is a European-based team. Yes, she is European but Scandinavian at that.  These things do play a role.

Millie Johnset in Les Gets, France. (Photo: Sven Martin)

With the YT Mob on pause, where does this leave Trummer? Trummer has had break-out years the last few seasons highlighted with a silver medal at the Worlds in 2020, and is consistently inside the Top 10. Trummer landed on his feet at MS Mondraker, with a great team and a capable bike. MS also picked up Tuhoto-Ariki Pene, a former junior WC winner and potential star for the future. This is exactly what a new elite rider needs in the likes of factory support, and could be the confidence boost he needs. And Brook MacDonald as a teammate should make him feel comfortable in the big leagues.

Jacob Dickson is also on Ms Mondraker. He will be eager to prove himself after the last few seasons didn’t quite match his speed and potential. Often this is exactly what a rider needs as stated right in the beginning: a holiday.

Rebuilding

There will be teams that had plans but could not get the deals over the line. Often more teams are looking for riders than there are riders. It is a great time to be a rider; simple supply and demand.

NS Bikes UR could be one such team. They are clearly in a rebuilding phase. They lost a lot of strength with Mick and Tracey Hannah’s respective retirements and Joe Breeden’s move. Let’s not take anything away from George Brannigan and Kye A’Hern, though. The team is just not as strong as in years past. With some solid structure, Brannigan I do feel has some good years still in him. His speed is right up there.

Giant Factory Off-Road has changed its game plan a bit. I would love to see Giant with a three-rider strong team. Remi Thirion was a great move for them but they don’t have the depth in the team. Matt Sterling is a great young talent but would be interesting to see them add another podium contender.

Underrated?

The team flying under the radar may just be Dorval Commencal. They have Camille Balanche and Monika Hrastnik, who will each bring podiums or wins in the women’s field. Then Benoit Coulanges and Baptiste Pierron both brought podium rides for the team in 2021. Quite the powerhouse team considering they are not the lead Commencal team.

Camille Balanche at the Maribor World Cup in 2021. (Photo: Sven Martin)

Teams often stay the same but just need some luck. Life has its ups and downs and so does racing. The Scott Downhill Team is one such team. Marine Caribou and Florent Payet both injured themselves last year so we didn’t see their full potential, while Dean Lucas missed the entire 2020 season and needed some time to get back into it in 2021. Brendog is…well Brendog.  Is Brendan Fairclough a rider eager to race or pursue others things? Only he knows.

Now, what if not even a holiday will work?  Neko Mulally has taken his career into his own hands, quite literally. Mulally has ridden for some giants of the industry, namely Trek, YT and Intense. He was always tinkering though and was never quite satisfied with the setup. He often pushed teams to try new things and prototype bikes even at races. Now he has gone one step further, designing his bike that he will race at the World Cups. If racing World Cups was not difficult enough, then running your race team is. Now Mulally will design and race his very own bike built by legendary Frank The Welder. I think he is mad but the world needs mad people like Mulally. He will have the support of a lot of people with this project. He has teamed up with former team manager Martin Whiteley (as mentioned above) so he is in safe hands with the logistics of this project. Speaking of only having yourself to blame in racing, this is the rawest version of that. I think this may take some time to fine-tune and get focused on going fast at the highest level.

You can take all this with a pinch of salt, as this sport has so many variables that any prediction could look silly come the season. Maybe a rider does not gel with new suspension or tires early enough in the season. Maybe the brake lever is the wrong color…who knows.

Andrew Neethling is a former World Cup DH elite racer and current host of the “Moving The Needle” podcast.