Winning Pinkbike’s Fantasy League requires more than just insider knowledge. Luck needs to be on your side. Nobody knows who will crash or just get up on the wrong side of bed on race day, but what we can do is look at a few key bits of information to help pick a solid team for the upcoming race weekend. With only $1.5 million to splash, we can’t afford all of the top dogs, so we have to take a look a little further down the list and see who might that diamond in the rough for 2022. Being married to Jason Marsh means DH racing is a constant presence in our lives, and I’ve been playing fantasy for years—I won the Dirt Fantasy League in 2012 and scored a new Pivot from Pinkbike in 2017 by correctly predicted the top three men and women finishers at Leogang that year. These are my suggestions for two well-priced and under-the-radar men and two women that could result in money well-spent and potentially help you take the top prize.
The Season Opener
The first World Cup is this weekend in Lourdes, France. We all know that the French love a race on home soil. With French racers making up 23 percent of the top 60 in the overall last year, placing your bets on a French rider might be a smart way to start the season.
Pick 1: Johan Garcin—$25,000
2021 was Johan Garcin’s first season as an elite rider and he qualified for every World Cup. Many junior riders are not able to make a smooth transition into the elite field but Garcin has shown that he can handle the pressure and perform week after week. Finishing 50th in the overall in your first elite year is no easy feat.
Considering that Sam Blenkinsop finished 49th in the overall and has a price tag of $325,000 and Thomas Estaque finished 51st and is going to cost you $125,000, Garcin is looking like great value for money. If his consistency continues and his form improves with that year of experience in the elite category, we may see him climb his way farther up the leader board and give us a lot of bang for our bucks.
The Weather Factor
It is early springtime in France and with race day less than a week away, we should take a look at the forecast to get an idea if we are in for some blown-out dusty turns or an all-action-no-traction Slip N Slide. At the moment, there are some showers in the forecast and we all know that there are those riders who can nail it in the wet—and those who can’t.
Pick 2: Dan Slack—$75,000
In 2021 we saw Dan Slack make his way into the elite ranks after a strong year as a junior. After a bumpy start, he found form as the season progressed and ended the year with a very respectable 37th place in the overall. For a first-year elite rider, this is a very credible result. As a Brit he is no stranger to a wet track and proved that he has what it takes when things get wild with his podium in the Junior World Championships in Leogang 2020.
Slack, who outperformed all of the riders in the same price range, as well as several others who are considerably more expensive, might just be worth the risk for the opening round in Lourdes.
Every year we see someone new creep their way up the leader board and before you know it, you have a new wonder kid mixing it up with the familiar names at the very top. Were they just having a good year or are they here to stay?
Pick 3: Mathilde Bernard – $150,000
In a field that is very sharp at the top end, up-and-coming female riders often go unnoticed. Mathilde Bernard has been an elite rider since 2019. Each year she has improved her results and consistency. 2021 saw her qualify for every World Cup she entered and finish 11th in the overall with two races to spare. With another year of experience under her belt, we may well see her as a regular in the top 10.
The other riders priced between $150,000 and $225,000 all finished behind Bernard in the overall and showed less consistency, making this young woman a good bet for 2022.
Sometimes a new team or a new bike can make the world of difference. Maybe an injury kept someone out of the running or there is that guy or girl who burst onto the scene out of nowhere.
Pick 4: Jessica Blewitt—$175,000
Jess Blewitt, 19, only started racing bikes in 2018, so there is no wonder why many of us had not heard her name until her debut world cup season in 2021. She showed us some glimmers of brillance and qualified for several races. After a gut-wrenching crash in Snowshoe, West Virginia, that ended her season, the New Zealand National Champion will not be at the opening round in Lourdes, instead ensuring she is 100-percent fit and ready for the remainder of the World Cup series.
Whenever a racer can break into the elite top 10 in their first season you know that they have bags of potential. Blewitt is definitely worth a punt when she returns later in the year. It would be no surprise to see this young ripper on the podium by the end of the season.