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Martin Whiteley Analysis: World Cup Team Moves

Silly season is over. Who came out on top? And which teams need time to rebuild? Longtime team manager Martin Whiteley weighs in

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With all the January announcements from the major teams and riders now officially out there, we can declare the so-called ‘silly’ season done and dusted for 2022, and like many years, there were a few more changes than people were expecting. For me the biggest change was the new look Santa Cruz Syndicate. For the first time in their 15-plus-year history, there’s a woman onboard to tackle the DH World Cup series in the form of Nina Hoffmann, as well as junior Jackson Goldstone. This sets the team up for podiums and victories across three categories, and a sure thing for many top team awards. It’s the mix of a top man (either in the 40-year-old World Champ Greg Minnaar and/or new signing Laurie Greenland), with a top woman and World Champ Junior Goldstone. That will make them the team favorites this year.

Canyon continues to invest strongly in World Cup racing in all disciplines, but the addition of Luca Shaw to the Collective (yes, my keyboard has vowels), is a smart move. Shaw has proven time and again he has the pace to qualify fastest and score top 10s but was perhaps feeling a little trapped by the history of not converting those 50 points on qualifying day into 200 points on race day, and needed to shake things up. With teammate Troy Brosnan as the most consistent rider in modern-day DH racing, Shaw will learn a thing or two there and be a valuable teammate alongside the often-underrated talent of Mark Wallace. Personally, I’d love to see Jack Moir throw a leg over his DH rig if he finds a spare weekend away from EWS domination.

Luca Shaw’s jump from the Syndicate to the Canyon Collective was one of the biggest moves of the season. Shaw is pictured here at the 2021 World Cup race in Leogang, Austria (Photo: Sven Martin)

MS Mondraker have again put together a strong team for 2022. After the departure of Greenland, and the demise of the current incarnation of the YT Mob, Dave Trummer was a solid choice for the Austrian outfit. His easy-going nature off the bike and highly analytical approach to racing will be welcomed by the “Bulldog” Brook MacDonald, who will also be stoked to welcome Kiwi compatriot and all-round talent Tuhoto-Ariki Pene. There’ll be some podium potential in this group, and Ireland’s Jacob Dickson who has also scored a ride at MS, could well benefit from having some fast teammates for the first time in a while.

Personally, I have high hopes for Continental Atherton Racing after their recent announcement. Nothing would please me more to see Rachel back in the mix in women’s racing. Over the past two years we’ve seen some of the best racing in the women’s field with the competition more open than ever. Throw multiple World Champion and winner of 39 World Cup races, and new mom, Rachel Atherton back into the mix, and what a season we’ve got coming up! I know they’ve been trying to keep expectations a bit low and for sure coming back from multiple injuries will not be easy, but as a fan you can only hope for a strong return over time. Can Rachel track down the record of 41 wins by Anne-Caroline Chausson? It will be great to see Gee Atherton back in form after his horrific crash and look out for Andreas Kolb. This guy has a lot of speed and after a year of being on his first real topflight team, he’ll be more settled in 2022, and I believe even faster.

Andreas Kolb at the 2021 Maribor World Cup, where he placed 16th. (Photo: Sven Martin)

Intense Factory Racing have expanded for 2022, with the departure of Neko Mulally who’s set up his all-new Frameworks racing program (a team I’m managing)). The Californian-based brand has added U.S. National Champion and two-time World Cup podium rider Dakotah Norton, and the talented Joe Breeden from the U.K. Seth Sherlock stays on, which is great, as he’s one of the most down-to-earth riders out there and has made a solid transition from juniors to elites. Of course, the big question is Aaron Gwin, who has re-signed with Intense for another two years and still maintains ownership of the program. My feeling is that some recent life changes and new sponsorship deals for the team will give Gwin the confidence and calmness needed to start the season strong in Lourdes, a track he’s done very well on in the past, and perhaps he’ll start to scare some of the ‘Frenchies.’

Who will party on the podium this year? Photo: Sven Martin

Speaking of, there weren’t too many changes in the French camp. Many thought that Benoit Coulanges was taking a hike to greener pastures but he’s very appreciative of all that the Dorval AM Commencal program have done for him in the past years, and in speaking to one of his teammates, he really enjoys the crew he races with and that can be a big factor in chasing top results. The biggest Commencal team of the many out there, the Muc-Off Riding Addiction one, sees the addition of junior ripper Hugo Marini, but apart from that, they’re not messing with the recipe, and they’ll be the Syndicate’s biggest rival for team honors. World Cup champ Loïc Bruni is also seeing no change in his team and will be aiming to defend his title in less dramatic fashion. The two that he’s won, 2019 and last year, have come down to a thrilling last-round battle that would have given most team owners a heart condition.

Other notable mentions include the appointment of former junior World Champion Cam Cole as team manager for GT Factory Racing who’ll be working with some new young talent, and fellow Kiwi Jess Blewitt who I really enjoyed watching race last year. I think she will only add to the excitement of top-level women’s racing in 2022. Commencal 100% expand to five riders, which is a big team. They bring on Angel Suarez, I rider I’ve believed in for a long time and I was super impressed with his podium in Snowshoe, a track he’d never ridden before. Mille Johnset also joins the team and will get the program plenty of TV coverage and solid results. Trek Factory Racing will continue to be a major force with Loris Vergier, Reece Wilson and Charlie Harrison leading the way, and Kade Edwards stealing the limelight on course. Their bike is currently one of the most desired in the paddock and will continue to give the team wins.

Jess Blewitt will no doubt be a bright spot on the GT Factory Racing squad. (Sven Martin). 

Overall, it’s great to see some new brands entering at a higher level of racing, like Forbidden and RAAW, and to see record numbers of junior women getting signed to teams. The opening round in Lourdes is not far away and the early start to the season has many a little concerned about having all the kit and gear they need ready for Race 1. What exactly will the weather do at the base of the Pyrenees when the teams will be racing just six days after the official end of the European winter? One thing to note for the men’s field, as we enter the 30th season of UCI World Cup DH racing, is there have only been four riders who have won the opening round and gone on to take the title in the same year: Loic Bruni (2019), Aaron Gwin (2011, 2015, 2016), Nicolas Vouilloz (1995, 1998) and Francois Gachet (1994).

Martin Whiteley is the owner of 23 Degrees Sports Management, and currently serves as the team manager for Neko Mulally’s Frameworks Racing. Previously, he managed the YT Mob, Trek World Racing.