The Ultimate 2009 World Cup Rider Guide
The start of the 2009 UCI downhill mountain bike World Cup is just over two weeks away and the Dirt Fantasy League has been launched. To help you choose your fantasy team and to let you know who is who on the 2009 World Cup circuit James Renwick has produced a great rider guide.
Here are the first four: Greg Minnaar, Sam Hill, Gee Atherton and Steve Peat.
Nickname: Big Air
PoB: Pietermaritzburg, South Africa
Team: Santa Cruz Syndicate
2008 World Cup overall: 1
Career highlights: 3 x World Cup Champion, 1 x World Champion
Favourite food: Sushi
Following a disappointing, not to mention painful season in 2007, Minnaar came back with more punch than any of his competitors could handle, taking the World Cup overall in 2008. After racing most of the 2007 World Cups with what is known in medical speak as a 'tatty' shoulder (it kept dislocating) he underwent surgery in October of that year. Judging by his performance in 08, we can safely assume the surgery was a success.
For some riders it can take up to a year to get used to a new bike, but having won the World Cup in his maiden season with Santa Cruz, we can assume Minnaar took weeks, if not days. This ability to adapt and thrive is reflected in his podiums last year, taking three World Cup wins on an assortment of quite different tracks (Fort William, Mont Saint Anne and Canberra).
People talk of Peaty being a legend of the sport, but how far behind is Minnaar, if at all. Minnaar also holds three World Cup overall titles, yet he has that World Championship victory of 2003. At 28 years of age, with 36 podium finishes under his belt, and with a successful season on his new rig, Minnaar must surely be a favourite for the win in 2009.
Greg's battle with Sam in 08 kept the World Cup alive, turning what some expected to be a one horse race into a fight to the line. With a winning margin of just 61 points, Greg showed the world that he can hold it together and produce results under pressure.
What better place to begin the new season than on his home track of Pietermaritzburg, in front of his friends and family. Will the familiar surroundings offset the pressure of defending his title, or will the expectancy of his home turf be too much?
Team: Monster Energy/Specialized/Mad Catz
2008 World Cup overall:2
Career highlights: 2 x World Champion, World Cup Champion 2007
Specialized are back in downhill, and they have something pretty special to win races with, Sam Hill. Going into the 08 season, Hill was seen as the man to beat, having won both the world champs and world cup overall. Few expected anything less than a repeat of 2007.
Early season and things were looking all too familiar, with first and second place at Maribor and Andorra, respectively. But then things went weird at Fort William, and he came fifth. Worse was still to come. A nation held its breath as he tore the World's track apart, with Gee in the start hut, Sam launched off the big step down and in to the left hander, and just as he began to reign the horse back in, it bucked.
Some say his confidence never recovered, and coupled with the big question of who he was riding for in 2009, perhaps he lost a little focus. He is, after all a relatively young contender at just 24 years of age. But let's not knock his achievement last year. The fact we're talking about Hill having an off year in 2008 is testimony to the skill and respect he has earned, after all, the man claimed second overall in the World Cup and third in the World Champs, despite having a major off. With all this behind him, and having already notched up a typical Hill style victory at the fourth round of the Australian Nationals, beating Mick Hannah by over six seconds, we can assume he's back on it for 09.
Looking at his credentials, he has all it takes to become the most prolific victor in the world of downhill. As a relatively young sport, there are still plenty of records to set and titles to take. Hill is moving towards the end of the beginning of his career, and you never know, he may be yet to reach his peak, a frightening prospect for the competition.
Team: Animal Commencal
2008 World Cup overall:3
Career highlights: 2008 World Champion
Two words, "World Champion". Not to mention Andorra, and the Red Bull Rampage. Often regarded as one of the best all round mountain bikers on the planet, Gee had a phenomenal 2008 season, fulfilling the promise he showed back in 07.
Taking World Cup 4X out of his schedule paid off big time for Gee, as he stepped up a gear on the downhill World Cup circuit, coming third overall. With more energy and experience he looked a real threat, making podiums in all but one race, with a sixth place finish in Maribor. Whether he is the answer to Sam Hill's domination remains to be seen, but for those of you that saw the World Champs, perhaps we already know, after all, staying on your bike through corners is a fundamental requirement to winning races.
The World Cups are mentally and physically demanding, requiring a solid and reliable team, none more so than this coming season, with its extra round and early start. Much has been said about the first family of downhill, but with their collective achievements of 08, we have proof of a tight knit, slick operation that gets results.
Once again, he has spent his winter out in California, putting in the miles on his road bike and spending time in the gym, with his own personal, Red Bull fitness expert. Seeding second in the Red Bull Rampage qualifiers shows just what this man is capable of. Pre-season races have gone well, taking second place to brother Dan at the Mob in Mojave downhill race.
Last year will have given Gee the confidence and belief that he can win at the very highest level. This year could be the year he takes the World Cup overall.
Name: Peat, Steve
Team: Santa Cruz Syndicate
2008 World Cup overall: 4
Career highlights: 3 x World Cup Champion
Favourite food: Fish & Chips
Steve Peat, aka 'Oldschool', perhaps in reference to his mature years, perhaps in reference to his balls out, no fear attitude. Peaty was consistently in the top five last year, taking podiums in all but one World Cup, and let's be honest, Canberra wasn't much of a World Cup.
With this year's season being drawn out, and including one more race than in 2008, consistency will again prove to be key. And if experience breeds consistency, then you won't find a more likely winner than Peaty, with an almighty 46 World Cup podium finishes. Getting on in age, will the extended season take its toll, or will the big man from Sheffield show the young guns exactly why he is considered one of the greatest riders of all time?
At 35 years old, and with a wife and child back in Sheffield, Peaty will openly admit he's finding it harder to leave his family for the bright lights and late nights of the World Cup circuit, and yet he keeps coming back and showing the world he's still on it. Will the patter of a second pair of tiny feet perhaps prove too much of a distraction?
Perhaps the stable family life is the perfect platform to launch yet another assault on the World Cup, and let's not forget the World Champs. For those that might doubt the man's commitment you need only have seen the look on his face in Val Di Sole as fellow countryman Gee Atherton pipped him at the last to take the gold in 2008.
Training in his beloved Wharncliffe Woods, through rain, sleet and snow does not make for a man who will back down in a fight, and with Gee getting faster by the minute, and Greg and Sam looking to rekindle their battle of 2008, a fight he will have.
Read the full 2009 UCI Downhill Mountain Bike World Cup rider profiles