Meet The Union, Trek’s new devo downhill team!

The Union is a non-profit squad going all out to raise the next generation of DH stars

Downhill mountain bike racing is a cutthroat sport overflowing with talent. The elite men’s and women’s fields have become exponentially competitive in just the last few years. The veteran class of superstars is young enough to rack up World Cup podiums for seasons to come, and every year, challengers join them from the junior ranks, eager to bump them off. The result is thrilling races, but also fewer and fewer opportunities for promising, but unproven, athletes to break into the sport. 

Joe Bowman saw privateer athletes struggling to simply get to races and maintain their bikes, much less give the sort of performances that might get them noticed by factory racing teams on the World Cup circuit. So he created The Union, a nonprofit developmental DH racing team designed to help overlooked and under-resourced young riders reach their full potential. 

The team has taken off, finishing its third season with six podiums and a World Cup win. In 2024, The Union will join the Trek ecosystem of cycling teams, and enhance its commitment to helping a new generation of riders.

Chris Hauser returns after winning a World Cup in his first year racing juniors.

“We just did it,” Bowman said when asked how The Union started. “It was super ragtag. There was no budget or anything. Three in a bed. And straightaway, because it was a good crew of people, and because we were just trying to hype it up as much as possible, people wanted to help. That rubbed off on the riders, and just having that little bit of backing, it really sparked performance.”

With Trek, The Union will receive new Session frames, top of the line technical support, and fresh kits and paint schemes to be revealed ahead of the racing season this spring. 

The Union fully embodies its name. Like a traditional labor union, its focus is the riders’ quality of life, not a return on investment. Despite having a relatively small budget, the team has managed to provide a suite of amenities to its athletes, like travel and accommodations, individual coaches, a house in Morzine to train during the summer, and of course, top notch equipment and race day support.

Ellie Hulsebosch is joining The Union in 2024.

Bowman’s background is in racing photography and videography with his company, Steel City Media. He viewed his job as similar to the riders’. In both instances, they were trying to impress on the racing circuit and earn one of just a few open positions among the teams. With his extensive network and knowledge of racing from years of covering DH, he scraped together the support and resources necessary to form a collective.

“The whole meaning of The Union is that, like a good workers union, we come together and you get stuff done and make things better for everyone,” Bowman said. “With it being a nonprofit, it does pay off. And I think we’ve proved that.”

The Union’s results in 2023 were especially impressive given that they were earned by riders who hadn’t yet been tabbed as future stars. Ollie Davis joined the team at its advent, and grew into a consistent top 10-15 elite rider at just 19 years old. Christian Hauser, 17, raced his first season with The Union and scored the team’s first ever junior World Cup win in Lenzerheide. Both riders significantly improved after joining the squad.

Lachie Stevens-McNab is raring to go after an injury-hampered 2023.

“You can’t compete unless you have a certain amount of support. Like the only way you can get around it is if you’re a generational talent, which doesn’t happen often,” Bowman said. “Probably in the last five or six years I think the scene has changed massively. And that’s where we come in. Because it’s nonprofit, there’s no pressure from us. It’s up to them, really. It’s like, ‘Look, we’re gonna cover all your expenses, give you the best bikes, and good staff, everything we can give you. And then it’s up to you.'”

The Union is designed to experience roster turnover. They want riders to leave for lucrative opportunities. The number of riders going in and out of the program is yet another measure of success. Davis, for example, is moving on to a bigger team in 2024. Founding riders like Tuhuto-Ariki Pene, and brothers Oliver and Ben Zwar, also made their names with The Union. 

Every year, The Union wants to incubate a new generation of big-time downhill racers, send them out into the world, then bring in another batch of protostars the next season.

Frida Rønning will be shredding around the world and getting her PhD at the same time.

This year, they’re bringing on first year junior women’s rider Ellie Hulsebosch to join Hauser, who will be riding his second year of juniors, and elite riders Frida Rønning and Lachie Stevens-McNab. Hulsebosch is a great example of the type of athletes that The Union looks for. She has racked up promising results on the national level in New Zealand, and with a new team, she’ll be able to challenge herself at the highest levels of the sport. At the same time, she’ll be given space to balance school, training, and everything else on the plate of a busy teenager.

Coming under the Trek umbrella helps The Union in myriad ways. Foremost, it provides team staff and riders with even more resources, both out of the Trek Race Shop in Waterloo and in the pits at World Cup events. 

“It’s always really nice dealing with Trek, because it’s just really dialed,” Bowman said. “Things just get done. [TFR DH team support manager Ryan Gaul] has been amazing. Straightaway, it was just like, ‘What sizes do you need? What frames? Where do you ship in?’ And like the next day, frames have been shipped all over the world.

Get ready for a fun ride.

“That just takes so much pressure off a small program like us when you don’t have to worry about all those extra jobs.”

The relationship is mutually beneficial for Trek. The Trek Factory Racing program, for example, will have a front row view of how The Union’s riders respond to the pressures of World Cup racing. In turn, the riders will have the attention of one of the best teams on the circuit as they aim for podiums at the world’s biggest races.

“Trek really supports athletes properly, and they keep their athletes for a long time,” Bowman said. “Like when you look at people like Brandon Semenuk, and Casey Brown, and R-Dog, as well Evie Richards coming from Tracy Moseley’s program, there are endless athletes that have been there a long time and that, for me, was a big part of why I wanted to work with Trek. I like the idea of doing things long term, and actually having legit relationships that aren’t just purely business.”

Brought to you by the fine folks at Steel City Media.

Bowman said that The Union started with a focus to “just do a good thing.” In just a few short years, they’ve proven how powerful that simple mission can be. Performance-wise, the team doesn’t put strict goals on its athletes. Bowman believes that happy, well supported and motivated athletes will do a good job pushing themselves on their own. So far, he hasn’t seen any evidence to the contrary. In fact, The Union’s growth has caught even Bowman off guard.

“We were joking about it the other day. It escalated quickly,” Bowman laughed. “It was never meant to be what it is now, which is funny in a good way.”

The Union’s surprise success perhaps suggests how sorely it was needed. Fresh young faces are the lifeblood of downhill racing, and the Union has known that better than anyone.