Can TFR XC top a banner season? They're determined to try!
What more can be said about Trek Factory Racing’s XC’s 2021 season? Riders exceeded expectations across the board, highlighted by a pair of remarkable achievements: Jolanda Neff’s Olympic gold medal in Tokyo and Evie Richards’ stunning World Championship in Val di Sole.
According to performance liaison Tracy Moseley, TFR XC’s accomplishments were even more impressive given that riders were returning to a full-time racing calendar with the pressure of Olympic racing wedged in the middle. Neff, Richards (7th in the women’s race), Anton Cooper (6th in the men’s race) and new team rider Vlad Dascalu (7th) all showed out in Tokyo, and Richards emerged with the form of her life, adding two World Cup XCO wins to her set of rainbow stripes.
“By the end of the season, you look back and it was incredible,” Moseley says. “We’ve got a world and Olympic champion on the team going into this season. I don’t think that we could have asked for a better year overall.”
In 2022, Moseley is looking forward to a more normal schedule — no Olympics, and, hopefully, few disruptions caused by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. She’s hoping that a more focused set of goals will help the team achieve the one thing it lacked last season: Consistency. Neff and Richards, for example, struggled at times early in the season, while Cooper petered off late after one of the best starts of his career.
“It was definitely a busy year with highs and lows for everyone,” Moseley says. “There’s no way you can expect to have the same form throughout the year. And I think that’s what makes the Olympics hard is because you’re not just hitting X number of World Cups to be really good at World Championships if that’s your goal.”
The team will carry six riders into the 2022 season. Vlad Dascalu is joining the team after racing with Trek-Pirelli, and Riley Amos and Maddie Munro are now full-time members after moonlighting with the squad last season. Those young, fresh faces will keep the energy high throughout a jam-packed season.
Even without the Olympics to worry about, the season won’t be easy. The World Cup schedule features nine races, beginning in Petropolis, Brazil, on April 8 and finishing in Val di Sole, Italy, on Sept. 4. Competing for overall titles will require strong performances at both ends of the season, which means riders will have to manage their mental and physical energy carefully.
“I think planning their schedules early in the year is the most important thing, and making sure that, one, we can support them the best we can, and two, that they’re being realistic with some of those expectations,” Moseley says.
A banner year of results will add pressure on the squad this season. But with pressure comes an opportunity to thrive. The 2021 season was no accident. It was borne from an atmosphere of camaraderie and high-end support that only a strong team can provide. Trek Factory Racing is well-positioned to meet a new set of challenges and make 2022 memorable in its own way.
Evie and Jolanda reset expectations
Richards has been outspoken this offseason about the mental and emotional toll of her success after the season. She spent a lot of time away from her bike in the comfort of friends and family to help herself recover.
“It’s just a massive kind of crash mentally and physically when you come home after that season. I think she spotted it. She’s got a really good relationship with her sports psychologist,” Moseley says. “I think it’s really quite common if you speak to athletes that have had the pressure and the expectation of the Olympics, and then for her to go and achieve what she did at Worlds.”
To say that 2021 was a breakthrough for Richards is an understatement. Not only will she be wearing rainbow stripes in 2022, but her World Cup wins in Lenzerheide and Snowshoe were the first of her career. Though success was difficult to navigate in the comedown from the season, Richards is excited to be one of the riders to beat this season, according to Moseley.
I think getting consistency in the World Cup and winning a couple of World Cups will definitely be high on Jolanda's agenda.
- Tracy Moseley
“I think it also takes time to sink in what you’ve achieved, and every time you put on the rainbow jersey, it’s almost like a little bit of pressure on your back because you’re wearing those stripes,” Moseley says. (She would know; Moseley won a downhill world championship in 2010.) “But I think she’s at the point now where she’s old enough and mature enough to realize how amazing that opportunity is, and she’s making the most of it.”
Neff was used to riding with a target on her back long before her incredible performance in Tokyo. She has 12 World Cup XCO victories, three World Cup overall titles, four European Championships and a World Championship to her name. But like Evie, she also has a clear mission, even coming off another career-defining season. Neff’s world title came in 2017, and her last World Cup victory was in 2018. Last season, her best World Cup XCO result was fourth. She’d love to get back on the medal stand, especially the top step.
“The Olympics is a huge title, and she has that one now for a good few years, so she doesn’t have to worry about trying to repeat,” Moseley says. “I think getting consistency in the World Cup and winning a couple of World Cups will definitely be high on Jolanda’s agenda.”
It’s easy to forget that Neff, though one of the most accomplished riders ever in the sport, hasn’t had anything close to a “normal” season for several years while she dealt with injuries and transitioning to a new team, all in the midst of a pandemic. She has also been with her new coach for roughly one year now, helping her find a steady rhythm to her training.
“I know it’s been a few years, but even so it still takes a while to get into new teams, and have everyone find their place,” Moseley says. “We’ve got a really good group, I think it’s a really strong group, and a good, different bunch of personalities and dynamic. And I think they all have fun.”
Richards and Neff approach racing in different ways, but they both have cross country racing’s biggest goals in mind. Their support for one another as they take on another long season under big expectations will be one of the best stories in XC this year.
Vlad, Anton and Riley venture into new territory
Vlad Dascalu comes to Trek Factory Racing from Trek-Pirelli, with whom he finished second in Snowshoe and fourth at World Championships last year, in addition to his stellar ride in Tokyo. There’s no telling where the 24-year-old’s ceiling is, but there’s no question that he’s rising fast.
And with TFR, Dascalu has found his “dream team.” So far, he’s fitting right in. He went to training camps with the Trek-Segafredo road team in December and January, where he trained with Trek staff and TFR teammates like Evie Richards, Maddie Munro and Hattie Harnden. Moseley loves Dascalu’s attitude and approach to racing.
“He seems really chill, down to earth, but he’s really excited to be part of the team and to progress his riding,” Moseley says. “He loved the road team camp. He got stuck in, met everybody and had some really good training. So he has certainly become part of the Trek family already.”
Dascalu’s age puts him nearly smack in the middle of Riley Amos, 19, and Anton Cooper, 27, forming a men’s triumvirate that can push each other in different ways. Cooper, like everyone, is looking for more consistent results, but he proved he’s capable of riding with the sport’s fastest riders last year with a bronze medal in Leogang and a spirited ride in Tokyo, where he rode near the front and finished just 12 seconds out of a medal after nearly 90 minutes of racing.
“He had such a good start to the year, and Anton often has those races where he’s gunning for a win, but then can fall way back,” Moseley says. “So that consistency throughout the whole season would be something that he would definitely love to find, rather than the highs and the lows that you often see.”
Amos harbors big ambitions for his second Under-23 season after winning his third ever World Cup start in Leogang last year. Having two men’s teammates who have had significant experience racing in Europe will help his transition to full-time racing abroad. It’s easy to forget, Moseley says, that he was a junior rider racing almost exclusively on the domestic circuit with the Bear Development Team not long ago.
“I think he’s had a real taste of what he’s capable of doing. He’s had a really solid winter, and he’s been training and living in Tucson, so he’s put some miles in,” Moseley says, adding that he has lofty goals: “To be world champion as an Under-23 is something that he’s got his sights set on. Whether he gets that chance this year or next year, he’s got a few years to have a go at it.”
Maddie and Hattie push each other through friendship
Of all the riders, Maddie Munro and Hattie Harnden probably saw each other the most over the winter. Both made regular appearances on the European cyclocross circuit, where they steadily made progress in both Under-23 and elite races.
That’s no coincidence. Though they’re different riders, Moseley notes that they consistently finish near each other, which makes them good benchmarks for one another as they try to up their levels. It helps that they’re good friends, too.
“Any time they get a chance to hang out together and be together, they’re always super excited,” Moseley says. “Certainly when Maddie has had extended periods in Europe, it’s been nice to have a familiar face and someone that she knows that she gets on with.”
After finishing seventh in Snowshoe, her best performance of the year, Munro went on to have an impressive ‘cross season that included a Pan-American championship, an elite top 10 in Herentals, and an eighth-place finish at World Championships in Fayetteville. Like Amos, Munro is just 19 and steadily building. Moseley sees a lot of room for growth.
“Maddie definitely has the engine that’s only going to keep growing. Now we’ve got to make sure that her technical skills are on par,” Moseley says. “We saw Evie really improve on her technical skills over the last couple years to the point where now it’s probably one of her strengths. And I think that’s where Maddie needs to be in a few years time, as well.”
Harnden is perhaps the most unique member of TFR. She is officially on the TFR Enduro roster, and her biggest focus this year will be the Enduro World Series. However, with EWS races not starting until June, she has plenty of time to race XC and help build a base for the enduro season. Moseley says Harnden will do about eight early season cross country races. Like Munro, she’s aiming for top 10s, and higher.
“I think after winning UK ‘cross nationals, which was a massive achievement after having done very little ‘cross this winter, I think then she suddenly felt like, ‘Hey, I’ve got good form. I want to maintain that and I’ve got six months almost until I start racing EWS,'” Moseley says. “I think until she’s finished her Under-23 years, she’s definitely keen to prove that you can mix and match disciplines if you train well, rest well and plan well.”
Both Munro and Harnden would love to take a step at a World Cup race. Whether they get there in 2022, one thing is for certain: They’ll be faster by each other’s side.