This year the pressure is on for the most tight-knit team on the World Cup circuit
The MTB World Cup opener in Mairiporã, Brazil may be two months away, but the Trek Factory Racing-Pirelli XC squad is already in full-swing preparation mode. The riders recently completed two weeks of training in Dénia, Spain, where they refreshed their skills, racked up grueling miles and enjoyed the Mediterranean sun in the midst of winter.
On the surface, not much is changing this year. All seven riders — Jolanda Neff, Evie Richards, Vlad Dascalu, Anton Cooper, Gwendalyn Gibson, Riley Amos and Madigan Munro — are back, wearing the same kit and riding the same (though still new and amazing) Supercaliber. And Pirelli was added to the team’s UCI-registered name to reflect the tire partner’s contributions to the squad.
But 2024 will be massive in all other regards. All of those riders want wins and podiums. And they’ll be taking on a packed World Cup schedule, featuring new locales, while also tending to their Olympic ambitions.
The same riders you know and love; even fiercer competition and challenges. Add it up, and you have what looks like one of the most fascinating seasons we’ve ever watched. With just a few more weeks left until the first starting gun, here are four storylines to follow for the 2024 season.
New stops on the World Cup circuit
In 2022, the World Cup season began in Petrópolis, Brazil, and the event was a smash hit among riders and fans alike. As a result, Brazil is now hosting two World Cup events in 2024 — Round 1 in Mairiporã, and Round 2 in Araxá.
If Petrópolis was any indication, both races could have the rowdiest crowds of the year. They will also be unique tracks compared to the standard European XC fare. Mairiporã is just one hour north of São Paulo, and the course is fast-rolling and wide, which should lead to tight finishes. Araxá is another seven hours north of Mairiporã, and will be a stiffer technical test with lots of weaving and natural descents through forest sections.
Crans-Montana, Switzerland, and Lake Placid, USA, are also new venues for the XC World Cup. Crans-Montana is famous for its unrivaled scenery, and has been one of the most beloved venues on the Enduro World Cup circuit for years. Lake Placid is a world-famous sports destination, having twice hosted the Olympics, and should be one of the most hotly-contested races of the year, taking place just one week before the season finale in Mont-Sainte-Anne.
New venues often lead to wide open racing because few of the riders have the advantage of experience with the track. The best events of the year could easily come from those four locales.
Last dance in U23s
Madigan Munro and Riley Amos have been fixtures on the U23 World Cup circuit for three years now, improving their racecraft every season. Last year, Munro earned a career-best seven top 10 World Cup XCO finishes, including a second straight podium in Mont-Sainte-Anne. Amos had six top 10 XCO finishes, including two victories.
Both will turn 22 just before racing starts, meaning this season will be their last chance to soak up experience before heading into the jaws of elite racing in 2025 and beyond. U23 racing is hardly shallow waters. As the popularity of MTB racing has grown over the years, the younger ranks have begun to overflow with talent.
Amos and Munro will be marked riders as elder statesmen in the category. Can they fend off the sharks and prove their big league mettle? We’ll find out soon enough.
Podiums podiums podiums
TFR XC’s gang of elite riders — Jolanda Neff, Evie Richards, Vlad Dascalu, Gwendalyn Gibson and Anton Cooper — are some of the most fearsome in the field. Neff, Richards and Gibson combined to be named the best women’s team of the year. Collectively, they racked up 31 top 10 finishes and 10 podiums across World Cup XCO and short track racing.
But the top step proved elusive in 2023. Only Richards managed the feat at a World Cup event, winning short track in Snowshoe. There were several tantalizingly close calls, however. To name a few, a mechanical issue may have robbed Richards of an XCO win in Nové Mesto, Dascalu took third in tight battles in Andorra and Val di Sole, and Neff seemed to be finding her rhythm just as the season was ending with back-to-back podiums in Snowshoe and Mont-Sainte-Anne.
There’s no denying that this crew has a high ceiling. Richards and Neff have racked up wins aplenty on the world’s biggest stages, and Dascalu is teetering on the edge of a breakthrough. Gibson and Cooper are two of the pluckiest riders in the field, and could easily snatch the podiums that eluded them in 2023 after they combined for three World Cup podiums in 2022
A season of near misses reflects the fickle nature of World Cup racing. More telling may be the consistency that this group displayed throughout the year. Every race, they put themselves in position for major hardware. 2024 could be the year they cash in on those efforts.
Surviving the gauntlet
Being a professional mountain bike racer gets harder every year. The field gets deeper, more races get added to the schedule, and pressure mounts as the popularity of the sport grows.
In addition to racing in three different continents this year, many of TFR’s riders will also be vying for Olympic selections. For two weeks from late July through early August, Paris will be a vortex of fever pitch anxiety and fandom. The games also happen to take place smack dab in the middle of the racing calendar, with World Championships following shortly at the end of August, and then the final two World Cup races taking place in late September and early October.
The TFR XC squad will be tested like never before in 2024. It’s what makes the team’s family atmosphere so pivotal to their success. They’ll need to lean on each other for support to make it through the week-by-week trials and tribulations.
Fortunately for fans, we get to follow along with their journey. This sport is one of the most taxing in the world. But if there’s any group of riders that can thrive in these conditions, it’s the TFR crew.
Want to see the squad up close and personal? Watch our inside look at the 2023 season: