We're barely halfway there, and there's so much to discuss
It’s hard to believe the mountain bike World Cup season is roughly halfway done when it feels like it has only just begun. XC has knocked out four of its eight rounds. DH is right behind with five races left to go. And enduro is almost wrapped with just two races left, both in September.
There’s plenty of non-World Cup action to come, of course. National Championships and an almighty World Championships in Scotland will generate a season’s worth of storylines between now and the next World Cup round in Andorra beginning on Aug. 27. But with a natural pause upcoming, and off the heels of a wildly entertaining race in Val di Sole, now feels like a good time to take stock.
Before racing began, we laid out the goals for each of Trek Factory Racing’s MTB squads: How much fun this XC team could be with a little luck, how the DH team stacked against an increasingly cutthroat field, and how the enduro team sought to up its ante. Since then, we’ve witnessed a few stellar results, a few missed opportunities, and a hell of a lot of growth.
If you expected a clean narrative for any of TFR’s riders at this point in the season, you don’t know racing. But at the rough midpoint of the season, there’s one thing we can promise you: These athletes have only scratched the surface of what they can accomplish. There are some big goals left to race for. And as always, none of them will come easy.
TFR XC: Just getting warmed up
Vlad Dascalu is on a heater right now. After winning a European Championship in late June, he took third in Val di Sole for his first podium of the year. There’s no question that he’s rounding into form. The season also admittedly didn’t start like he had hoped. He only cracked the top 10 in a World Cup race once before last Sunday. Compare that to 2022, when he was top 10 in all seven of the first World Cup races he completed.
Dascalu’s trajectory mirrors the whole squad: Great performances mixed in with growth opportunities, but overall trending up.
- Jolanda Neff has been steadily finding her form, taking a season-best sixth in Val di Sole that was hampered by a flat.
- Evie Richards has been in the podium mix in every start, with her best performance coming in the World Cup opener in Nové Mesto, where she finished fourth despite a lengthy mechanical issue.
- Gwendalyn Gibson has been strong and steady in her TFR debut, taking 12th in her last two XCO starts, and helping the women take Best Team honors for the second time this season in Val di Sole.
- After an offseason marred by illness, Anton Cooper returned to full form in Leogang by taking eighth.
- Riley Amos is coming off his first complete performance of the season by taking fourth in U23 short track and third in U23 XCO in Val di Sole.
- Maddie Munro has made herself a U23 top 10 regular, with her favorite tracks still to come.
Most importantly, the squad has stayed healthy. That wasn’t the case last season, when illnesses and injuries forced just about every rider on the team to miss at least one race start. Give these riders the opportunity to strike, and they won’t hesitate to take it. And they’ve all shown that their best performances may be yet to come.
TFR DH: Living on the edge
Downhill racing is absolutely brutal on its face, replete with mean twists and features. Put a wheel a few inches in the wrong direction, and it could mean a nasty crash that, at best, will immediately ruin your chances at a strong result.
That’s why it feels particularly cruel to the sport’s participants that everyone is getting so damn good. The elite downhill ranks just keep getting faster and faster, as new riders filter in from the junior ranks and veteran riders find novel ways to eke out ever smaller increments of screaming speed from their downhill rigs.
The good news is that TFR newcomer Bodhi Kuhn has firmly established himself as a future elite contender. The 18-year-old broke through in Val di Sole, winning his first ever junior World Cup race after taking second place in Lenzerheide and Leogang. The bittersweet news, for Loris Vergier, Kade Edwards and Reece Wilson, is that their teammate’s success is just another sign that this sport isn’t getting any easier.
Of course, when you’re Loris Vergier, that might not matter. He hasn’t broken through with a World Cup win yet this season, but proved he has winning speed with his second place finish in Lenzerheide. And if you’ve been following Kade Edwards, you know that he’s at the height of his powers as a rider with more strength, skill and flare than just about anybody in the world; it may only be a matter of time before he makes his return to a regular place in the top 20. And Reece Wilson is only just returning to the game, putting down his first competitive runs of the season in Val di Sole after suffering a broken leg in the offseason.
The rest of the season is going to be a challenge for the DH boys, but when have they ever shied away from that? All they know is riding fast and loose, and pushing themselves to new limits within their mind-bending discipline.
TFR Enduro: Hattie's podium battle
What we wrote in the first two paragraphs of the downhill section above? You can pretty much copy and paste that here.
Hattie Harnden, at just 22 years old, is still very much one of her sport’s young talents. But after taking third overall in the Enduro World Series last year, she hasn’t experienced smooth sailing to the top of the standings like her trajectory had suggested. Instead, she’s clawing, and scratching, and fighting amongst a group of brilliant women’s enduro rivals. The sport is just that fast.
Harnden is currently fourth in the overall standings after taking fifth, with a stage win, in Val di Fassa late last month. Despite struggling (by her own admission) to find the pace she’s become accustomed to, she’s still in good position to take the overall podium for a second straight year. Meanwhile, she’s also taking top 10s in World Cup DH events.
Even when she’s not hitting her unbelievably high standards, Harnden is constantly making our jaws drop. And with time to heal from the first four months of racing, she could once again take the enduro circuit by storm come September. Basically, never, ever bet against Hattie Harden doing the incredible.