TFR XC has BIG goals after a roller coaster year of breakthroughs and close calls
2022 was a battle for Trek Factory Racing XC. In hindsight, the World Cup opener was a microcosm of the season. Illness spread through the team before the race. Evie Richards, Anton Cooper and Vlad Dascalu all missed either the short track or Olympic-distance events. Jolanda Neff sat out racing altogether. What had been a highly-anticipated opener at a beautiful new venue got off to an inauspicious start.
But despite being forced to play a bad hand, the squad made the most of the weekend. Richards took third in short track, and Dascalu took third in his XCO debut as a TFR rider. Riley Amos, also racing for the first time as a full-time TFR rider, placed fourth in the men’s U23 event. The team squeezed everything it could out of the event. Problem was, circumstances didn’t allow it to accomplish as much as it would have liked.
That theme prevailed throughout the year.
To the good: Neff led the way with three World Cup victories, including a perfect weekend in Mont-Sainte-Anne, and a second-place finish at World Championships. Vlad Dascalu stood on eight World Cup podiums, finishing second three times. He and Anton Cooper combined to be named the “Best Men’s Team” at back-to-back races in Nové Město and Leogang. And Maddie Munro had a breakout season, winning the U23 U.S. National Championship before earning the first two U23 World Cup podiums of her career in Snowshoe (third) and Mont-Sainte-Anne (second).
But there were also several instances of what-could-have-been. Richards, coming off a World Championship in 2021, was forced to sit for much of the season due to a nagging back injury. Dascalu fell achingly short of his first career World Cup win, often due to untimely crashes or mechanical misfortune. Amos, who won back-to-back U23 World Cup races in 2021, couldn’t get on track like he hoped, especially not after suffering a broken collarbone.
If 2022 was the year of scrapping and clawing and fighting against forces greater than themselves for every place in the pack, then 2023 will hopefully be a year of discovery and re-discovery. TFR XC’s riders — young and veteran — have all flashed the potential to win against the very best in the sport, starting with Gwendalyn Gibson, a new addition to TFR who busted out with a short track win in Snowshoe last year.
All they have to do is make the most of their training and savvy while avoiding injuries, equipment mishaps and bad luck of any sort. Simple? OK, not exactly in a sport as fickle as XC racing. But what better time for hope than now? When circumstances align, there may not be a better group of riders anywhere ready to pounce on their opportunities.
We can promise you this: A TFR rider will drop your jaw at some point this season. We suggest you pay attention, lest you miss the moment.
5 stories to watch
Gwendalyn Gibson on the rise
Gibson teared up when talking to the Race Shop about her win in Snowshoe last July. She had broken her kneecap in May, and according to her initial prognosis, she shouldn’t have even been on the start line. But she returned more quickly than expected and proceeded to prove she belongs among the best riders in the world.
“After a season with setbacks, it was really special for me to see all of the time and hard work finally come together,” Gibson said. “I think of it as a turning point in my career where I really began to believe in my capabilities. I’ll remember that day forever.”
Gibson, just 23 years old, has worlds of potential. She excelled in short track racing last year, taking podiums in Les Gets and Mont-Sainte-Anne in addition to her win, and wants to push herself to succeed at Olympic-distance events as well. Step 1 will be learning to believe in herself and her place within a hyper-competitive women’s field.
“Something I am always working to overcome is my anxiety associated with racing at this level,” Gibson said. “With a little more self belief, I think there will be no limit on what I can achieve.”
Evie Richards getting her groove back
Richards called 2022 “the hardest season I think I’ve ever done” from a mental standpoint. Setbacks stacked upon setbacks, from illness in Brazil, to back problems, to a bout of Covid, all making her season in the rainbow jersey less magical than she had hoped. The highlight of her season was returning from three months off World Cup racing to see her teammates at World Championships in Les Gets.
“It was just a bit of a terrible year, and I really missed seeing everyone and being around the team,” Richards said. “So when I got to be back with everyone at Les Gets, it just made me so happy to see everyone’s faces. I just felt like I’d missed my family.”
When I got to be back with everyone at Les Gets, it just made me so happy to see everyone's faces. I just felt like I'd missed my family.
- Evie Richards
Richards has a bright outlook on 2023. She wasn’t able to get up to full speed last season, but she still closed the season well, taking fifth in short track at World Championships and seventh in XCO in Val di Sole. This year, she has a new team around her — from coaches, to physios, to nutritionists — and she’s focused on being “the healthiest Evie I can possibly be.”
“I think it’s gonna be a really good year and a really exciting year for me,” Richards said. “Last year, I was struggling to finish races with the injury, so I don’t have to go too much faster to be better than I was last year, which is a great thing. But I definitely want to be miles better than I was, and be back up to that level where I was in 2021.”
Vlad Dascalu World Cup watch
The one thing you need to know about Dascalu is that he never, ever gives up. He may be the fastest rider in the world who has yet to win a World Cup race. He came ridiculously close last year, taking second in Nové Město after making a move that dropped everyone except Tom Pidcock, who outsprinted Dascalu for the win, and seemingly making a winning attack in Andorra before an ill-timed mechanical.
The next week, he suffered a bad crash in Snowshoe, and was unable to fully recover before the end of the season.
If you do the hard work and enjoy the process, when it’s time to race the body and mind are ready to give it all.
- Vlad Dascalu
“I went from one of the best moments of my life and also probably the best shape of the season to not being able to ride my bike without a lot of pain,” Dascalu said. “Mentally and physically it was a tough moment.”
Dascalu figures to be a podium fixture once again. That first win feels inevitable, but when is still an open question. He certainly feels the pressure to finally break through, but his approach to every race remains the same. You can always count on Vlad to put his best self on display in every race.
“I really believe that the hard work always pays off,” Dascalu said. “So if I want to be the best version of myself it’s something you have to work on every day. If you do the hard work and enjoy the process, when it’s time to race the body and mind are ready to give it all.”
Riley Amos and Maddie Munro growing up before our eyes
The last two years have been transformative for the two young American riders. They have firmly established their presence at the front of their respective U23 fields. Both have won U.S. national champs — Amos in 2021, and Munro in 2022. And both have put themselves on multiple World Cup podiums, with Amos winning two races in 2021.
The question now: Where do they go next?
The both displayed their mettle last season by bouncing from injuries — Amos broke his collarbone and missed nationals and two World Cups, and Munro suffered a concussion just before she was set to race in Albstadt. (She documented her recovery process here.) Next up is polishing themselves as racers. For two 20-year-olds, that means improving their maturity and race savvy first and foremost.
“The last 2 years have felt a lot like learning the ropes — what it takes to be a part of a factory team, and race all year at the highest level of competition,” Amos said. “I learned my strengths, weaknesses, and now I feel I am ready to approach my last 2 years of U23 with a level head and with everything I need to perform. I guess we will just have to wait and see if that’s the case, but there has been a lot of really good signs so far.”
This offseason, Munro has been working with new coach Kristin Armstrong to up her technical skills.
“Together we are going to target all levels of my skills to help me gain more confidence and ability on these World Cup courses,” Munro said. “Not to mention we will be working on my epic finish line wheelie.”
I will be even faster this year because I believe we have the best team on the circuit, filled with the most enthusiastic, supportive and hard working athletes, staff and fans.
- Maddie Munro
Both Amos and Munro are grateful to be surrounded by a strong veteran core of riders. Amos recalled a training in Andorra with Dascalu and Neff as one of his favorite memories of the year. Munro said that the moral support she has received from the team has had a tangibly positive effect on race days.
“I will be even faster this year because I believe we have the best team on the circuit, filled with the most enthusiastic, supportive and hard working athletes, staff and fans,” Munro said. “Each rider adds something unique and uplifting to the team that will enhance our team atmosphere and give us all extra watts.”
A jam-packed schedule
The 2022 World Cup schedule was designed to produce a steady drip of racing. Events were never held more than two weeks in a row, and every month from April to September featured a World Cup race.
The 2023 schedule, by contrast, features two jam-packed racing blocks split by a long bout of down time. The first race takes place in May, not April, and early July to late August features no racing at all. But from June 9 to July 2, there will be three World Cup events in just 23 days. And beginning with World Championships in Glasgow from August 9-12, the team will take on a gauntlet of six World Cup-level events in nine weeks, closing with Mont-Sainte-Anne from Oct. 6-8.
The new schedule places even greater pressure on riders to stay healthy. With races so densely packed, an injury or bad bug could mean missing multiple races.
That's my goal for this year. Do less, ride more. Worry less, smile more. Just enjoy what I'm doing and appreciate how lucky I am.
- Jolanda Neff
Both Jolanda Neff and Anton Cooper understand the importance of taking care of their bodies. Neff seemed poised for a big result in Brazil after winning a warmup race by more than six minutes, but illness kept her off the World Cup start lines. Cooper caught Covid just before the Commonwealth Games in early August, and struggled during the closing stretch of World Championships and Val di Sole. Both are focused on being more mindful of the stress they place on themselves that can keep them from performing their best.
“I’m learning from past mistakes and becoming wiser each year,” Cooper said. “I’m working on overcoming some struggles at altitude races and also staying injury free and in good health, which will allow me to build form throughout the year.”
One potential benefit of the new schedule: There won’t be much time to focus on anything but racing for long stretches of time. For a rider like Neff, whose success and popularity means a lot of demands on her time, having a dense slate of competitions could be a benefit.
“Sometimes I struggle to enjoy the simple things and just turn my brain off from going through my to-do lists and what I still have to do,” Neff said. “I would love nothing more than to just ride my bike and not worry about anything. That’s my goal for this year. Do less, ride more. Worry less, smile more. Just enjoy what I’m doing and appreciate how lucky I am.”
Schedule and how to watch
MTB World Cup broadcasts will be moving from Red Bull TV to Discovery this year. And though timing and streaming details are still being ironed out, you can expect to find the races within the Discovery family of streaming services.
Round 1: Nové Město na Moravě, May 12-14
In a nutshell: World Cup staple with punchy climbs and flowy descents.
Round 2: Lenzerheide, June 9-11
In a nutshell: Unbelievable fan atmosphere at high altitude with fast racing.
Round 3: Leogang, June 16-18
In a nutshell: An all-around test — climbing, steep descents and tech.
Round 4: Val di Sole, June 30-July 2
In a nutshell: A bruiser — hope you like roots and rock gardens.
World Championships: Glasgow, August 9-12
In a nutshell: An exciting new venue for many riders. Climbing, uneven descents, and a strong chance of MUD.
Round 5: Andorra, August 23-27
In a nutshell: An absolute lung buster, with long climbs at high altitude.
Round 6: Les Gets, September 7-17
In a nutshell: A speedy tech-fest in the French Alps.
Round 7: Snowshoe, September 28-October 1
In a nutshell: Another battering ram of a course where the American contingent will be going all out.
Round 8: Mont-Sainte-Anne, October 6-October 8
In a nutshell: Jolanda Neff’s favorite course! Super technical; SUPER fun.
You can follow the whole squad at all the races at the Trek Factory Racing XC Instagram page. Stay tuned over the coming weeks for individual rider catch-ups ahead of Round 1 of the World Cup in Nové Město. Also be sure to check out our cool new kits, our cool new paint and our cool new tire sponsor.
Racing is just three months away. It’ll be here before you know it. Get. Hype.