A rollercoaster season produced some unforgettable memories
The Trek Factory Racing Downhill program began in 2019. Since then, it has quickly risen to become one of the best teams in the world.
The highwater mark is easy to point to: Reece Wilson’s stunning World Championship run in 2020 will forever be remembered as a seminal breakthrough for both the rider and the program. In 2021, TFR’s four riders — Wilson, Kade Edwards, Charlie Harrison and newcomer Loris Vergier — proved that Wilson’s moment in Leogang was no fluke. They reified that success with big performances across the full range of events, conditions and terrains that the sport has to offer.
It wasn’t easy. Injuries, bad luck and bad crashes all shaped the season. But the resiliency that the riders showed by thriving after those low moments were a testament to the culture of the TFR program as a whole.
All four riders not only achieved big results, they displayed grit, passion and joy along the way. Here are just some of the moments we’ll never forget.
Charlie Harrison wins three-in-a-row
Bike launches are a big deal at Trek. The 2021 Session, which was released in April, was engineered over several years with the input of the team and a goal to ride as smooth and fast as possible over the gnarliest terrain in the world.
Every bike represents the hard work of dozens of people — from designers to engineers to product testers to the riders themselves — and though there’s confidence that a product will excel before it’s released into the wild, every stakeholder is anxious to know for certain that their efforts have paid off.
Charlie Harrison quickly proved that the new bike was worthy of it ambitious goals. From March through May, he won three consecutive starts in Windrock, Tenn., Costa Rica and Port Angeles, Wash., cementing confidence in the new Session just before the team embarked on its first World Cup race in Leogang in June.
Harrison broke his arm in Leogang, interrupting his hot start, but he returned to World Cup racing in August and closed the season strong with an eighth place finish in the first of two races in Snowshoe. Harrison said after the race that he had been worried he wouldn’t find the form he displayed before the injury. He proved that his hot streak was no fluke, and that there’s every reason to look forward to what he could accomplish during a full, healthy (*knock on wood*) campaign.
Kade Edwards shows he was made for Red Bull Hardline
Kade Edwards is one of the most jaw-dropping mountain bikers in the world. His mastery of speed and air makes him impossible not to watch every time he drops into a run.
He spent a lot of time on the hot seat at World Cup events, and had a career best elite finish of ninth in Les Gets. But nothing better distilled what makes Edwards great than his third-place run down the extreme Red Bull Hardline course.
Hardline is one of the most unique events in mountain biking. It’s a downhill racing event with freeride twists, including steep gradients and massive jumps and drops. It was the perfect showcase for Edwards’ pedal-to-the-floor style of racing.
Wilson was on the call for Red Bull, and spoke about how Edwards had matured as a rider during the season. The former junior downhill world champion is just 21 years old, and steadily racking up faster and more consistent results. Only the sky is his limit.
Reece Wilson wins in Snowshoe
Wilson’s trademarks as a rider are his highly-tuned ability to read a track, and the absolute bravery to push his limits. Oddly, the best example of this was a crash.
In Les Gets, heavy rain created sloppy conditions for the latter half of finalists. Most of them slowed down as a result, but Wilson, who took fourth in qualifying, was on a potential podium run despite riding through slick rocks and mud.
Then he came to a jump out of a wooded sector late in the course. Wilson badly misjudged the speed he needed, lost control of his bike in mid-air and crashed hard. The crash derailed a strong run, but in the process he impressed the downhill racing community with his commitment to going all out, no matter the conditions.
Wilson had strong results all season, but he admitted later that he felt something was missing. Then in September he found his mojo again, gliding over a punishing course in Snowshoe for his first career elite World Cup win.
“Don’t ever underestimate a massive crash, it does a lot to your head,” Wilson said after the race. “Ever since Les Gets, I’ve felt like I’ve had to restart again from there, and it takes a lot to get the confidence to ride over the limit and over the edge because there’s so many guys here willing to push it. You have to be 110 percent confident.”
Wilson’s journey back to top form may have taken longer than he would have liked, but he showed — just like he did in Leogang in 2020 — that there may be no one faster when he’s on top of his game.
Loris Vergier crushes Maribor, then wins in Lenzerheide
Loris Vergier’s World Cup debut with TFR began inauspiciously. He was third in qualifying in Leogang … then was forced to take a DNF after puncturing early into his finals run. Then in Les Gets, he was third in qualifying again, only to be slowed down by the messy, evolving conditions.
However, if Vergier was frustrated by the start of his season, he never showed it. He remained patient, trusted his speed and stayed positive on the basis that at some point luck had to turn in his favor.
Turns out, what he really needed was a trip to Maribor. On back-to-back weekends Vergier won a European Championship and a World Cup race on the course (he took first in qualifying, too). Then to prove that his speed translates outside of Slovenia, he won the next World Cup race in Lenzerheide, and took third in the first of two downhill races in Snowshoe.
That incredible string of results put Vergier within shouting distance of an overall World Cup title. He ended up finishing third overall, giving TFR two top five riders with the addition of Wilson, who finished fifth.
Even with a slow start, it’s hard to imagine a better debut for the team’s newest rider. Vergier not only had a career year, but he slid seamlessly into the team dynamic and elevated the standard to another level.
He’ll have big goals again in 2022, as will a young team that finds a way to get better even after setbacks. That’s the benefit of a strong culture, and that’s why the future of TFR is so bright.