Downhill mountain bike racing is fashionable again, and despite the global recession, sponsors are lining up to financially back the Formula One of cycling. Not since the late 90's heyday of Shaun Palmer and Nicolas Vouilloz have so many bike manufacturers stepped up to increase their spending on R&D and racing across the world. Here are some of the bigger names and the teams to watch in 2009.
The big S is diving back into the sport and is relying on ex-racer Scott Sharples to shepherd two of the sport's bigger egos into piloting the Demo 8 to bigger victories than slope style events. Specialized lured Sam Hill and Brendan Fairclough over from Iron Horse to give it a go for the Morgan Hill squad. They will no doubt be under a lot of pressure to perform at the nearby Sea Otter in mid-April.
Trek lured three DH veterans away from established programs (Andrew Neethling (Mongoose), Justin Leov (Yeti), and Tracy Moseley (Kona)) to race their new Session 88 DH bike. This bike usually gets a lot hype around its proven ability as an All-Mountain ride based on its development by Andrew Shandro in the wet and wild conditions of the Pacific Northwest. We will have to see how it performs under racing conditions on the variety of conditions to be encountered during this year's World Cup season. Martin Whiteley, DH mountain biking super agent, and former Team Honda leader, has been hired by Trek to manage the squad. They ought to do well with him around, as his teams have consistently won many races.
Evil Bikes - MS Racing
I don't know anything about Evil Bikes other than they clearly like Danzig and have said that they will be playing Slayer regularly in their team RV. The international squad consists of Filip Polc (Poland), Steve Smith (Canada), and Matti Lehikonen (Finland). All three are fantastic riders, though Matti is the only one to ever podium in World Cup events. Hopefully he doesn't drink too much beer in the team RV, or his results may suffer.
The Golden, CO company has absolutely reinvented itself as a premier racing organization after its fall from grace in the late 90's. Yeti started the careers of many MTB pioneers such as John Tomac, Julie Furtado, and Missy Giove, and is doing the same these days with a young crop of Kiwis and Aussies such as Sam Blenkinsop, Aaron Gwin, and Jared Graves. Look for the team of to dominate both DH and 4X wherever they choose to race. Sam Blenkinsop is the only rider to beat Sam Hill at Schladaming in years. And he did it without gloves.
Santa Cruz Syndicate
And last, but not least, how I could not discuss the lads from Santa Cruz who consistently stood on the podium, and won the overall World Cup, last season. I was sad to see they cut Nathan Rennie loose, but maybe it was for the best. Josh Bryceland won the World Championships last year with a pretty sweet mohawk. Maybe he will do the same in 2009? As for Peaty, I hope he makes it happen in Canberra, but his best chance ever may have been last year.