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2022 World Cup rivalries to watch

Hotly anticipated match-ups in XCO and downhill this summer

2021 XCO World Cup Nove Mesto pidcock van der Poel Photo by: Bartek Wolinski / Red Bull Content Pool

If the thrilling 2021 World Cup showed us anything it is that the landscape at the top is changing, and rapidly. Nowhere more so than in cross country, where new stars clashed with established veterans all season long.

All that adds up to a 2022 season that promises all kinds of drama, exciting racing and growing rivalries. Here’s seven head-to-head rivalries we’re expecting to light up this year’s World Cup racing.

Jolanda Neff and Pauline Ferrand Prevot sprint for the line. Bartek Wolinski/Red Bull Content Pool

Jolanda Neff vs. Pauline Ferrand-Prevot

The longstanding rivalry between the Swiss and French superstars isn’t new, but it’s far from fading out. Long simmering, and even crossing disciplines to cyclocross, the battle flared up again in 2022. Ferrand-Prevot was vocal that her season was focused on Tokyo. Neff, returning from injury, was quieter in the lead-up to the Olympics while PFP featured on World Cup podiums regularly. In Japan, that dynamic reversed. After marking each other early on, Neff dispatched Ferrand-Prevot and went on to lead a Swiss sweep of the women’s cross country podium. With the Games headed to Paris in 2024, the pressure is on Ferrand-Prevot to up her game and respond to Neff’s technical prowess. Based on her ride at MegaAvalanche Reunion Islands, PVP has taken her Tokyo loss to heart and is putting in work to improve her technical riding.

Loic Bruni and Loris Vergier enjoy the spoils of victory in Switzerland. Photo: Bartek Wolinski / Red Bull Content Pool

French feud: Bruni, Vergier, Daprela

French riders continue to dominate the elite men’s field in World Cup downhill. In 2021, Loic Bruni narrowly held off challenges from upstart Thibault Daprela and the increasingly confident Loris Vergier. Just because all three fly the same Tricolour flag doesn’t the fight for top honours is any less fierce. While Bruni may have held onto his World Cup overall throne for 2022, Daprela battled through injury – nearly biting his tongue off in a crash – and still nearly matched Bruni. Vergier, now denied the overall by a narrow margin in 2020 and 2021, will be frothing for the 2022 season to start. All this before counting in Amaury Pierron, injured in 2021, and the rising star of Benoit Coulanges.

The crossovers: Thomas Pidcock vs Mathieu van der Poel

One of the most thrilling developing rivalries in all of cycling, not just mountain biking, is that of Mathieu van der Poel and Tom Pidcock. While the Wout van Aert and MvdP rivalry is well established, it is limited to road and cyclocross. Pidcock may still be coming into his own on tarmac, where his Dutch and Belgian counterparts are already superstars, but off-road he put van der Poel on the back foot unexpectedly quickly. First, Pidcock rode away from van der Poel to take his first World Cup win. Then he upset the Dutchman’s four year plan with a win at the Olympics in Tokyo. Van der Poel is rarely one to sit back and take a loss though. While neither rider will be racing a full mountain bike calendar, when these to stars do cross paths on dirt, it should be spectacular.

Val di Sole World Championships 2021
Evie Richards leads the field at Val di Sole. Photo: Bartek Wolinski / Red Bull Content Pool.

The next generation: Evie Richards vs. Loana Lecomte

2021 was the year two new talents came into their own on the cross country circuit. Evie Richards and Loana Lecomte both solidly established themselves in the elite field. Richards with a world championships win. Lecomte with a dominant start to the season that earned her the world cup overall. With contrasting styles, Richards energetic and attacking, Lecomte reserved and preferring to race solo off the front, the two young riders should make for a fun battle this year. Neither Neff or Ferrand-Prevot are going away any time soon, but both will have to contend with these two new stars on the scene.

Nino Schurter with Mathias Flueckiger hot on his heels. Photo: Bartek Wolinski / Red Bull Content Pool

Swiss showdown: Nino Schurter vs. Mathias Flueckiger

Being the best Swiss cross country racer and being the best in the world are often one and the same thing. Nino Schurter has dominated World Cup XCO so long that his accomplishments have sometimes overshadowed the other speedy Swiss men. Not so in 2021. Mathias Flueckiger showed he didn’t need Schurter to step aside to take his turn to shine. The Thomus-RN racer took the race to Schurter, winning a string of World Cups. Schurter took his turn, winning yet another world championships title, in a dramatic finish against his fellow Swiss rider. It’s been a while since Schurter had someone who could rival him, who wasn’t also distracted by the lure of WorldTour road racing. Flueckiger will continue to push Schurter this year, too.

Vali Holl found focus, form, and the overall title at Snowshoe. Photo: Bartek Wolinski / Red Bull Content Pool

Generational battle: Myriam Nicole vs. Valentina Höll

Myriam Nicole was poised to take the elite women’s World Cup overall title with just one week of racing remaining. Then, over two rounds in Snowshoe, W.Va, Valentina Höll walked away with the win, and in just her first full year of racing elite. The young Austrian will ride into 2022 with confidence that she can, after shaking off early season crashes and building speed, while Nicole will be on the hunt for redemption.

The Juniors: Jackson Goldstone vs. Jordan Williams

One of 2022’s best battles may not be televised. Jackson Goldstone, 2021 world champion, and Jordan Williams will be back for the 2022 junior World Cup series. Junior men’s is a wildly unpredictable category, even by the standards of downhill racing. So, with new riders arriving to challenge, it’s unlikely Williams and Goldstone will be left alone to duel for the title. The Canadian is carrying confidence into his second season of World Cup racing, though, so it should be an exciting year to watch.