It was just barely a month ago that Norco made the surprise announcement that it was pausing its long-running Factory Team programs, both cross country and downhill. Now, like Michael Jordan lacing up one more time, the downhill team is back.
Norco announced Monday that Norco Factory Team will return for the 2023 World Cup downhill season. It’s only the gravity team, and a slimmed-down version of the 2022 roster. But it does mean two rising Canadian stars will have bikes going into the new year.
2023 Norco Factory Team DH
Gracey Hemstreet leads the three-rider squad. The Sunshine Coast racer had two sensational years in the junior women’s category that saw her win the World Cup overall, two world championships medals and numerous World Cup races as well as the 2022 Canadian national championships. Hemstreet moves up to race the elite women in 2023 where she’ll have a chance to race the best in the world.
Lucas Cruz will represent Norco and Canada on the men’s side. After his own strong junior career, the Pemberton, B.C. racer is quickly finding his feet in the elite men’s field. Cruz moved steadily up the rankings all season in 2022. That culminated in a career-best 13th place at the Val di Sole World Cup to close out the 2022 season.
Norco shared that a third rider, described as a “yet-to-be-named Elite DH veteran” will also be joining the squad. Sam Blenkinsop has raced with Norco for years, so the Kiwi could be in contract negotiations to stay onboard. Multiple-time Canadian downhill national champion Kirk McDowall is working with Norco on development, so he could also be an option. Or someone completely new to the team could be joining.
That means Henry Fitzgerald and Elliot Jamieson won’t be returning to the team in 2023. And, possibly, Sam Blenkinsop.
New CEO revives race program
Last week, Norco announced Sean Sullivan would be taking over as the CEO of Live To Play Sports. One of his first moves was to reverse the decision to pause the race program.
“It’s impossible to quantify the inspiration and pride Norco has felt in supporting these talented athletes for the past
30 years, and pausing the team didn’t reflect that commitment,” Sullivan explained.
“These riders play a huge role in the development and testing of our bikes and technology, and they are the embodiment of
what drives us.”
No XC return
What’s not coming back is the cross country program. After decades of development, the XC program was hitting another high point in 2022. Gwen Gibson won a World Cup and a world championship medal. Carter Woods landed another under-23 World Cup win while the rest of the team was building momentum as well. Gibson already has a new ride while the others are yet to announce their 2023 plans.
“At the end of 2021, we decided to prioritize DH, so the XC team was informed before 2022 even started that they’d need to find a new home by the end of the year,” Team Manager Kevin Haviland explained.
“This wasn’t a decision we took lightly, but building a DH team around some of the best riders in the sport lets us continue our
legacy of fostering talent, while developing, testing and proving technologies that benefit every rider on the trail,” Haviland added.