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Year in review: 2022’s best (and worst) moments in international mountain biking

Unbelievable highs, unfortunate lows and things left undecided going into 2023

Before the UCI’s big World Cup experiment kicks off in 2023, we’re taking a look back at the standout moments from 2022, good and bad. And it was a thrilling season, full of drama and sensational racing. Right from the first World Cup in Brazil, 2022 delivered historic moments and unforgettable scenes.

Canadians had an especially good year in 2022 but, with that already covered, we are focusing on international riders for this list.

RELATED: Year in review: 2022 was absolutely amazing for Canadian mountain bikers

Loic Bruni hoisted above the crowd in Les Gets. Photo:  Bartek Wolinski / Red Bull Content Pool

Best (and worst) of 2022

The Good

Les Gets World Cup celebrations

This was absolutely wild. The French love mountain biking and came out in full force for their home world championships. Several wins through the week built momentum. But, when Loic Bruni, Amaury Pierron and Loris Vergier swept the elite men’s downhill podium, it was complete pandemonium with fans swarming the finish area and hoisting their riders up above the crowd.

Nino Schurter celebrates in Brazil.  Bartek Wolinski / Red Bull Content Pool
Nino Schurter matches Absalon’s World Cup win record

Months before Les Gets world champs, Nino Schurter kicked 2022 into high gear with a win at the very first World Cup round in Petropolis, Brazil. Not just another win to add to the Swiss rider’s extensive palmares, this was Schurter’s 33rd elite World Cup win. That magic number brought him onto equal terms with long-time rival and French mountain biking icon, Julien Absalon. It’s also a win Schurter spent several years hunting. After a perfect year in 2016, the Swiss sensation struggled to find a World Cup win for several years (though he did add a few world championships titles during that time).

Pauline Ferrand Prevot wins one at home. Photo:  Bartek Wolinski / Red Bull Content Pool
Pauline Ferrand-Prevot’s quad

France’s multi-talented Pauline Ferrand-Prevot was already in the history books for winning multiple world championship titles in one year before 2022 started. This fall, though, she re-set the bar for herself by winning four world championship events in a little over two months.

The incredible streak started at home, with a Short Track (XCC) win in Les Gets. Days later, she regained the XCO world championship title. A few weeks after that, she added the XC Marathon rainbow jersey to her collection in Denmark. Finally, PFP headed to Italy to win the first-ever UCI gravel world championships. If that’s not incredible enough, she’s currently winding up her cyclocross campaign to try for five.

Finn Iles leads Jackson Goldstone during whip-off worlds at Crankworx Whistler. Photo: Clint Trahan / Crankworx
Crankworx Whistler returns

Whistler’s iconic mountain bike festival returned after two years on the road, and it was fantastic. Crankworx’ original location is more than just a week of races. It’s a celebration of the mountain bike community and everyone was stoked to be back. The fact that the opening weekend coincided with Jesse Melamed winning the Whistler EWS and Finn Iles winning his first elite World Cup definitely kicked the excitement up several notches.

Nino Schurter performs on his way to a historic 10th elite world championships win. Photo: Bartek Wolinski / Red Bull Content Pool
Nino Schurter’s 10th world championship title

This list is looking very Swiss (and French), but that is hard to avoid when Schurter keeps re-writing history. At Les Gets, the living legend earned his 10th elite men’s XCO world championship title. Just astounding.

Thomas Lemoine was as amped up as the crowd was. Photo: Crankworx
Thomas Lemoine’s massive Joyride send

Red Bull Joyride is the pinnacle of the slopestyle season. The Whistler course is always huge. But Thomas Lemoine found an incredible way to take it to another level. The French rider stunned fans by gapping over the entire last feature on course. The crowd went crazy on his first attempt and absolutely wild when he went back up, tried again and landed it. Slopestyle is becoming more technical and precise. Lemoine bringing back the raw, burly style of riding definitely got the crowd riled up for more.

Rob Warner World Cup tributes

With the World Cup switching hands, leaving Red Bull after 10 years, there are a ton of changes coming for 2023. One of which is the end of Rob Warner’s iconic run as the live commentator for World Cup mountain biking. His tenure spaned the Freecaster days all the way through Red Bull’s run. He’s not leaving mountain biking, but he won’t be commentating the 2023 World Cup season. The outpouring of tributes to Warner’s colour (and colourful) commentating was heartwarming to see.

The as-yet-undecided

Mathias Fluckiger’s season was cast into darkness mid-August. Photo: Bartek Wolinski / Red Bull Content Pool
Flückiger’s provisional doping ban

On the eve of European continental championships, Swiss authorities revealed a potential doping infraction by Mathias Flückiger for Zeranol. Flückiger was immediately suspended by the Swiss mountain bike federation and his Thomus-Maxon team, missing Europeans and, far more importantly, world championships the following weekend in Les Gets as well as the rest of the World Cup season.

Why is this filed under undecided? Well, this week, after months of waiting, the provisional ban was overturned. There was not enough evidence to support a sanction. The case is not yet closed, so there’s still some hope of a final resolution, but not any time soon.

Discovery buys World Cup rights (then Warner Bros buys Discovery)

As mentioned, Red Bull ended its decade-long run of broadcasting the World Cup in 2022. UCI awarded the contract to Discovery+ going forward. Discovery is now Warner Bros Discovery and in charge of hosting World Cup racing for the remainder of the 2020s. What will that look like? We’ve had our first hints, and there are substantial changes afoot already in year one. Red Bull was doing a fantastic job, so it’s unnerving to see so much change. But change can be good. And it could be what’s needed to take mountain biking to the next level, just like Red Bull did when it took over from Freecaster.

The Ugly

Mathias Fluckiger and Nino Schurter clashed again in Lenzerheide. Photo: Bartek Wolinski / Red Bull Content Pool
The Schurter and Flückiger fued

Not all Swiss news was good news. Nino Schurter and Mathias Flückiger have a rivalry that sometimes pushes the limits of “friendly.” At the Lenzerheide World Cup, that rivalry boiled over and got ugly. The two powerhouse racers were battling for the men’s XCO lead, both hoping to earn a win on home soil. For Schurter, it was a storybook chance to surpass Absalon’s World Cup record in Switzerland. Instead, the two collided off-camera and the win went to Luca Braidot. The event was ugly. The fallout was worse, especially for Flückiger who later admitted he bore the brunt of the blowback from angry fans online.

Finn Iles was fast in Andorra, but there were questions about the course. Photo: Bartek Wolinski / Red Bull Content Pool

Andorra World Cup DH course

Downhill is an inherently dangerous sport, but the courses themselves shouldn’t be dangerous. Andorra delivered exceptional and challenging downhill World Cup courses in the past. A new track had fans excited until riders showed up. Several features on course looked questionable, or downright unsafe to ride. Finn Iles looked rattled from a near-miss just before he crossed the finish line, even though he still landed on the podium. Many other riders were vocal about their displeasure with the course, even after some adjustments were made.

The silver lining is that Andorra acted as a tipping point, pushing riders to form a union to represent their interests. That’s an effort that’s years in the making, and it is exciting to see what impact it will have in the future.