The UCI DH World Cup opener is just around the corner. We can almost hear the air horns of Lourdes already. This season is promising to be incredible already. Like a big budget TV box set, the final race of last year left as many questions hanging in the air as it offered answers.
A busy off-season packed with team changes has answered a couple of them, but for those close to the pits there are some delicious propositions which could equate to one of the most interesting and hotly-contested series for a long time.
Here’s our guide to what to look out for:
Danny Hart’s return
Aaron Gwin won the UCI World Cup title in 2016, against all odds, on a new bike. But there was little that even he could do about Danny Hart’s onslaught during the second half of the year’s races. Three wins in a row, followed by a second World Championships title at Val di Sole meant that Hart was dominant. He’s admitted that it was almost a relief to get to the end of the year undefeated to be able to start afresh in 2017.
What fans all over the world will be waiting to find out is if he can realise that almost peerless form again and pick up where he left off. Early season bogey rounds in Lourdes and Fort William ultimately cost him the title (by just 27 points) and he knows it. Make no mistake, Danny wants the overall in 2017.
Add to this the prospect of a returning Loïc Bruni, who missed most of last season with injury, and it starts to look tight at the top.
Troy Brosnan’s new team
The headlines last season may have been dominated by Gwin and Hart, but for those track side there wasn’t much doubt about who the fastest rider often was; Troy Brosnan. There were times as well when it looked like the diminutive Aussie was on for his second UCI World Cup win (see his celebrations as he crossed the line in Leogang as evidence) but fortune had other ideas.
Brosnan heads into this season fit, healthy and part of a brand-new team. Canyon’s arrival into DH has been mooted for a while now, but alongside Ruaridh Cunningham and Mark Wallace, and with help from Fabien Barel, Troy’s in a position to do real damage this season.
Big wheels (probably)
Spend all of five minutes browsing the various mountain-bike sites and social media feeds and it’s clear that a storm’s brewing – a storm with very large wheels.
2017 is widely being touted as the year that 29in wheels will arrive in DH racing. As many as six or seven of the big teams are believed to have at least tested big wheels and the whisperings are that they found them to be very fast. There are already calls from some corners that there needs to be a formula or a ban put on bigger rolling stock, while others are excited about the prospect of technical progress and yet another dynamic to racing. Whatever happens, it'll be interesting.
Seagrave and Carpenter ready to race
Last season the elite women’s field was absolutely dominated by the all-conquering figure of Rachel Atherton. Unbelievably, she won every UCI World Cup race and the World Champs to boot.
The big question mark hanging over the women’s field for this season is, who is going to stop her doing the same again? The big three of Manon Carpenter (now on Radon Bikes), Tahnée Seagrave and Tracey Hannah are all fit, healthy and ready to go.
Enter the new guard
The top 10 will inevitably feature many of the established big names but finally, we're saying the fruit of the new generation will mature into the racers we always knew they could be.
Loris Vergier and Luca Shaw have joined the Santa Cruz Syndicate, Greg Williamson will lead the charge for Cube having already scooped some pre-season victories and Gaëtan Vigé joins Brendan Fairclough at Velosolutions Scott. Young Irishman Jacob Dickson will be looking to progress aboard the Giant factory outfit.