2019 World Cup DH Season — WHO TO WATCH with Andrew Neethling

In late April the 2019 World Cup Downhill season kicks off in Maribor Slovenia. This year the series has a total of 8 rounds culminating in Snowshoe USA in September and is set to be a thriller. As a prelude to the racing we caught up with former World Cup professional Andrew Neethling, to hear his thoughts on the favorites, the danger women and men, and how the year could possibly roll out.

Andrew is a commentator for the Crankworx World Tour, shreds bikes for Scott and is a part owner of the Hanger Bike Co bike shop. Having spent 14 years campaigning on the World Cup circuit, Andrew is more than familiar with the World Cup contenders and indeed, the pressure cooker like environment when racing at that level. His insights are somewhat unique and although he may be retired from World Cup racing he stills shreds like a boss, as you can see ….

BN: Andrew, welcome to Bike Network and thank you for being here. Let’s dive right in, reigning World Cup champ Rachel Atherton, how do you see here 2019 season rolling?

Andrew: It’s up to her motivation. She has won it all twice, three times, four times, a million times. Had injuries. Bounced back. It seems like she is enjoying the new bike and the process of preparing which will help her do well.  A happy Rachel on and off the bike is very difficult to beat.  It seems with experience she is really finding herself and what she wants out of her racing. I think she really understands why she does it – and that is so important in this game.

Rachel Atherton during pre-season testing with the new steed. Could this be the package that sweeps the season in 2019?

BN: Then, Tahnée Seagrave, an absolute pinner and perhaps the biggest threat to the Atherton dominance — give us your thoughts on Tahnée.

Andrew: Tahnee can win.  She does not have that much to lose. She is still the young gun.  Look for Tahnee now that she has gained some experience and confidence that she can beat Rachel. She has shown she can do this when they both have a clean run.  This will push Rachel though and bring out the best in both of them.

Tahnee Seagrave had 3 wins in 2018, it was that 11th place result in Leogang which hurt her overall standings. By our calculations a 3rd place on the day there would have swung the overall in her favour. It’s a brutal sport.

BN: 3rd in 2018, Tracey Hannah, an ex team mate of yours, how do you see her season rolling?

Her experience is her thing. Maybe what she should do is pick her tracks and really focus on the ones in the season that suit her and that she likes and not force the other ones. Tracey on her day is so bloody fast.  She is great for the sport and excelled at a very young age.  She is very driven, pushes her limits and the sport loves her.

Aussie Tracey Hannah squashes the ‘small double’ at the UCI DH World Cup in Vallnord, Andorra.

BN: Myriam Nicole, a somewhat disappointing 4th place for Myriam in 2018, she will want more than that going into 2019. We hear she has returned back to the 27.5 wheel size. Your thoughts?

An injury free Myriam is someone who can also win. Myriam has proved this. She has had quite the up and down career in terms of injuries and its very impressive how she manages to bounce back.  This will be more difficult as she gets older as mentally this can be tough not to mention how hard it is on her body.

Myriam Nicole is a class act and is someone who can also win this overall title.

BN: To the lads now, Andrew what are your thoughts on the defending champion, that crazy Frenchmen, Amaury Pierron?

Andrew: Phew, he had a remarkable breakout season, he is the danger man. Who would have predicted three wins in a row? What was fascinating was how he dealt with that pressure and it brought out his best game. Then, as the season went on the pressure was eased off for him. Now though, he has had a whole offseason to reflect and realize what he has accomplished. He has now put himself into a whole different category of rider. He is now the guy who has won a World Cup overall so now people expect him to win, his sponsors will pay him more and he himself is probably gonna put himself under more pressure. He has done it you see and is going to expect to do it most weekends — and that’s the challenge he has now. Don’t get me wrong I am not saying he is a one hit wonder, he has always been real fast, the speed was there but he was a bit of a loose cannon. We thought he was riding above his skill but he was just clearly inexperienced back then. Now he has maybe learn’t his race craft and he is on a bike that is doing incredibly well under a lot of riders.

Amaury Pierron is not scared to let it roll. In 2018 he combined his loose riding with dogged race determination and that proved to be the right formula for him to beat the clock.

I would want to say to Amaury, who is a happy, fun loving guy to not change his approach. He should make sure he does the same thing for 2019 in terms of approach to racing. Don’t change too much. Go in with the same presence and mindfulness that he did before he was World Cup Champion. And that’s having fun, being one of the young kids, stick to the basics, manage his expectations. It will be harder because Gwin will be back, Greg will be back. You know, he might put a good run in and finish 4th so he needs to manage his expectations and try not to reinvent the wheel for himself.

The defending World Cup Champion will have his work cut out for him in 2018 — but if he keeps steezing up the lenses with moves like this, he has our hearts.

BN: 2nd place finisher, your former team mate, former World Champion and still the wildest guy on the mountain, Danny Hart, how do you see his season rolling?

Andrew: Danny — the silent assassin. Normally he is not the silent assassin — you know — he is loud and proud and looks like he may crash and is riding over his head coming into the finish of a race — but I think he is learning to manage his riding and what works for him. Look, he had a great season by all accounts with multiple podiums and I think that might make him hungrier for more. Danny is a threat week in and week out. He can be a top 3 guy in the overall, he has proven that now. Winning World Championships and finishing 2nd overall in the World Cup – he is a real threat. It will be interesting to see if he goes to 29ers. He is more experienced and maturing into his racing now. He recently got engaged and his home life is stable — that’s important — so he is just going about his business and he loves to ride his bike. Another thing with Danny, is he is always riding his bike — in the off season — which is good. Even if it’s pouring with rain and horrid outside — he is riding.

If one or two things go his way he can be the World Cup Champion. You know Danny was almost too famous too early with that incredible ride in Champerey when he won World Champs and then he had a dip, there was a lot of expectation on him. I think now he is maturing as a racer and can set his eyes on an overall.

Danny Hart, well known for his wild, attacking riding style with mega drifts into the finish area is a real threat for 2019 and has the maturity now to follow through.

Danny Hart’s 2011 World Championship Downhill run at Champéry

BN: Troy Brosnan, a 3rd place in 2018 sounds like an amazing result, but we kind of expect more of the Aussie right?

Andrew: You can just see when this guy is going fast and it takes time to build confidence into a new setup and he has done that now with that bike. He is racking up podiums. He is really good under pressure and is consistent. That’s why he is up there as a top 3. You know all these guys are coming of age. That’s why they can start rivaling someone like Greg and Gwin who are just so consistent. What’s nice about the Southern Hemisphere riders is they are getting to go home more and don’t need to spend so much time in Europe which is smart as it allows them to reset and recharge in the middle of the season. Back in the day riders were on the road and away from home for like 5 or 6 months and that makes it tough to perform at the highest level.

Troy Brosnan is really good under pressure and is consistent.

BN: Loris Vergier – your thoughts?

Andrew: He is a danger man. A World Cup winner now too and you know it’s probably harder to win your second World Cup. I mean he was so emotional with that win in Andorra. He deserved it, he has got speed like the best of them, with incredible race craft. Now, in 2019, it will be interesting to see how much pressure he puts on himself. What I want to see is how he sets about his business to go and get a second win. For him, a podium is just a podium and almost a minimum expectation for him. This guy wants to win again.

Loris Vergier is a real danger man coming into 2019 and of all the young guns coming through, Loris seems to have a very deep understanding of race craft which may just set him apart from the rest.

BN: A top 5 for Laurie Greenland in 2018! A superb season for sure. How do you see his 2019 season going?

Andrew: This guy is fast and I know he can ride so well but I was maybe a little surprised to see him in 5th overall for last year. One could argue  he had some help, but then again so did some others with Gwin, Greg and Loic getting injured. Now I am not taking anything away from Laurie or saying he doesn’t have the speed – I mean the more it gets gnarly and rough it seems the more he turns it on. He spends a lot of time in NZ in the off-season, working and training hard. What I like about Laurie is he is bringing the fun back to World Cup Downhill and good on him for that. It’s a really nice time in general. I would look to Laurie as someone who has a point to prove, you know he understands he had some luck but maybe that makes him hungry. Maybe he is going to show everyone that he can do it. It would be great to see him move up the results even further.

For Laurie Greenland the more gnarly and rough the tracks are the more he turns it on.

BN: 6th place in 2018, Brook MacDonald, your thoughts on him for 2018?

Andrew: A fan favorite who was written off a few years back then moved to a new team and new bike. To see him go P1 in quali at the first round of 2018 was just incredible. He is in a good place, motivated. Perhaps with that new bike he was forced to ride it more than the old one to get used to it and maybe there is a lesson in that for some of the other guys to not neglect the DH bike in the off-season. His speed was incredible in 2018, after his Worlds seeding run someone called him out on social media saying he was going to crash. What I liked is he didn’t just block that out, he jumped onto social media and called the guy out by saying – “lets see Sunday” which some riders wouldn’t do. He took it head-on. He said you know what, ‘I went fastest and I am gonna go out there, I am riding fast, I am gonna give this thing a go.’ You know it’s good for the fans when a guy is a crash or burn. Brook has also become a lot more consistant being on clip pedals. I think everyone should be on clips minus Sam Hill.

Brook MacDonald had a superb season despite a disastrous first race run. This guy has a deeper grasp of the word attack than the Oxford dictionary does.

BN: Loic Bruni, the Champ, if he stays fresh all year can he take a run at the World Cup overall?

Andrew: What a disappointing position for him. I mean after all that preparation he comes out and injures himself before the first qualifying session. That knocked his whole season back. What was impressive is the work he put in to get back up to speed after the injury. Then he comes back and wins MSA. You know he comes back to speed so quickly after such a tough start to the season and then obviously goes on to win Worlds, — again. This guy is incredible. Loic has got a really good team around him, he is happy there, his personal life is going well. He is healthy. He is a guy who can look at this World Cup overall now. He can do it. He can beat Gwin.

Bruni, what was really impressive is the work he put in to get back up to speed after the injury and then go on to win MSA and Worlds a few months later. He can beat Gwin.

BN: 8th place Luca Shaw showed so much promise in 2018, what do you think he needs to do to get that elusive win?

Andrew: On paper his 2018 season does not do his riding and speed justice.  He was almost the man to beat but it was not meant to be.  Luca is probably the guy that ended up with the most pressure last year by virtue of his multiple quali wins. I mean there is no doubt that he is one of the fastest guys out there. The win is going to come he just needs to stay patient.   The more he puts himself under that pressure the better he will become.

Luca Shaw is one of the fastest guys out there and was almost the man to beat in 2018, almost.

BN: 9th placed Gee Atherton is on new bike and on his own new team, do you think this perhaps will make him dig just that little bit deeper out there and continue his end of season momentum?

Andrew: Well, he is obviously getting on and he has been dealing with injuries and the confidence takes a long time to get back. Near the end of the season we saw some incredible results from Gee. Maybe with the new bike there is some new motivation and I think that’s going to be a factor. He had a long run when he was a top 2, top 3 rider with Greg and then had a dip and I commend him for ending last year on a bang showing everyone he can still do it.

Gee Atherton is certainly looking comfortable on his new steed which from what we have seen seems to fit him better. The versatility of the manufacturing process allows Gee to literally build different bikes for different race tracks which is surely an advantage he is looking to leverage.

BN: Connor Fearon rounded out the top 10 in 2018, where do you think he needs to focus to move up the standings?

Andrew: I think Connor is great for the sport. He has a lot of speed –  we have all seen that. Lately, he has developed his consistency and he now just needs to kind of morph those two together. You know, keep the consistency but dial the speed back up again. I think now he can turn the speed back up on some tracks and be right up there. He is one of the greatest riders to watch on track. He is fast and can pull off bigger results.

Connor Fearon is one of the best, if not the best when it comes to corner speed.

BN: Jack Moir, back in 25th on the overall but we all know he is capable of so much more. Where do you think he will be placing in 2019 and what kind of an impact or influence do you think being team mates with Gwin will have on Jack?

Andrew: Jack is a hungry man and a danger man. He has been the man to beat at some of the Crankworx rounds but, at a World Cup level he has had some bad luck. Yes, a new teammate this year and although they are opposites in personality I think they will get along and it could be good for Jack. I mean there is always pressure within a team, subconsciously you wana try and beat your teammate you know, it’s not like motocross where its drummed into you to. Well with Danny it probably is — speaking from experience. No, joking aside, with Jack Moir I think there is a lot of scope for him to do well this year. Jack will be exposed to the Gwin template of what to do to win a race and Jack can gauge his speed off of Gwin which will be a real positive for Jack.

The lanky Aussie has come real close to winning at this level before. Perhaps 2019 will be a breakthrough season for Jack.

BN: Aaron Gwin ….

Andrew: Phew, this guy landed on his feet after a crazy turn of events with team swops in the off-season. I guess the thing with Gwin is he bets on himself, demands what he wants for a paycheck and has all the on-track confidence to back that up. I think the new team is going to be a good fit for him honestly. It’s a local brand, its right around his house, he doesn’t like to travel, he has his little training bubble. He goes away for a race then goes home. He has also learned a lot – like not to try set a bike up at Elsinore. Gwin elevated the sport somewhat, especially in the US. On paper, I guess Gwin is the one rider that could win everything this year. What I would like to see out of Gwin is a World Champs win.

I guess the thing with Gwin is he bets on himself, demands what he wants for a paycheck and has all the on-track confidence to back that up.

BN: Brendog? 33rd in 2018 but capable of so much more….

Andrew: He is just hands down one of the most gifted guys on a bike and I am not saying that cause I am his buddy. I mean I went to DarkFEST –  We could maybe argue he shouldn’t do events like this  –  Its just who he is and I think helps his confidence and pushing his riding. As far as the world cups go,  he does internally want to go for them this year, he is a competitive guy and it pains him to get beat by guys he feels he is better than. But you can’t put Brendon in a box where he is only preparing for one thing. This year he seems so comfortable in his riding, you know at DarkFEST he just drops in without warming up and he nails everything – -he is that good and confident on the bike. As far as I know they are testing all kinds of wheel sizes and combos on the new bike and if he can just, when the time is right, and he focuses on downhill we all know what he is capable of — but I think he needs all the other things. He needs the fun to keep training. One thing I can say is if he gets in the mix this year, well, the sky is the limit. It’s a cool new team, new motivation there.

Brendan Fairclough on a run through the massive DarkFEST course in Stellenbosch, in January 2019.
Is 2019 a case of new bike, new DH mojo for Brendog?

BN: The G.O.A.T – Greg Minnaar

Andrew: Crazy to think he still has the speed which is testament to his ability and athleticism. An unlucky crash last year saw him writing off a whole season and I think that’s the first time that’s really happened to Greg which is pretty impressive. He has had some injuries before but never that it wrote off a season. At the first round he was looking decent and that’s impressive you know because traditionally he is a slow starter. I think he has increased the amount of time on his DH bike in the off-season. Maribor is a track he can do well on and if he is in the top 5 or top 10 there then I think he is in for a good season. I think he will come out firing but also he doesn’t need to because we know he builds. Ft Bill at Round 2 is usually where he builds his season.

South African hero and the greatest of all time in the modern era, Greg Minnaar, will be looking to drop, huck or boost that v10 right back onto the podium.

OK Needles, let’s spitball some predictions and thoughts here.

BN: Not asking you to hang yourself but give us your predictions for 2019, your top 3 for elite men?

Andrew: Safe money on Gwin at the top. Bruni in top 3. Wild card Luca Shaw into the top 3.

BN: Who would you like to see win a World Cup this year?

Andrew: Brendon. I mean not because he is a mate of mine but remember, as a junior he nearly won a World Cup and he had that year when if it wasn’t for Greg and Gee he would have won. Also I think Luca deserves one and is the man that can add his name to the list of World Cup winners. And really, to add, the beauty of where the sport is right now is there are other riders who can also come up onto the podium this year. You know, like Reece Wilson, Dean Lucas, Finn Iles, Martin Maes and there are others.

BN: Then, for those riders who are outside the Top 20 right now but are looking to move up, what 3 things would you say they should focus on to do so?

Andrew: 1. Most importantly I would say they must focus on enjoying what they are doing. Just try to enjoy it more because it’s gonna be over soon.

2. Then, to talk and act like you are one of the top guys.  Not in an arrogant way! I mean, in reality, there is not a big difference between the guy who is 40th and the guy who is 15th. If you go to a World Cup and watch practice, the guy who has number plate 75 on comes by at an incredible pace, because he can do it in sections. I mean everyone is so gifted. It boils down to fitness and the mental game largely. So believing you can do it is half the game won already.

3. Lastly to make sure they have a pre-race plan. For the race weekend. Have everything mapped out. All the top guys have this.  They are able to perform close to their best more often because of this.  For Example : You won’t always be able to stick to it BUT  know how many runs you are going to try do, what specific things you want to focus on in each run. Make sure by the time you get to qualifying you have done every piece of that track at race pace. So that when you crank the speed up in the race you are comfortable and know you can ride each section at that pace. So go work out that speed, but in stages. By doing that you can sit back and know you have prepared as well as you can. 

BN: What about stressing over setup, you know for the top 40 riders, how much attention should they give to this?

Andrew: Find what works for you. Don’t waste time chasing your tail around setup.  A World Cup is not the place to play with too many different things. That’s what the off season is for or a pre-race.  At a World Cup the first day of riding is about getting your setup dialed.  Changing two clicks of compression as your qualifying run is about to start isn’t going to make the difference unless you are someone like Greg. Get a base line, then focus on yourself.

BN: Do you think riders should stay off of social media on race weekend?

Andrew: Ja its an interesting time for all this. Its testing and I would say it depends on the rider.  For the most part its not that helpful.  I understand these days riders feel the urge to post and keep sponsors happy but be careful of scrolling and taking in too much info.  There is all sorts of ‘inputs’ there and its important how as a rider you manage them. Also all the highlights videos and things, I mean after a certain time if you see a line on a video but you haven’t ridden it then just write it off. If you haven’t practiced it its too late so dont stress over it. Don’t change your lines 10 minutes before qualifying.

BN: Thanks so much bud!

Andrew: Cheers!

Thank you to RedBull for the images.

No comment yet, add your voice below!

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Comment *
Name *
Email *