you are welcome in 2023 Clearance Pinkbike Sport Case. This anonymous survey is designed to help highlight key issues affecting the professional field and elite competition. We polled the world’s best riders to hear their thoughts, ideas, concerns, and criticisms about mountain biking as 2023 approaches, all in an anonymous format. To read the introduction to the survey, click here, and to see all of the other articles currently published suits Articles click here.
Strange downhill years passed. Whether it was bikes with 29-inch wheels near dominating, smoother trails followed by a transition to more technically demanding courses, racing influenced doubleheaders, French dominance, or a move on from Red Bull, it certainly wasn’t quiet. Downhill slopes are currently as good as ever, if not better.The racing is close, the tracks arguably represent the style of riding most fans enjoy and the scenery is hard to fault. However, this does not mean that all is well in the world of downhill. This is what we discovered.
In our selection of respondents who compete in the UCI Downhill World Cup, 15% are winners, and another 21% have scored on podiums.
Downhill group details
Number of riders who choose slopes as their main discipline: 41 men women: 24/17 Number of World Cup winners: 5 Top 5 producers in 2022: 7 Home continent: South America – 1 Oceania – 7 North America – 8 Europe – 25
There are still plenty of downhill riders who can barely make it to their ends
Although it may sometimes be called Formula One mountain biking, any similarities certainly don’t translate into profits. Much like the first poll, it makes for pretty bleak reading to see how much your favorite dropper might take home.
After the initial survey and catchment criteria we used spanning two seasons, we wondered if this skewed the results. With the 2020 season affected by the coronavirus, one could argue there are some highly rated riders who may have struggled to do the same in other years. So for this survey, considering the overall finish in 2022, we were hoping to get a more condensed view of what a full-time athlete with a very high world ranking can expect.
43% of downhill riders earn less than $5,000 per year. If we remove the little ones from the equation, 25% of the elite riders surveyed fell into the same category. Enduro is still very much the cash cow of gravity racing and is seeing more riders in the higher paying classes.
Another 12% of riders earn between $5,000 and $10,000. It seems that in the slopes, the best are financially well taken care of, with more than that 10% of riders surveyed make more than $100,000.
There may be hope yet for the riders’ financial security, with about 10% of those surveyed having a top five total in their class, and about 12% achieving six figures, that they may be the same riders and big results equaling a big payday.
The Riders don’t want to see a bigger field in the finals
In the 2021 survey, it turns out that regardless of gender, riders would like to see more people make it to the finals. In fact, in both questions, the largest share of votes was to increase the men’s field to between 60-80, and the females to 15-20 riders. However, there seems to be a trend away from this.
It should be noted that our watershed is not so large in this survey that this would skew the data, but it is also worth noting that the fight in elite downhill field size has gone from fight to increased to 80 in the male class, to a very real fear it could be executed to 30. So, the conversation around this topic has probably evolved since Discovery announced that it will take over the broadcast rights in 2023. It’s also worth considering whether the top 20 contestants would see any advantage in increasing the size of the field when the drawbacks are so obvious. The fact that riders want to keep the status quo should be encouraging as it currently strikes a good balance between fairness, competitiveness and opportunity.
How many men should qualify for the Elite World Cup?
2021 20 or less: 0 20-40: 4 (4.8%) 40-60: 4 (4.8%) It should stay at 60: 29 (34.9%) 60-80: 44 (53%) 80+: 2 (2.4%)
2023 20 or less: 1 (2%) 20-40: 7 (14.3%) 40-60: 3 (6.1%) It should stay at 60: 24 (49%) 60-80: 13 (26.5%) 80+: 1 (2%)
How many women should qualify for the Elite World Cup? (all responses)
2021 10 or less: 2 (2.4%) 10-15: 10 (12%) It should stay at 15: 16 (19.3%) 15-20: 37 (44.6%) 20+: 18 (21.7%)
2023 10 or less: 0 10-15: 7 (14.3%) It should stay at 15: 18 (36.7%) 15-20: 17 (34.7%) 20+: 7 (14.3%)
30% of racers would love to race their National Series
Part of the slope wage problem can be traced back to the lack of a smaller, well-established and reputable feeder chain. The problem is that for some riders hoping to turn their dream into a career, it just doesn’t make sense to try to score a top five in a national event where sponsors are likely to be more impressed with the top 40 in a World Cup.
The problem with this is twofold. First, the national series lacks talent. This can become a vicious cycle and ultimately make the series seem less competitive or worthwhile to elite racers. This also means that there is a significant burden on riders to self-finance an expensive 8-stop world tour. Then, when teams offer support, they can offer low wages or even just promise to cover expenses.
The World Cup calendar is also comprehensive, especially when budgets are tight. It’s not hard to imagine a world where a smaller World Cup stadium size would enhance the level of competition among national racers, and it seems some racers could also see the benefit. Around 30% of riders say that if their National Series was better funded or more popular, they would rather attend it than race a World Cup.
Around 80% of riders say they try to race their National Series when it doesn’t clash with World Cup racesAnd there are rumors of a less rambunctious calendar in the coming years that would focus on short, intense racing stints, rather than the occasional drip-feeding of fewer than six races over nearly seven months. This can really help support grassroots races.
70% of riders want more trail variety
After a coronavirus-affected 2020 season that turned out to be a double-header at the same venue, and only a small difference between the 2021 and 2022 seasons in the form of an extended leg in North America and a different track in Andorra, it appears the riders are crying out for some new tracks. 70% don’t feel a venue should hold a race on the same track that has been largely unchanged for years at a time. Sometimes the most important difference is which track is where the World Championships are awarded.
A venue shouldn’t be holding a race on the same, largely unchanged, track year after year Strongly Agree: 17 (34.7%) Approves: 17 (34.7%) neutral: 11 (22.4%) Disagree: 3 (6.1%) I strongly disagree: 1 (2%)
Obviously the way World Cup race venues are chosen is more than just choosing a good track it also depends on who wants to bid to host the race but I think there is a real desire among the riders to see more input as to what they are competing for . In a multiple choice question, 55% said the big hope they hold with Discovery is that they have a bigger voice at the races to hear their contributions. That same thought was something that clearly drives downhill riders to Union, and many of them have been vocal about what they thought were inappropriate or dangerous track layouts throughout the year, most notably in Andorra. Racing is fair and honest
There is some positive news to come out of the survey. Only 2% of runners believe that racing is not fair and honest. This compares to about 15% in enduro and more than 20% in slopestyle and freeride events. The fact that these riders feel like their sporting competition has a lot of integrity is no small feat because that’s not something every sport has – be it cycling or beyond.