Let’s face it. Team changes are a predictable part of the news cycle at the beginning of every year, just like new bike releases are in the summer. Athlete contracts, typically two years long, expire at the end of any given year. The brands that have invested in one discipline get athletes that competed in that discipline for another brand, i.e., Aaron Gwin leaves Trek for Specialized or Greg Callahan leaves Cube’s enduro team for Devinci’s. While these moves may be fresh, they’re not always surprising.
2022 has provided some unique changes though — athletes leaving established teams to run a frame they designed themselves, or leaving one of the biggest brands in the world for one of the newest and smallest. We’d say the intrigue-factor is a bit higher on these moves.
Neko Mulally pioneers his own team
Starting the list is Neko Mulally. Mulally raced for Intense Factory Racing for three years. He moved to the SoCal brand with Aaron Gwin when both left YT’s downhill race team. After 12 years of racing for established downhill teams, it looks like Mulally is ready for something new, and his 2022 race program is a new venture indeed. Rather than hopping to another brand, Mulally designed his own frame with esteemed builder Frank the Welder and with former YT racing manager Martin Whiteley.
Downhill racing is not cheap by any means. In a Singletracks interview with Whitely, he mentioned it can cost up to $20,000 per season to keep an athlete moving from venue to venue, excluding their salary. Fortunately, Mulally has a strong list of sponsors including Kogel Bearings, Maxxis, Worldwide Cyclery, Fox suspension, Reserve Wheels, GoPro, his own Ride Kanuga Bike Park, and more that will be chipping in.
“My chassis are only a small part of the equation,” he said on Instagram. “I couldn’t do this without the support of these partners who align with my vision, provide financial backing, and supply me with what I believe are the best products, components, and equipment.”
Forbidden starts a downhill team with no downhill bikes
Forbidden’s lust-worthy mountain bikes look like capable machines. The Druid 130mm trail bike and 154mm Dreadnought enduro bike are both built around high pivot suspension and a 100% rearward axle path, but they are also specced with single-crown forks.
“For a brand known for developing bikes with a gravity performance bias, it was merely a matter of when, not if, we would develop a bike and enter the World Cup scene,” said Forbidden in a press release. For 2022, the brand signed Connor Fearon to race alongside Canadian Magnus Manson on the World Cup circuit.
“After ten years, 2022 marks the first year on a new bike brand for me and I can hardly put it into words how excited I am to be flying the Forbidden flag and riding their bikes,” said Fearon in a press release. “I’ve wanted to ride a Forbidden ever since seeing the Druid for the first time and I believe that their bikes are going to help me ride and race faster than ever. My goals for the next few years are to refocus on World Cup Downhill racing, be a regular top 10 finisher and a podium contender, like I know I can be.”
We reached out to Forbidden for a few more details on the bikes their DH team may be running. Forbidden’s Olly Forster couldn’t comment at the time on what the team’s bike setup will be like this coming season, but their athletes have been using dual crown forks on the Dreadnoughts. A RockShox Boxxer with 180mm of travel has a similar axle to crown measurement as the 170mm single-crown fork and the bike is dual-crown certified. “All will be revealed in due course,” said Forster.
Payson McElveen leaves Trek for a gravel bike manufacturer
Payson McElveen rode for Trek for years, mostly as a mountain bike endurance athlete but has leaned into gravel racing more and more as the discipline has grown. This year, McElveen moved on from Trek, where he raced the Top Fuel in XC mountain bike events and the Checkpoint gravel bike in endurance gravel races like Unbound and Mid South.
McElveen joined Allied Cycle Works, a boutique gravel brand based out of Bentonville, Arkansas. Currently, the brand only makes gravel bikes, so it’s not clear yet what bike he’ll use for events like the Leadville 100. Asked, Allied said they had “no comment,” so maybe McElveen will race a different brand’s frame or maybe Allied will produce a mountain bike? We’ll have to wait and see.
Cam Zink joins Devinci
It’s been a while since Devinci had the dedicated Ollie freeride bike in the line, and over the past few seasons the brand has instead focused on its factory downhill and enduro teams. This year, they’ve added freerider Cam Zink. Zink left YT Industries at the end of 2020. Now he’ll be riding Devinci into Red Bull Rampage and working with Devinci on bike development and video projects. Zink is posed here with a shorter travel bike than he’s usually seen on; the 160mm high pivot Spartan.
Greg Callaghan, Georgia Astle, and Keegan Wright will be running the enduro gauntlet for the brand.
Tinker Juarez joins Floyd’s of Leadville
Tinker Juarez seemed to be just as surprised as anyone about his recent team change. Following a very public breakup with long-time sponsor Cannondale, Juarez has joined CBD brand Floyd’s of Leadville’s gravel race team for 2022. According to his social media accounts, Juarez will be riding Spot bikes this season, with his first race scheduled for January 29 at Vail Lake, California.
A few kind of, but not-so-surprising moves
It seemed like Luca Shaw would be on Santa Cruz’s Syndicate DH team forever, but after 5 years, Shaw is moving on to the the Canyon CLLCTV (even the way Canyon spells “collective” is fast, so it makes sense to add more fast riders). Shaw joins Troy Brosnan, Mark Wallace, and Jakob Jewett for the factory race team.
Storch leaves Rocky Mountain
This one is a little surprising. After six years, Carson Storch and Rocky Mountain parted ways. “Unfortunately, they had to let me go into 2022, but I’m proud of what we accomplished together, and will always appreciate the support I received,” said Storch on Instagram. Rocky Mountain has always had strong roots in freeride and Storch has been the last person to ride the frames into Red Bull Rampage. It’s unclear whether he’ll be riding for another frame brand this year. After two weeks into the year, he hasn’t announced another sponsor, and hashtagged “free agent” on his announcement post, for whatever hashtags are worth.
Christopher Blevins joins Specialized Factory Racing
This year, Christopher Blevins will be racing for the Specialized Factory Racing team after leaving Trinity Racing, where he was already racing aboard a Specialized frame. The SFR partnership means direct factory support from the brand after some of his best results in 2021, including a World Cup win in Snowshoe, Virginia; a rare win on American soil by an American rider.
“I am excited to join the SFR. It is a great environment, and a lot of excitement is building towards the 2022 season, including the Cape Epic, XCO World Cups, and everything in between. The SFR setup provides me with world-class equipment, but what makes me feel at home is the environment within the team. Everyone in the team has heart, and there is some good humor too, so when things get hard, everybody stands together. ”
Haley Batten joins Specialized Factory Racing as well after a strong year. Batten took 2nd at the Nove Mesto World Cup round this past May.
“Being part of Specialized Factory Racing team for 2022 is extremely motivating for me,” said Batten. “The program is built with passion and big goals, which is an environment I’m excited to be part of. After progressing as an athlete in 2021, I believe that this team and the people involved will help me improve and prepare for the season to come.” Batten also left Trinity Racing for SFR.
Miscellaneous team changes
A few other longstanding partnerships ended this year; Martin Maes left GT after a notable career with the brand and partnered with Orbea for the next three years. After years riding for Nukeproof, Katy Winton moved to GT.
Laurie Greenland, Jackson Goldstone, and Nina Hoffman have all joined the Santa Cruz syndicate
Who did we miss? Surely this isn’t everyone. Which exciting 2022 team changes did we leave out?