Mountain Biking

The 10 Biggest Controversies of the Past Decade –

Ten years is a long time in mountain biking and with plenty of changes to bikes, tech and racing. As we roll into 2020, it’s been interesting to take a look back at some of the biggest stories from the past decade; in no particular order here are 10 of the most controversial ones.

1. The X-Games Slopestyle event
The X Games is the Olympics of the extreme sports world but despite its inclusion at the first event in 1995 and a few smaller showings in later years, mountain biking never made a big mark on the festival. For 2013 however, there was big news as the X Games announced MTB would get its shot with Slopestyle added to the roster.
Initially, the organizers released a great concept design for the course that looked like it was going to offer a decent challenge to the riders but the final result wouldn’t quite be up to the standard riders anticipated. The problem lay in the geography of the host city, Munich. Despite it being held on the biggest hill for 50km around, a flat-ish course with an uphill section greeted the riders above the Olympic Park. Riders struggled to get speed for the jumps and it limited the tricks they could perform, Sam Pilgrim said he felt he would have to have been a 4X racer to hit the satellite dish properly.

Following the disappointment about the course, riders were next treated to strong winds on finals day. Gust of up to 35mph swept through the course and riders reported landing 5 feet to the side of the big starting drop. They were stuck between a rock and a hard place – do they drop-in in front of a live audience of millions and end up riding like Joeys, or delay the event waiting for better conditions?

It wasn’t until 8 pm, 5 hours after the scheduled start time, that the competition could begin. Only 6 of the 10 riders who made it to finals elected to take a run and, despite knowing they couldn’t put on the show they wanted, did so because they believed in the future of slopestyle – Cam Zink even did 2 runs with a separated shoulder. Unfortunately, the standard wasn’t what had been hoped for and a perfect storm of course and conditions meant that the competition was filled with crashes and dead sailors. A post mortem with all the riders can be found here.
Overcoming the tough conditions to take the gold medal was Brett Rheeder, who laid down an impressive run to beat Brandon Semenuk and Andreu Lacondeguy for the top spot. Since 2013, MTB has not returned to the X-Games.

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2. Adam Brayton’s Bike Getting Ridden On Track in Cairns by a Spectator

During the 2014 World Cup DH in Cairns British rider Adam Brayton took a huge spill that caused him to rip open his leg with a wound that would need 18 stitches (including five internal ones). For a rider with the nickname Gas-to-Flat, this is an unfortunate occurrence but surely not enough to be one of the most shocking stories of the decade.

It was actually the sequence of events that followed that sealed this crash as a moment to remember in the history of the sport though. Ben McGowan, a spectator, decided he would come to Brayton’s aid and take Adam’s bike to the bottom of the course while the racer was being bustled into an ambulance. But, in a decision that can only be the result of a few drinks, he decided to do it via the rest of the World Cup course with no riding gear. When he hit the next whoop section, he flew off the bike and then caught a ride in the same ambulance as Brayton as they were both taken off to the hospital.

The internet did its thing and Ben took a bit of a pummelling in the comment sections as people accused him of trying to steal Adam’s bike. However, Brayton and Steve Peat quickly set the record straight and thankfully Ben made a full recovery.

bigquotes “Yo, just hit a tree in my run, spectators were awesome couldn’t thank them enough. The guy who took my bike down was a good man, no idea why he hit the whoops but I don’t blame him they were sick. I think he’s ok though he was in my ambulance on a spine board and was pretty k’od but that’s all I know I’m going to pop down to hospital tomorrow and see how he’s doing”— Adam Brayton

bigquotes “Ok everyone, this is Ben Bunny McGowan, he is the reason I got a 2nd run yesterday and I just chatted with him about his injuries. He has 2 broken vertebrae and a dislocated shoulder, (in his words”all fixable”) he was doing @adbrayton a favour by taking his bike to the bottom, he didn’t steal it!!!! The rumours are now cleared up and I want to say heal fast Ben, no probs about my re run!! I needed it. Cheers.—Steve Peat

3. EWS Doping Suspensions

In 2018, full-scale anti-doping testing was a rarity at EWS races, but at the third round in Olargues, France, nine riders were called by the French Anti-Doping Agency to be tested. It was later found that both Richie Rude and Jared Graves returned an Adverse Analytical Finding (AAF) from the tests in Olargues.

Both riders say they ingested the banned substance Higenamine and Oxilofrine without any intent to cheat. Rude would later reveal that he believes he ingested the banned substances while drinking from a fellow racer’s water bottle after running out of his own supply. “I ran out of water after many hours in the saddle on Day 2 of the EWS Round 3 in Montagnes du Caroux, France. After climbing to the top of the stage, a fellow racer offered me a drink from a water bottle that was filled with a mix of water and dietary supplement. Fatigued and dehydrated, I took a few drinks from the bottle.”

Rude returned to the EWS earlier this year for the Canazei round of the EWS after serving an eight-month ban from racing. Graves is yet to return to racing after stepping away from racing to battle cancer at the end of the 2018 season, but he announced he was cancer-free in June this year and is looking to return to racing early next year.
Martin Maes is another EWS rider that has faced a suspension after anti-doping tests came back positive at both the Rotorua and Tasmania rounds of the 2019 EWS series. He received a ‘non-intentional’ suspension.

Maes returned an Adverse Analytical Finding for Probenecid, a masking agent prohibited by WADA. Probenecid is named under S5 of the WADA list as a Diuretic and Masking Agent; it is a specified substance, which means that it can be ingested accidentally and in some cases can result in a more lenient sanction.

The explanation for the drug being found in Maes’ system is apparently because of an injury the Belgian rider received at the NZ Enduro at the beginning of March. Dr Tom Jerram, who gave the drug to boost the effect of antibiotics, said that the leg wound was “life or limb-threatening”, at the time both Maes and his team manager Mark Maurissen wanted to double-check the drug wasn’t banned but there was apparently no phone signal.

As the drug was prescribed by a trained doctor, the GT team applied for a Therapeutic Use Exemption with the UCI, which would all Maes to take a prohibited substance without punishment because it is a medical need. The UCI denied this request on June 1, after the failed tests, but they did accept that the drug would not have enhanced his performance and was administered by a doctor so handed down a more lenient punishment than the maximum possible two-year ban.

Maes was tested again in Madeira (May 12th) where he returned a negative. The UCI imposed a 90-day suspension starting from the weekend after Madeira and ended the weekend of EWS Whistler. He had his early-season wins from Rotorua and Tasmania removed but he kept his win from Madeira.

4. The Rocky Roads World Cup Sponsorship

In 2011 the UCI announced a new headline sponsorship deal for the World Cup series with the Belgian news website Rocky Roads for the 2012, 2013 and 2014 seasons.

But all was not quite as it seemed when rumours started appearing that the news website was not making its payments to the UCI throughout the 2012 season. Despite this, Rocky Roads remained as the title sponsors for the series until the end of the season when people became even more suspicious about the future of the Rocky Roads news network and its relationship with the UCI.

In November 2012, the website for Rocky Roads stopped producing content in most languages. On December 18, it posted its last ever piece, only available in Polish. At the same time, the journalists working for the site began leaving and it was revealed that they were not being paid for their work.

German mountain bike media site investigated the mysterious sponsor and cast doubt on the original claims that Rocky Roads received 221,000 unique visitors each day were false and that the Belgian company had been buying followers across their social media accounts.

All RockyRoads branding had been removed by the first round of the 2013 season in Fort William.

Original press release from the UCI:

The International Cycling Union (UCI) today signed an important sponsoring contract with the Belgian company RockyRoads Network.

Under this agreement – confirmed in Champéry (SUI) during the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships – RockyRoads Network will become the title sponsor of the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup presented by Shimano in 2012, 2013 and 2014. Thanks to this partnership, RockyRoads Network will benefit from significant visibility during all rounds of the UCI World Cup presented by Shimano.

The UCI President, Pat McQuaid, welcomed the signing of the new contract: “This partnership between the UCI and RockyRoads Network for the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup confirms the importance of this series of high-level competitions which over the last few years has already become well established throughout the world. The UCI and the cycling family look forward to welcoming this new sponsor for the World Cup. They have previously demonstrated its support for the discipline by becoming a partner of the 2011 UCI Mountain Bike World Championships in Champéry.”

In 2012, the “RockyRoads UCI Mountain Bike World Cup presented by Shimano” will include 10 events in nine countries (South Africa, Great Britain, Belgium, Canada, the United States, France, Norway, Czech Republic and Italy). More than 4000 riders from 48 countries will take part in the different mountain bike specialities.

The owner of RockyRoads Network, Sietse Schelpe, commented “We are very happy to sponsor the World Cups, and are really looking forward to this partnership with the UCI. From the start, our aim was to support off-road biking and make the sport more accessible to the general public. We strongly believe that this sponsorship is a great step in that direction.”

RockyRoads Network is the largest European on-line biking platform for the mountain bike, BMX, trials and cyclo-cross disciplines. Its team of 10 journalists and photographers covers Europe’s main off-road events. Its headquarters is in Antwerp. Each day, more than 221’000 unique visitors consult the Belgian website, which is available in four languages (English, French, German and Dutch).

5. Aaron Gwin leaving Trek World Racing

We all love the offseason shuffle as riders look for new contracts and move from team to team but at the end of 2012, there was a team change that blows all the others out of the water.

Aaron Gwin had an incredible stint with Trek, taking nine wins and four podiums in just two seasons, so it was no surprise when his contract coming to an end that he would have plenty of other offers. But Gwin had already signed a letter of intent to Trek World Racing in June stating he would be with them for another three years. Based upon this the team manager Martin Whitely had built a program, of riders, sponsors and support staff around the inclusion of Gwin.

All was not as it seemed when Gwin suddenly announced he would be racing for Specialized in 2013. This came as a shock to the mountain biking world as well as Martin Whitely and 23 Degrees. They were not notified in advance of the announcement and with just weeks until the UCI team registration deadline they had to rush to build a team to race in the following years World Cup series.

Following the news of Gwin’s departure, there were threats of lawyers and court cases as both sides argued over the legality of the letter of intent and Gwin’s decision to leave the team. The public correspondences are laid out in full below:

bigquotes I did not breach any contract. I’m writing this public note to hopefully shed a little light on what’s actually going on with my move to Specialized.

Reports that I broke my contract with 23 Degrees/Trek World Racing are false.  My contract expired.  The one-page letter of intent I signed said there would be a “full length contract” with “precise terms” coming in the future.  The 16-page contract that showed up in late November was not signed by me because it was not the deal we had made. I have moved on to a team that gave me the contract I wanted, and these are the facts.

The press reports are inaccurate, unfair, and one-sided. Because 23 Degrees has hired lawyers and threatened to sue me, my lawyers have told me not to say anything for now. While riding for Trek, I lived up to my contract and gave them my 100% effort and full commitment.  I intend on doing the same for Specialized.

As for now, I want to let my fans know that my offseason training has been going great. I love my new bikes and I’m more excited to race this year than I ever have been. Big thanks to the Specialized family for such an amazing opportunity and support. I hope everyone understands that I cannot talk any further about this at this time, but I felt like I needed to clear the air a bit, without getting too much into the legal stuff.

Thanks to all the fans who have stood behind me.— Aaron Gwin

bigquotes On the first point Aaron is absolutely correct. He did not break his 2011-2012 Agreement with us and I have never said he did. There are reports out there from people who’ve misinterpreted these things and I’m glad Aaron has come forward to put forward his side, as I will try to do now. Our relatively small MTB community loves a bit of drama in the offseason and I’m afraid we’ve given them this one on a silver platter.

Let me just be quite clear on a key point. From the 9th of August when Aaron signed the 3 year Letter Of Intent with 23 Degrees and up until the 15th of December, I worked tirelessly in putting together a team and infrastructure around Aaron that would allow him to continue with the amazing record of results he’d been accruing. That involves putting together the team sponsors, hiring athletes and staff, all of whom believed as I did that Aaron would be racing for us as we’d not heard anything different until December 15.

To learn this so late, just a week away from the holiday season and with the UCI registration dates looming, was to say the least, shocking. It’s hard not to react emotionally to such news and I concede that this is a big part of the issue here: that people have reacted emotionally, including me.

My main objective with releasing our company Statement after Aaron’s announcement of his move to Specialized, was in part to answer the flood of enquiries I’d received overnight (including ones like, ‘What are you doing about this?!’), but also to show our sponsors, investors, staff, riders and fans that we had been totally surprised by his decision to leave TWR, and that we would investigate our options. After all, on one hand I have a star rider who has decided for whatever reasons that he will not ride for us, and on the other hand, I have the interests of those who are engaged by us for 2013 to protect, to ensure their jobs are safe, and that the sponsors have continued faith in my company to deliver a quality race team. That’s my primary obligation, and I realize that the headline for many was the words ‘legal action’, but for me that was only part of what needed to be considered.— Martin Whiteley

bigquotes Despite the fact that on August 9 of last year, Aaron Gwin signed a legally binding Letter Of Intent with our team for the next three seasons, his agent wrote an email to the team in mid-December stating he had decided to race for another bike brand. Mr Gwin confirmed his agreement with our team in public statements, and he and his agent repeatedly confirmed the existence of, and commitment to, the agreement in written correspondence with us. Yet, only weeks before the team was required to submit the official team roster to UCI, Mr Gwin informed the team that he was abandoning TWR in total disregard of his contractual obligations.— 23 Degrees

6. Kate Weatherly Claiming Her First World Cup Podium

Kate Weatherly is the most prominent transgender athlete currently competing in mountain bike racing, and this year claimed her first World Cup podium with a third place in Leogang. The debates about transgender athletes, inclusion, and fairness are both complex and contentious, with some riders, team managers and fans expressing concerns that trans athletes carry over biological advantages and that this creates an unfair playing field. Others athletes, industry insiders, and those tasked with understanding the issue for the UCI and IOC are supportive of transgender athletes and their ability to compete.

This isn’t a new controversy for the sport though. Last decade, Michelle Dumaresq also attracted the ire of her fellow racers when she began winning Canadian National races and became Canadian National Champion. BC Cycling suspended her license in 2001, only for it to be later reinstated by the UCI.

Transgender athletes compete under UCI rules that have been in place since 2003 and state that transgender athletes must have total testosterone levels below 10 nmol/L during and for at least 12 months before competition. Earlier this year, the UCI announced it was considering lowering the limit to 5nmol/L, a move that was welcomed by Weatherly.

UCI Statement:

The consensus drawn up by the working group will enable the UCI to take into consideration, in line with the evolution of our society, the wish of concerned athletes to compete while guaranteeing as far as possible equal chances for participants in women’s competitions.

The text concerned will be submitted for approval by the UCI Management Committee with a view to application in 2020. The UCI will adapt its regulations in accordance with the new guidelines.

The UCI shares the conclusions reached by the participants, who included representatives of transgender and cisgender athletes. The conclusions notably state that if a Federation decides to use serum testosterone to distinguish between male and female athletes, it should adopt a maximum threshold of 5nmol/L for eligibility for the female category.

bigquotes I think it’s a good change, as I’ve said in previous interviews and discussions the old policy’s testosterone limit was really too high, since cisgender female athletes usually have 0.5-2.5 n/mol of testosterone, and 10n/mol is much higher, 5n/mol is still high but it’s a step in the right direction. It won’t be an issue for me as I have completed blocked testosterone and usually test at around 0.4 n/mol so still much lower than the top levels.

I won’t be competing next year due to the recovery time my neck requires, however I would be able to if I desired.—Kate Weatherly

The UCI are encouraging further scientific research into the issue to ensure a fairer playing field for all athletes. We will continue to update you as its policies and practices develop.

Unfortunately, this topic has proven so controversial that we’ve had to remind readers of our terms of service and clarify that we don’t allow slurs and personal attacks (including misgendering and deadnaming) in the comments. Our policy is below.

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7. Josh Bryceland Leaving Racing

In the mid-part of this decade, Josh Bryceland was a downhill racer in the ascendancy. In 2014, he picked up two World Cup wins on his way to the overall title and only just missed out on winning the World Championships after flying past the landing of the final jump and breaking his foot within metres of the line. He recovered in 2015 and picked up his third win in a season he that saw him finish every race in the top 10. Then, in 2016, his pace all but vanished.

His best result that year was a 6th at round 1 in Lourdes and he spent the rest of the season struggling to even make it into the top ten. Rumour started swirling until Claudio Caluori announced live on air that Josh would be quitting racing at the end of the season.

While Claudio initially reported the Josh was leaving racing because he was worried about his environmental impact, Josh later clarified that he was simply jaded and unmotivated to race anymore, instead preferring to spend his time riding, producing content and spreading positivity in the mountain bike community.

bigquotes I’m more motivated than ever to just ride and progress. I just felt a change this year and I’m not that down racing World Cups anymore. I tried my best all year to get into it. Because I’m a chilled riding style guy it doesn’t help people thinking I wasn’t putting effort in but no doubt going at it.

Despite leaving racing in 2016, Bryceland stayed with Santa Cruz creating videos for the brand with the 50to01 crew. But every good thing has to come to an end and in 2018 he would move on to Cannondale to start his own team of young riders to develop future riding talent, although he is still riding Santa Cruz’s carbon Reserve wheels.

8. Mountain Bike Melees

After a tough four days of racing during the Trans-Cascadia 2017, the podium featured Geoff Kabush, Chris Johnston and Brian Lopes. There were plenty of smiles and everything seemed perfectly normal until the punch.

In an odd turn of events, Brian Lopes decided to reach across the send his fist into Geoff Kabush’s midsection. It was all over in seconds and there isn’t even a big story of rivalry behind it. Find out exactly what went down in 2017 from the two men themselves (taken from our 2017 interview with the two riders).

bigquotes I can give you the facts. It was the last night celebration at dinner and we were having some fun. I took the win, so I was pretty excited. We had a little presentation in the dining tent and I sprayed some champagne. Lopes being Lopes, I wanted to get him with some champagne. He sprinted out of the dining tent, and me and Chris [Johnston] nearly ate shit on some tent wires chasing after him. Well, Lopes circled back and I was going to try and get him again with the champagne because I hadn’t gotten him very well, but he ran up into his hotel room, where he was staying for the last three nights of the event.

A little while later the organizers wanted to set up some portraits of the winners and the top three finishers—this was in the parking lot. After much work trying to get Lopes out of his hotel room, he finally came out. I was still trying to have a good time and I had the champagne bottle with me and he [Lopes] could tell that I was still up to some mischief, so he very seriously said to me that he would “punch me in the f*ckin’ face” if I got him wet again with the champagne bottle because he was wearing his last clean set of clothes and he planned on traveling in them the next day and he was pretty serious.

So, we proceeded to take the podium photo. I still had the champagne bottle in my hand and he told me, “Don’t f*ckin’ do it! Don’t f*ckin’ do it!” ….but…. I just couldn’t resist. And, yeah, so I poured a little champagne on him. Luckily for me, he didn’t punch me in the f*ckin face. And, well, you saw the video from there…— Geoff Kabush

bigquotes Basically, the short story is that we had the podium, we all got the champagne and I had no intention of spraying anyone. Geoff turned to me, right away, and I tried to run, but he got me pretty good. So, after that I went up to my room. I had to download some footage from my GoPro. My pants were all soaking wet, so I changed into my last set of clothes. Ten minutes later, someone came up and said they were doing more photos because they’d set up some lighting in the parking lot. I said, ‘Alright, but tell those dudes they better not spray me because I am in my last set of clothes and I’m getting on a plane tomorrow.’

So, I walk down there and the first thing I see is Geoff walking around with the bottle of champagne still. So I looked at him and told him, ‘Dude, don’t spray me. I’m in my last set of clothes.’ And he just kind of looked at me with this look that said, I’m going to get you.

So, I said to Geoff, “Dude, I’m serious. Don’t spray me. I’m going to f*ckin’ punch you if you spray me.”

So then we huddled under the lights for the photo. Geoff was in the middle because he won. He put his arms up above both me and Chris and I just had this feeling—because he [Geoff] still had that champagne bottle in his hand—that he was going to friggin’ pour it on me. Now, I’m not even looking at him because I’m looking at the cameras, but I’m telling him “Dude, don’t do it. Don’t do it, Geoff. I’m serious. Don’t do it.”

And the next thing you know, I have champagne running down my head and down my last set of clothes so I f*ckin’ turned around and punched him and that’s pretty much it. I felt like I’d warned him—asked him—three of four times not to do it and he still went ahead and did it. I walked away after that.— Brian Lopes

That wasn’t the only high profile fracas between mountain bikers this decade though. Details are more sketchy on the other one but what we do know is that a fight erupted at Mont Sainte Anne in 2015 with Josh Bryceland, Sam Dale and Gee Atherton all involved. We’ve since asked some of the parties involved what happened but nobody is willing to talk about it.

9. The Fort William Bog

In 2017, World Cup courses were being criticized for becoming too easy, too bike-park-y and not a patch on the classic tracks of yesteryear. Step forward to Fort William and its accompanying inclement weather. To shake up its tried and tested formula, the dig crew in the Scottish Highland decided to include a totally fresh woods section that quickly turned to a bog when the weather rolled in. Riders faced a new challenge each run as the slimy, shifting mud hid a maze of slippery roots and deep holes.

On race day big names went down and some of the riders even walked that section. The debate then played out over social media as some riders felt it was an unfair lottery while others enjoyed the old school challenge. 12 months later, the entire section had been paved over and turned into a more conventional rock garden, but Fort William proved it can still bare its teeth after more than a decade on the circuit.

10. The Coastal Crew’s ‘Skeptical’ eMTB Video

The Coastal Crew are some of the most ‘core’ riders going in the mountain biking world. After all, who can forget their Kranked 8 section, Norbs aka Norby getting robbed at Rampage, or the Motive film as examples of how they bought their own unique flavour of BC riding to the larger mountain biking world?

But when Dylan Dunkerton and Curtis Robinson released an eMTB video, people lost their collective shit. Questions around land access, trail erosion and what it meant for the ‘soul’ of mountain biking all came to a head and the Coastal Crew bore the brunt of it in a vicious comment section.

bigquotes No, we are under no contractual obligation to ride this bike whatsoever, nor were we pressured to create media around it. Despite what everyone may think, we aren’t padding out bank accounts just because we are riding an e-bike. The gist of this whole project is the fact that we were just as skeptical as everyone else. I believe all bikes are fun, and for me, there was no denying the fact that the Levo would be a ton of fun to putt around town to and from the beer store – honestly, that’s all we planned on using it for. But now, after riding one the way we want to ride, we have realized that’s not just some stupid gimmick. People have had it crammed down their throats that e-bikes can climb very well. No one needs to know that anymore. They need to feel that their ride down won’t be compromised by the added weight of the motor.—Dylan Dunkerton

Pinkbike’s own stance towards eMTBs has evolved over the years. Regardless of our personal opinions about them, we consider pedal-assist bikes to be part of the fabric of the sport now, and it’s our job to cover them. However, we still understand that a lot of our readers just don’t want to hear about them, so we introduced filters this year to allow readers to customize the content they want to see. Our guide on how to filter your own news feed is here.

As is tradition, here’s the part where you tell us what we missed. See you in the comments!