Winner: Nino Schurter
Perhaps the truest sign of greatness is living up to expectation. And no rider had more expectation thrust on his shoulders in 2016 than Nino Schurter. After taking bronze at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, then suffering a heartbreaking (but silver medal earning) finish line sprint loss at London 2012, the 30-year-old Swiss star was the overwhelming favorite to take Olympic mountain bike cross-country gold in Rio. Bike sponsor Scott built an entire promotional campaign around his quest. And when it came time to deliver, Schurter did just that, earning a commanding win that cemented him as one of the sport’s best ever.
For good measure, Schurter also captured his record-tying fifth world championship title, and came second in the overall World Cup series. Along the way Schurter expanded his persona as a mountain biker’s mountain biker. Yes, he’s an endurance athlete first. But anyone who’s seen Schurter ride knows that he can slay technical trail with the best of them, making him one of the best ambassadors our sport has. Congratulations, Nino. What an amazing year.
Runner Up: Rachel Atherton
Were it not for the weight given to the Olympics, it’s likely Rachel Atherton would have captured the top spot in Mtbr’s end of year awards. But that should take nothing away from the British downhill racing star’s amazing 2016 season. Seven World Cups contested. Seven World Cup wins. Add in six more in 2015, and the Trek Factory team rider’s win streak stands at an astounding 13. Oh yeah, she also won her second straight World Championship title. Anne-Caroline Chausson, you have company.
Honorable Mention: Brandon Semenuk
Few riders possess the combination of power and grace that define Brandon Semenuk’s riding style. Whether it was his convincing (and second career) Red Bull Rampage triumph, or the litany of jaw dropping videos he starred in, the Canadian freeride star continued to smash the boundaries of what can be done on a mountain bike.
This post is part of the Mtbr Best of 2016 awards series. You can see all this year’s announced winners here.