Consistency pays off for Swiss cross country star
By taking nearly a quarter of the votes cast, Nino Schurter (Scott-Swisspower) rose to the top of the Cyclingnews Reader Poll to become the 2012 Male Mountain Biker of the Year. The Swiss rider had a consistently impressive season, riding well from start to finish. He earned 3,521 votes (24.45%) in the Reader Poll.
"It was my best season ever," Schurter told Cyclingnews in September.
Schurter opened his season with a World Cup win in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa. A second place in Houffalize and another win in Nove Mesto on his birthday soon followed. He sat out La Bresse due to illness, but while others were scrambling at that World Cup for one last chance to make their Olympic teams, the pressure was off Schurter, who had known all spring that he had his spot secured on the super competitive Swiss Olympic team.
Schurter made the trip across the Atlantic to win the Mont-Sainte-Anne World Cup, but he didn't stick around for the next weekend's racing in Windham. Instead, it was time to head home to Europe and dial in the final Olympic preparations.
High altitude training camp clearly paid off for Schurter, who won the Swiss national championships and the final World Cup in Val d'Isere. More consistent than any other rider on the World Cup circuit, Schurter took the overall World Cup title.
In August, the Swiss star engaged in an epic battle with Jaroslav Kulhavy (Specialized) and Marco Fontana (Cannondale Factory Racing) in the race for Olympic gold. The final sprint didn't quite work out for Schurter, who ended up with the silver medal. At first, he was upset, but a little time to reflect helped him appreciate the accomplishment that was a second place finish in the Olympics, one place better than at his first Olympics in Beijing in 2008.
"Looking back, I'm happy about the silver medal in London. It was a great race and Jaroslav was just stronger there," Schurter told Cyclingnews.
Three weeks after the Olympics, Schurter showed he still had his excellent form and he raced to a solo victory and a gold medal at the world championships in Austria. Other than winning gold at the Olympics, Schurter couldn't have had a much better season.
"It's awesome to wear the stripes," Schurter told Cyclingnews. "It feels nice to compete with the world champion's jersey. It will be great to start next year in the World Cup with the rainbow jersey. I'm really proud."
Kulhavy took a different approach to his Olympic season, focusing primarily on the big day in London and backing off the pressure at some of the other major competitions. For the Czech rider, who finished second in the Reader Poll with 2546 votes (17.68%), his strategy seemed to be Olympic gold medal or bust.
Kulhavy didn't win any World Cups although he did finish third overall after four top-five podium finishes (fifth in Pietermaritzburg, second in Nove Mesto, second in La Bresse and third in Mont-Sainte-Anne). The pressure was off after winning the Olympics, and Kulhavy cruised to a 13th place finish at Worlds, one year after having taken his first elite world title.
Greg Minnaar (Santa Cruz Syndicate) finished in third place in the Reader Poll with 1632 votes (11.33%), as the top gravity rider. Minnaar bookended the season with important wins - he started with a World Cup victory at home in Pietermaritzburg and finished by winning the downhill world championships in Austria. Never logging a result worse than ninth in a World Cup, the South African finished second in the overall standings.
Aaron Gwin (Trek World Racing) tallied just seven fewer votes than Minnaar. With 1625 votes or 11.29%, Cyclingnews readers showed their appreciation for Gwin's consistency throughout the season, which went swimmingly except for a disappointing world championships. Gwin won World Cups in Val di Sole, Fort William, Mont-Sainte-Anne and Windham. He was second in Pietermaritzburg and fifth at Val d'Isere, and he sat out the finals in Hafjell due to injury, but it didn't matter, he had already clinched the World Cup overall. When one of Gwin's brakes failed at the Worlds, he ended up finishing 83rd, the rainbow striped jersey still eluding him.
Gee Atherton (GT Factory Racing) rounded out the top five of the Reader Poll with 1470 votes (9.92%). Atherton didn't win a single World Cup in 2012, but by consistently finishing second, third or fourth in every round, he finished third overall.
Honourable mentions go to fifth through 10th in the Cyclingnews poll: Olympic bronze medallist Marco Fontana, first eliminator world champion Ralf Naef, Windham World Cup winner and third World Cup overall Burry Stander, four cross world champion Roger Rinderknecht and marathon world champion Periklis Ilias.
2012 Male mountain biker of the year
Total: 28,185 total votes with 14,398 selections made and 13,787 no opinion votes