The final round of the 2023 UCI MTB World Cup Series challenged the world’s best XC and DH racers with some of the most demanding terrain of the year. The steep, technical race tracks were made even more tricky with some wet weather and slick, muddy conditions at the Canadian ski resort.
Highlights from the finals week included a podium for Carter Woods in the Under-23 men’s short track cross-country, which helped the Canadian lock in a second-place overall ranking in the U23 XCC series.
Woods also finished third overall in the U23 men’s XCO World Cup series, making it a breakout season for the first-year Giant Factory Off-Road Team rider. The 21-year-old led the squad with three World Cup wins this year, including a sweep of the XCO and XCC races at the Val di Sole, Italy, round.
“My main goal coming into this year was consistent World Cup podiums while enjoying my last season in U23 before moving up to the elites,” said Woods. “Along the way, there were many highs and lows. My perfect weekend in Val di Sole was definitely one of my highs as I really surprised myself by doing the double.”
Woods also won the Canadian elite men's national titles in both XCO and XCC this year.
Another first-year rider for the team, five-time Belgian XC champion Jens Schuermans, also had a strong season. Racing in the elite men’s category, Schuermans closed out the World Cup series at Mont-Sainte-Anne by defending his top-five ranking in the XCC.
“My first year with the Giant Factory Off-Road Team has been a blast,” Schuermans said. “I found an amazing team and staff, which set me up for a great year. I ticked off a lot of goals with seven top-10 World Cup finishes between XCC and XCO. Finishing fourth overall in the XCC rankings is icing on the cake.”
Both Woods and Carter, along with fellow XC racer Antoine Philipp—who came on strong the second half of the series following an early-season injury—raced primarily on their Anthem Advanced Pro 29 bikes and wore the Giant Rev Pro helmet and Charge Pro shoes.
“My performance is directly related to riding the new Anthem, which helped me score seven UCI wins and finish the year near the top-10 in overall UCI rankings,” Schuermans said. “That’s my best overall ranking yet.”
In downhill action, the team also had a new look this year with the addition of young Australian talents Luke and Remy Meier-Smith. The brother duo joined veteran Frenchman Rémi Thirion, and the three raced on the new Glory Advanced that was released earlier this year.
Thirion, who has seven career World Cup podiums to his name, fought through challenges including injuries that caused him to miss several World Cup rounds.
“My crash at European Championships, where I got a concussion, caused me to miss racing Round 5 at Vallnord,” Thirion said. “I decided not to give up and had a solid end of the season with a podium in Loudenvielle. Racing the new Glory Advanced on the World Cup circuit this year was something special. Being part of the development project was a lot of work and many days of testing, but I’m super thankful and proud to be part of this bike’s history.”
It was an up and down World Cup season for the Meier-Smith brothers as well, with some big wins and injuries to fight through. Luke kicked off the year with his new team in triumphant form, winning the Australian elite men’s DH national title on a prototype version of the yet-to-be-released Glory Advanced.
“I had not one, but two injuries this year and struggled to get back to where I know I can be,” Luke said. “It wasn’t easy mentally, but I am proud of my efforts to come back the best I could. It wasn’t the DH season I was after, but I know what I’m capable of and can achieve, so look out 2024.”
Luke’s younger brother Remy, racing in the elite men’s category for the first time at age 18, also showed great promise with some impressive results including a top-10 at Val di Sole.
With the 2023 season in the books, the young team now looks ahead to 2024, when it aims to reach an even higher level including a focus on the Paris Olympics for the team's XC riders.