Sam vs. Napalm


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Two seasons ago saw the return of arguably the greatest downhiller of all time, Nicolas Vouilloz. As with any comeback, the rumor mill was rife with speculation as to how he would fare against the reigning king of downhill, Sam Hill. On the day neither Sam nor Nico won at Champery, but the most extreme downhill track of all time and a mid-afternoon squall produced the most memorable race result of all time.

This year sees an even more keenly anticipated comeback, that of Shaun Palmer. Now 40 years old, he is returning to race select World Cups as part of his training for the 2010 Winter Olympics. He will have to shake off years of rust as well as acclimatize to a bike that actually works as opposed to some of the contraptions he last raced on at World Cup level (which, admittedly, were pretty good for that time period), and still hope to prevail against most stacked men’s downhill field of all time. Look at the 2008 season: there were four individuals who topped the podium – Minnaar, Gee Atherton, Sam Blenkinsop and Hill. Add to this the fact that there is an emerging crop of up-and-coming riders who look poised to take their first World Cup win at any time. Fairclough, Gwin, Bryceland…all waiting in the wings and growing in strength and experience every season.

So are we saying Palmer has no chance? If there’s anything we know for a fact about him is that he can never be counted out in any sport he participates in, and learns and adapts inhumanly quickly. However, Sam Hill is still, in our opinion, the fastest rider on the planet right now. He was caught off-guard by a Pro Men’s field who clearly trained its ass off after Sam’s domination of 2007 and brought their riding to the next level for 2008. Sam’s crash into a tree at his self-professed dream track of Schladming last season illustrated most clearly the pressure the rest of the field had him under. My prediction is that the 2009 season will see Sam raise his riding, and fitness in particular, to another level and that we will see another win for the other Sam (Blenkinsop), who will continue to be a serious threat on the steep stuff. As for Palmer, it’s hard to call, but I would be surprised if he did not set foot on the podium at at least one round. As for a win, would you bet serious money against him? I’m not sure I would.

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