Yeti's decision to focus all its racing resources on enduro could mark a pivotal shift in competitive mountain biking. The company said on Monday that it would support a full team of enduro racers including Jared Graves, who placed second overall in the Enduro World Series last year and third in the DH World Championships and Richie Rude, the 2013 Junior DH World Champion. Because of this increased investment, Yeti Cycles will no longer take part in World Cup DH racing.
By no means does this decision signal a decline in downhill racing, but it surely says something about the industry's priorities. When faced with a financial decision to support just one top-level professional racing program, Yeti chose enduro over downhill because it offers better return on investment. From a sales standpoint, it makes sense. Six-inch travel, all-mountain bikes appeal to a far greater number of everyday riders than $6,000 big-hit monsters.
But, this isn't just any brand. Yeti's heritage is built on racing—legends like John Tomac, Myles Rockwell, Missy Giove and Jimmy Deaton were all synonymous with Yeti in the 90s—and it has supported a downhill World Cup team for at least two decade, so this news is significant.
"Racing has been the cornerstone of our product development for over 25 years," said Chris Conroy, Yeti's president and co-owner in a press release. "We are excited about enduro racing and have athletes who are uniquely suited to the discipline. Focusing on enduro racing will allow us to concentrate our marketing and product resources exactly where enthusiasm is grown from our sponsors, supporters and customers."
Conroy says Yeti will continue to manufacture its 303 World Cup race bike, but downhill racer Cam Cole will no longer be sponsored by Yeti. All the riders on the roster were given the choice to race enduro or pursue their World Cup downhill careers with another sponsor.
"The difficulty came when EWS became a truly international event and racing spanned the globe like DH," Conroy added. "This effectively meant Yeti would have to run two World Cup-caliber programs. While that intrigues us, we are simply too small and don't have the resources to make that happen. Jared and Richie were very excited about moving in this direction. Jared has been a strong mentor for Richie and they enjoy racing together. Cam was intrigued by racing enduro, but felt he still had some unfinished business in DH."
In addition to its Enduro World Series roster of Rude and Graves, Yeti will also support select athletes on the U.S. National Team and regional racing ambassadors who will compete in the Big Mountain Enduro Series, Oregon Enduro Series and some EWS races. The U.K.'s Hannah Barnes, who was recently signed by Yeti U.K., will be on a slightly different schedule this year as many of her sponsors are different from Yeti's factory team.
Yeti's commitment to the Enduro World Series is yet another boost to that series, which attracted many big-name pros in its inaugural year in 2013. The EWS does not fall under the regulation of the UCI, cycling's governing body. It has seven races on the calendar this year, kicking off April 19 at Nevados de Chillan in Chile.
What do you think Yeti's decision says about the future of mountain-bike racing?