5 Key Stats from Juniors, U21 & U23 Racers in the Pinkbike State of the Sport Survey 2024

Apr 7, 2024
by Alicia Leggett  

Welcome to the 2024 Pinkbike State of the Sport Survey. This anonymous survey is designed to highlight key issues and riders' perspectives on the sport that we, pro riders, and Pinkbike readers all love so much. We surveyed the best riders in the world to hear their thoughts, ideas, concerns, and criticisms on mountain biking in 2024. Now, we're breaking down what we've learned. We're now publishing a series of articles that break down sections of the results, and you'll see the results in full shortly. This year, we introduced the public survey, which will help gauge public views on the sport and should make for some interesting comparisons to what the racers say. Stay tuned for that. To read the introduction to the survey click here, and to see all the other currently published SOTS articles click here.

Art by Taj Mihelich

Through our last editions of this survey, we realized we were missing a big demographic group while trying to make sense of the top competition athletes. What about tomorrow's top riders? They're already on the dirt, training and racing and proving themselves in the feeder pools to the elites, where they'll throw down against the best in the world. This year, we asked for their thoughts on their futures moving to the top level and what they think of their current categories. 22 of the riders surveyed said they race in the junior, U21, or U23 categories, or 20.4% of the survey pool. The below takeaways come from what they told us.

The defined transition arguably doesn't make moving to elite easy, but the kids are up for the challenge

I like this result. Not because it gives us any real consensus - actually the opposite - but because of the even split between "agree" and "disagree," with a remaining 9.1% (two riders in our Juniors pool) answering neutrally. 45.5% (10 riders) fall on each side of the statement "Such a defined transition between junior/U21/U23 and elite makes racing harder for young riders," and none answered "strongly agree" or "strongly disagree."

Breaking it down a little bit by race discipline, downhill racers were most likely to say the transition makes things hard, cross-country racers were most likely to say it doesn't, and enduro racers are pretty mixed. First, that makes me smile and nod and think to myself, "Of course, because cross-country racers are way gnarlier than we give them credit for." But looking beyond cross-country racers being hardcore, it's probably worth noting that the transition seems most abrupt to the downhill riders, who make the jump as teenagers, while U23 might give cross-country racers a bit more of a taste of the elite field: racing against very fit adults, having the XCO races televised, almost everything about the elite races without quite as much fanfare. I'll guess that the transition age difference makes a big difference here, keeping the budding U23s in their own field for a bit longer before they have to face the Nino Schurters of the world.

That's one of those situations where there's no perfect solution. Yes, having to move abruptly from the under-the-radar "preparation" category to the world-level centre-stage elites isn't the smoothest transition. But what are the options? Having an even more pre-elite category doesn't make sense; that's what those racers are in the junior, U21, and U23 categories for. Change the age when riders enter the elites? That seems unfair to the fastest juniors who are already putting down mindblowing times, plus that would likely make it much harder for young riders to find and develop sponsorship relationships. Making the non-elite categories more prestigious would take an unreasonable amount of effort and funding, plus it doesn't quite seem to have the public interest to back that up. There's no perfect way to move forward, and the status quo is pretty damn good.

An arguably rough transition to elites doesn't seem to bother the racers too much. To the statement "I'm happy with the current rules around the junior/U21/U23-to-elite transition," most agreed or responded neutrally. Of the junior/U21/U23 pool, one racer (4.5%) responded "strongly agree," 12 chose "agree" to make that the biggest pool - 54.5% - the neutral cohort included seven riders, coming out to 31.8%, and the remaining two riders gave us 9.1% in disagreement.

The riders' words: What will be the biggest barrier to your transition into elites?

bigquotesNot having a team support. Potential injury in transition year...

bigquotesElites are a lot quicker.

bigquotesIt's going to be a hard gap from racing 17-18s to people that are in their late 20s and early 30s.

bigquotesAll I can think of is if I’ll be seeded fairly at my first race. Results wise I’m not worried as I’m getting top 10/20 stage times in elite.

bigquotesMaintaining support with difficult results.

bigquotesHaving to race possibly 3 times.

bigquotesGetting onto a good trade team, being able to afford travelling to races, and getting an opportunity to develop and transition in Europe while being able to afford to live.

bigquotesWhether or not I have a team to ride for and to help pay for travel, accommodation, and salary.

bigquotesU23 races have much fewer points available than elite races, making it hard to get enough points when moving into elite.

bigquotesBeing able to compete at the front of the field as quickly as the team would like me to!


The young categories feel quite underpaid

The young riders largely think they don't get paid enough: 63.6% (14 riders) responded "disagree" to "There’s appropriate financial aid for juniors/U21 riders/U23 riders." Another 13.6% (three riders) said they "strongly disagree," and 13.6% were neutral. Two riders (9.1%) chose "agree."

Perspectives here seem quite influenced by what we think riders are being paid for. Results? Obviously, the winners win. Showing their sponsors' products to the world? Those with strong results will provide the most visibility. Taking risk? Those lower on the results' sheet take just as much risk at those at the top. If the brands were investing in future potential, supporting the fast up-and-comers would make sense, but that's not what everyone chooses.

We all want the riders in the sport to be paid fairly, to have income security, and to receive basic but crucial benefits like health insurance. That said, that all costs money, and the money is finite. Brands' ability to invest is limited, often leaving riders on the bubble - in terms of results, age, visibility, and more - in need of more support.

When asked about some of the specifics, the responses were even more grim: The statement "A Junior downhill win offers €200 in prize money and a U23 XC win is €400, how would you rate this?" received 68.2% "Very poor" from 15 riders, another 18.2% "Poor" from another four riders, and the last three answering neutrally.

The riders want to be broadcast

This was one of the most unanimous responses of the entire survey: The young riders think the broadcast coverage of the junior downhill and U23 cross-country racing has improved the sport. To the statement "Live broadcast coverage for Junior DH and U23 XC racing has been positive for the sport," 72.7% (16 riders) responded "strongly agree," another 22.7% (five riders) chose to "agree," and the final rider rounded out the last 4.5% with a "neutral."

And that makes sense. The riders rely heavily on sponsorship from brands whose sponsorship decisions rely on visibility. Even simply for the basic financial aspect of it, showing up on TV makes a rider more likely to make a living. Making a living makes a rider more able to do their sport. Riders being able to do this sport is what carries it all forward. Plus, there's the experiential piece: beyond worrying about making a living, many riders are drawn to the lifestyle of racing at the highest level, racing in front of fans, and everything that comes along with that. Giving juniors and U23 riders coverage helps chip away at one of the big things separating these categories from the elites.

Riders' Words: How do you think the coverage or organization of Junior/U21/U23 racing could be improved?

bigquotesMore coverage and insight to the riders (background information). Appropriate qualification numbers appropriate the field (e.g. junior women's at worlds had 35 entries, originally only 15 were allowed to qualify, for a worlds event 30 should have been able to qualify).

bigquotesRank top junior riders compared to elite rides.

bigquotesLast-minute cancellation of races without rider consultations or choices.

bigquotesXCC racing is short, interesting and easy to cover on TV.

bigquotesThe introduction of junior live coverage has been extremely beneficial to the sport, more notice for younger riders will help in getting noticed, leading to potential deals with companies.

bigquotesU23 XCC should be covered as well.

bigquotesBetter prize money and better financial sponsors.

bigquotesInclude enduro.

bigquotesMore media coverage across the board.

Author Info:
alicialeggett avatar

Member since Jun 19, 2015
743 articles

  • 37 2
 €200 for a Junior DH world cup win? That’s criminal
  • 15 0
 You forgot to ask the elite riders: "Are you worried about juniors transitioning into elite"... they should be :-)
  • 13 3
 Please stop using pie charts.... They are the worst.
  • 13 0
 ......mmm pie
  • 4 0
 I'd agree if this was a scientific presentation. But for low brow content like this, they are hard to eat.
  • 2 0
 For positive vs negative responses, tornado plots are great.
  • 7 1
 Enduro needs more coverage. The youth grassroots enduro programs are huge, uci enduro is just small in general.
  • 1 0
 "The young riders largely think they don't get paid enough: 63.6% (14 riders) responded "agree" to "There’s appropriate financial aid for juniors/U21 riders/U23 riders." Another 13.6 (three riders) "strongly disagree," and 13.6% were neutral. Two riders (9.1%) "Agree.""

63.6% did not respond agree

"When asked about some of the specifics, the responses were even more grim: The statement "A Junior downhill win offers €200 in prize money and a U23 XC win is €400, how would you rate this?" received 68.2% "Very poor" from 15 riders, another 18.2% "Poor" from another four riders, and the last three answering neutrally."

The pie chart says the opposite actually.
  • 1 0
 Juniors is so exciting. It’s a glimpse into the future, and whether it’ happens slower or faster, pretty much all of the big pros had good junior results. Seeing the beginning of friendships and rivalries is so cool.
  • 1 0
 As someone transitioning into that UCI group, its such a scary jump. The guys who are winning these races are lapping people in the same cat, on the SECOND LAP. They are just so insanely fast. Another level
  • 1 0
 @alicialeggett, small mistake in there: On prize money, the text says "The statement ... received 68.2% "Very poor" from 15 riders", but the pie chart says 68.2% answered "acceptable".
  • 1 0
 This section needs copy edit, it’s a mess.

“The young categories feel quite underpaid”
  • 1 0
 Ah. The innocence of unjaded youth.
  • 1 0
 Been loving the jnr coverage last year!
  • 1 1
 Well there is a surprise. Juniors want more money and more TV but no idea what they can offer in return for it.
  • 1 0
 They should f off back to obscurity like the rest of the privateers and non-status quo elite field. - UCI, probably.

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