Finn Iles is halfway to a repeat of his dominant 2016 season.
The 17-year-old downhill phenom officially clinched the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) junior men's downhill title for the second year in a row with his fourth win in five tries in Lenzerheide, Switzerland, on July 8.
As difficult as it is to win once, it can be more difficult to repeat with a target on one's back, making Iles savour this victory even more than the first.
"This year was definitely a bit more special for me because it was my second year doing it. I really wanted to follow up what I did last year. This year, I felt really focused all year and felt like I was really riding better than I did last year," he said.
He acknowledged getting the overall title off of his to-do list was at the forefront of his mind, even as he was cruising down the Swiss course, ultimately besting Great Britain's Joe Breeden by just over a second.
"I was thinking about it quite a bit," he said. "I was in the start gate, thinking about it a little bit and even when I was riding, I felt like I was thinking about it. I held it together pretty well."
Lenzerheide wasn't Iles' cleanest race of the year — that honour likely went to the one the week before in Vallnord, Andorra, where his buddy Conrad Murdoch was in town to cheer him on. The win was a bit of redemption, too, as his previous race at Vallnord, in September 2016, was a disappointing runner-up in which he was over three seconds behind the winner.
"When I rode in Andorra (this time), I had one of the best races I've ever had in my life," Iles said. "I was pretty happy with that and going into Lenzerheide, I had a lot of confidence. Everything went pretty well in Lenzerheide and I'm pretty happy to clinch the overall.
"I felt like I was having a lot of fun riding my bike. The track was really good. It was steep, fast, flowy and everything just felt good. I wanted some redemption from last year, because last year I didn't ride very well and I wasn't happy."
Additionally, this year's Andorra event took place earlier in the season, which gave Iles a little additional symbolic support.
"This year, it was on Canada Day so I wanted to put it out there and have a really good run," Iles explained. "It was a pretty good day."
The dominant campaign has allowed Iles to turn an eye to 2018, when he'll make the jump to the elite division. He said he'll ride with a little more gusto to see how fast he can truly go, points in the overall table be damned.
"Clinching with two races left is definitely a relief for me because in the next two races, I can focus on going fast and seeing how I can do in the elite ranks (not just) the junior category," Iles said.
As it stands now, Iles was impressive overall in many of the races, as his time in Andorra was good for seventh among elite riders. What will be curious to see in the coming races is how high he can climb with his knuckles bending on the brakes a little less often at the remaining World Cup events in Mont Ste. Anne, Que. and Val di Sole, Italy.
"I'll be riding a little bit less conservatively, because normally I ride at a pace that I'll have a better chance of not crashing, landing a good run and just earn points for the overall," he said. "Now I'm going to push myself. There will be more chance of a crash but I have a better shot to do well in elite."
Though the overall title is now wrapped up, there is one more race Iles must capture to put the last shiny coat on his time in the junior men's division — the world championships in Cairns, Australia.
"I'd be really happy with that," Iles said of the chance for a double repeat. "The track in Cairns is pretty flat and pedally, so I'm going to have to work on a few things before I go there, but my confidence is high and I feel good on my bike. The team's pretty confident in me so I feel like I just have to ride well."