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Iles reflects on final junior season

Young phenom set to jump to elite ranks next year

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Finn Iles put up two of the most dominant junior downhill seasons a mountain-bike rider could imagine.

The 18-year-old Whistlerite claimed the overall age-group title both years, including winning in five of six outings in 2017. He also won the world championships race in Val di Sole, Italy in 2016 but after an out-of-character struggle this year in Cairns, Australia, will have to settle for three of four possible championships to wrap his junior men's career.

Though the season ultimately ended on a sour note, Iles said everything leading up to it went according to plan.

"This year was pretty special. I pretty much had a perfect season World Cup-wise besides one race, so I don't think I could have asked for anything better this year," he said. "I'm pretty happy to pull out the overall and win five out of six races."

One of the five podium toppers was at Mont-Ste.-Anne, Que., marking the first time Iles captured a World Cup on Canadian soil after placing second in 2016.

"From the start of the season, that was the one World Cup that I really wanted to win because last year I missed out on it," he said. "I really wanted to get that one in the bag and I'm really happy that I took the win on home soil and had the run that I wanted to.

"I proved that no matter where the race is, I can put a run down that's quite good."

Iles explained he didn't feel the weight of any external expectations to win in Canada just because he was Canadian, but that doesn't mean he didn't want to put on a good show for the Quebec crowd.

"I don't feel a lot of pressure from any kind of race. I feel that any kind of pressure I have is just myself on me," he said. "Coming into that race, I felt like I really wanted to win and if I hadn't, I would have been pretty disappointed with myself.

"Everyone around me is pretty supportive, saying 'You're a good rider so just ride the way you do and you can win.' Having good people like that allows me to not feel that kind of pressure."

With a grand total of eight World Cup wins, plus last year's World Championships triumph, Iles has plenty of confidence moving forward in his career. He got the chance to revisit several sites from his rookie year as well, boosting his results in the process.

"I'd say I developed a lot over the season. I'm becoming a little bit more experienced on the World Cup tracks. I'm learning how to ride the courses and train better leading up to the race so that by the time I'm racing, I'm able to put down a run that's the best that it possibly could be," he said. "The level of riding is so high so the speed is a lot higher at the World Cup tracks so you have to be a little bit prepared to go a lot faster."

The one blemish was in Cairns, where a shocking crash left him sitting 10th when the dust settled. More than a week after the Sept. 9 race, Iles is still a bit baffled as to what exactly happened to cost him the World Championships title.

"I was pretty frustrated after worlds because the track wasn't that hard, so I wasn't expecting myself to crash. I didn't crash all season long in a race run and then the one that counts the most, I kind of dropped the ball," he said. "I'm looking forward to next season and trying to adjust to get stronger and get faster to race the elites."

By posting times that were right up alongside the elite men all season long, generally at least in the top 15, Iles will look to create a splash when he officially lines up against the other fastest riders in the world beginning in 2018.

"I feel like I'm pretty much there. It's just a few adjustments and a bit of experience that have to come in," he said. "Hopefully next year, I can transition and ride well like I did this year."

Iles is set to return to Team Specialized Gravity next season with familiar coaches and mechanics. He's also looking forward to a more productive offseason with no academic commitments on his plate throughout the winter.

"I have a lot more time on my hands because I'm not in university yet and I'm not in high school," he said. "I think that I can just focus on riding a lot more and getting quite a bit fitter going into next season. I feel like coming into next year, I'll be more prepared and stronger because I'm putting a lot more miles on my bike. I can just work on my basic skills and refine my riding."

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