Finn Iles catapulted himself into the men’s downhill elite with a superb 2017 junior season where he won six out of seven UCI Mountain Bike World Cup races. The Canadian, who rides with Loic Bruni on the Specialized Gravity Team, is now pushing hard to move up the senior rankings. Here, the 18-year-old explains his life on the tour and his switch from skiing to MTB:
How has the 2018 season been so far for you?
I have been riding really well and feeling comfortable on my bike, but I am just pushing a bit too hard. I have got to get my head in a better space for racing. In Fort William, I finished top 20 even though I was still pretty stiff on my bike. I was pretty confident going into Leogang, but I had quite a few crashes. I pushed myself too hard again because I was like, “I feel so good on my bike and I can win!” I crashed really hard the day before the race and qualified 16th, which I was pretty happy about it, but then crashed in the first corner on race day. I need to stay within my limits and go 90 percent instead of 110. It has been a good learning curve so far.
Do you set yourself specific goals and targets?
I always set result-based goals and goals that are more personal for myself. I am not doing as well as I wanted to with results as I am trying to ride too fast. I need to gain experience and get better as a rider instead of rushing things to win right away.
How is riding with your hero Loïc Bruni?
I have looked up to Loïc before I even knew him because he was such a good junior rider and then did well straight away in the seniors. He is a good friend of mine. He takes time to do things right instead of rushing them and having him as a team-mate and mentor is really good for me. I thought it might be different now we are racing against each other, but he has been really kind. He helps me with lines and we do laps together.
It hasn’t always just been biking, can you talk about your junior ski career and the subsequent change? I really liked skiing and playing ice hockey when I was younger. Biking wasn’t the biggest sport in my childhood until 14 when I had to make a decision to quit skiing and keep riding. The decision came around when I was ski racing in March and I was supposed to go to a camp in May and June and I got on my bike before the ski camp, went home and I was like, “I don’t want to ski race anymore, I want to race bikes”. It was just something that happened.
The decision to leave skiing for biking was made almost instantly?
I raced giant slalom and slalom, and it was crazy. I was so stuck. I knew at that point I had to make a decision. I was provincial champion at both skiing and biking, and I had to choose a path. I chose mountain biking because I loved it more. Mountain biking is the coolest thing. It is so much fun. I was 14 when I made that decision.
Do you ever think about what your career may have looked like if you had chosen skiing?
I think a little bit, but Canada doesn’t have the support like the European countries or even America have. It is a bit harder to make it and costs a lot of money. With mountain biking, I immediately got into a European team and ever since then it has been amazing.
What were you like growing up as a young kid?
I was born in Banff and lived there until I was nine. I was doing hiking, skiing, riding, soccer, ice hockey and basketball. As I got older, I started dropping sports. We moved to Whistler because we used to go there for two weeks in the summer and two weeks in the winter. It got to the point where we said as a family, “We love this place and we have to move here now!”. Since then it has just been skiing, biking and ice hockey. I dropped ice hockey, then skiing and now just do biking. Whistler has one of the best ski resorts in North America and, possibly, the best bike park in the world. Accessing these amazing resources has been amazing for me.
Do you get inspired by athletes in other sports?
I have favourite teams in ice hockey, basketball and soccer but not favourite athletes as such. Honestly, I watch every sport. My Dad is a bit the same, so I got it from him. I support teams like Calgary Flames in ice hockey because it was so near to where I grew up in Banff. I went to an ice hockey game when I was six. Toronto Raptors too in basketball as they are the only Canadian team in the NBA. Lots of playing fantasy league in other sports. I play basketball and ice hockey in the winter, when the lakes are frozen.
When you see the amount of time downhill rivals like Aaron Gwin put in at the gym, does it motivate you to do the same?
When I was younger I tried to copy what riders like Aaron were doing, but you get to a point where you need to do what works for you. I need to train as hard as I can to where it is effective so I am not overtraining or undertraining. I have got a good programme going on and my trainer is super helpful. I do gym circuits and strength work but I also do cross-country skiing, cross-country mountain biking, basketball and ice hockey. If I just work out in the gym, I become too static. I try to stay athletic and mobile for downhill mountain biking. You are moving your whole body and staying active. You have got to keep it fun. I enjoy the gym, but you have got to spice it up a bit too.
You have a fascinating background in Crankworx after winning Whip Off aged just 14. How cool was that?
I gave up skiing in May 2015 and the same year I won the Crankworx Whip Off World Championships at Whistler two days before I turned 15. It was crazy. Pretty special. I am very competitive, even in gym class at school. It is ingrained in me!