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Interview: Finn Iles is carrying speed – and confidence – into Fort William World Cup

How changing bike sizes, and mental approach, translated into speed and why Lourdes is such a good venue for Canadian racers

Finn Iles started 2022 on a high note. The Canadian national champion landed his career-best result, second in the elite men’s race, at the Lourdes World Cup. It’s a huge result for Iles, and sets the stage for a strong season .

I caught up with Iles at home in B.C. where he was training for this weekend’s Fort William World Cup round. We talk about how changing bike sizes and mental approaches are leading to more speed and better results, why Lourdes is consistently such a good venue for Canadian racers, and his rivalry with Loic Bruni to be the fastest rider on the Specialized Gravity team.

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Finn Iles floats over the rocks of Lourdes at the 2022 World Cup season opener. Photo: Bartek Wolinski / Red Bull Content Pool
Canadian MTB: Lourdes was a big race for you, with your best elite result yet. How did the weekend play out?

Finn Iles: Lourdes was my career-best result so far. I was super happy with that. I actually came into Lourdes feeling really confident on my bike and feeling like I’ve done everything I could do this winter to be prepared. For me, I think it’s just a matter of confidence and knowing I’ve done everything to perform the best I can at that race. I was focused all weekend, and really happy to get a good result under my best for the first race of the season.

How was the race run itself? Watching on screen, it looked like the fans were insane.

Yeah, Lourdes … that was one of the best races we’ve had in years. Especially after COVID and having no fans at a lot of the races, to have 40,000 people at the first race of the season was insane. The vibes were at an all-time high. Having everyone on the side of the track for racing was so cool.

My race run was actually really good. I didn’t feel like I was pushing myself too hard in a lot of sections, I felt like I was just riding really consistent and strong. My race run went exactly to plan, exactly how I wanted it to. I felt like I knew how well I was riding on that course so if I just rode the way I knew I could I would come out with a good result.

Honestly, I was pretty shocked to get second. But I’m stoked to have that result, especially going into the rest of the season.

RELATED: Watch the run that earned Finn Iles second place at Lourdes World Cup

Finn Iles Lourdes World Cup 2017
Finn Iles won in Lourdes as a junior in 2017, as jr. world champ, and in 2016.  Photo: Jan Kasl / Red Bull Content Pool
Lourdes has been a good venue for you historically. You won there in 2016 and 2017 as a junior. Is there anything about the track that suits you particularly well?

Yeah, I actually said that going into the weekend. I felt like Lourdes suits Canadian riders. Stevie [Smith] was second there in 2016. Mark [Wallace] was second there in 2017. I was second there in 2022. In juniors, I won there in ’16 and ’17 and now Jackson won in ’22 and Gracey as well.

That track just suits Canadian riders. I think it’s because it’s fast and it’s rough and it’s technical. That’s the stuff that we have on the west coast. That’s what we grew up riding on. It’s cool to see the younger generation do really well – I guess it’s the same generation that I am – but it’s cool to see those juniors do really well.

I was just stoked on the track. It’s hard to not like that track. I feel that liking the track is such a big part of riding well, too. If you’re having fun you’re going to ride fast.

RELATED: Canada’s triple-podium World Cup weekend in France

Iles congratulates Bruni on his win at 2019 worlds at Mont-Sainte-Anne. Photo: Nathan Huges / Red Bull Content Pool.
What about beating Loic Bruni? Does being the fastest on the team feel different? Is the team rivalry a real thing?

Um, it definitely feels good to be the fastest rider on the team.  I think there is a bit of a rivalry. It’s hard not to have a rivalry, especially when the team’s someone as competitive as Loic and someone as competitive as myself. No matter what, there’s always going to be that “I beat you that weekend,” and “but I beat you that other weekend” in a team. Loic’s given me his fair share of beatings and, you know, I hear about it from time to time. So it was definitely nice to beat. And to beat him in France, that was cool.

That being said, I’d definitely like to get a win. Being Loic feels good, but beating everyone would be the best.

You had a strong finish last year, with that fourth in Snowshoe, and now this second in Lourdes. That’s not just one result, that’s starting to be more consistent speed. Is there anything that’s changed for you? On your bike or training?

Yeah, I actually changed my training program going into last season. That’s been a good change for me. As well, I’ve moved up a bike size. So I feel more comfortable on my bike.

I think the biggest change for me is in my mental approach. To be honest, I think I just needed to calm down a little bit. I feel like I was sort of getting ahead of myself and making too much of little things. In the end, it’s just bike racing and I needed to get back to the reason I was racing in the first place. That’s just because I love riding my bike. Focusing more on the riding has really helped me out more than anything, as well as changing a few little things along the way.

You mentioned you changed your bike size. What did you go from, and to, and why?

Specialized has different sizing options, using their S1, S2, S3 sizing. I was on an S3 and I’ve switched to an S4 … S4 Custom, they’re calling it. It’s an S4 but with a different reach on it. It’s a little longer than the standard S4. The new size has made me a little more spaced out on the bike and I feel like that has allowed me to maneuver the bike better as well as find a more neutral position and allowed me to ride a lot stronger.

There was a long break between Lourdes and the second race in Fort William. What have you been doing to keep that pace sharp and keep momentum?

I’ve just been training at home spending a lot of time on my road bike and downhill bike. The past week, I’ve actually been off the bike.* I had a pretty big crash and hit my head, so I’ve been struggling a bit with concussion stuff. But I’ve been feeling a lot better over the past couple of days and I should be 100 per cent good to go for Fort William.

It’s a little bit frustrating to have a crash in training, but these things happen and I’ve done everything I can do to be 100 per cent for Fort William so I’m not too stressed about it.

*Taking time to fully recover from any sort of head or brain injury is important. For the sake of clarity, this conversation happened on May 6, 2022. Iles has since decided not to race in Fort William due to lingering concussion symptoms.

Elite World Cup downhill racing starts on Saturday, May 21 in Fort William, Scotland. You can watch finals live on Red Bull TV on Sunday, May 22, 2022. Check here for the full broadcast schedule.