American Richard Rude won his first world title in the junior men's downhill race held a few weeks ago in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa.
"It means a lot to win the Worlds. It's nice to have the title of number one," said Rude to Cyclingnews. "Being number two, you don't really get much. Being a world champion is a big deal."
Rude should know. Last year, he was second at Worlds. Racing among the elite men in the World Cups, he consistently finished in the top 30, occasionally cracking the top 20s. He finished 23rd overall in the World Cup.
The last-year junior from Redding, Connecticut had a challenging season up until Worlds. "This year my racing hasn't been what I expected to be. I think I was maybe top 25 at Fort William and that was maybe my best result up until Worlds. This year I've been struggling a little bit, and I was really happy to come to Worlds and do well."
"I was feeling like if I didn't win this, it would be kind of a let down. I knew it was my last year as a junior and it was my last time to prove myself at a junior. I had to win or it would have been over and I wouldn't have been happy."
At the most recent World Cup round in Hafjell, Norway, Rude finished 55th among the elite men With one round to go this weekend in Leogang, Austria, he sits in 56th in the elite World Cup standings.
Rude began competing at a young age and has been going fast ever since. "I started racing cross country just for fun when I was eight years old," he said. "I've always been riding cross country, then I got a bit into BMX, and then I slowly turned to the downhill. That became my main focus when I was 12 or 13."
Given his cross country background, Rude does well on pedalling tracks, like the one that was used for Worlds in South Africa. While some downhillers were complaining about the amount of pedalling, Rude said, "I don't ever look at this course and be scared of it. I know I've done the training. I almost look forward to it. I'm usually confident coming into this."
That said, he noted that tired in downhilling is not quite like tired in cross country.
"In downhill, it's a different type of tired. In that minute of pedaling jumps, you really get tired. It's like a hold on feeling and you don't have much left."
He said he sometimes misses the kind of tired a rider gets after a cross country race, but there hasn't been time to work cross country events into his race calendar lately.
Closing out the season in his rainbow stripes, Rude is already looking ahead to his first year in the elite ranks.
"This title will help my confidence, knowing I came out of juniors in 2013 being number one. Knowing I've done well in the past will help me keep going."