Howard Grotts is quick to admit he's not a good starter in cross country mountain bike races, but his start in the under 23 men's cross country race at the UCI Mountain Bike Worlds on Friday in Hafjell, Norway was worse than usual.
"Soon after the start, I heard someone yelling 'Hey you're 45th, good work, and that was not what I wanted to happen!'" said the young American mountain biker to Cyclingnews.
"I never have the greatest starts, but this was a really bad start for me. However, once I realized I was riding consistently and making up time on the leaders, I knew I should just keep doing my laps fast and pushing it."
By the end of lap one, Grotts was up to 33rd and then he was in 16th at the end of lap two. On laps three and four, he jumped up to ninth and seventh respectively, then into sixth with one to go. On the sixth and final lap, he made up three more spots.
"On the last lap, I'd made it up to fifth place and I was happy with that, but then I could see fourth and passed him. When I saw third, I had to give everything - it's a medal at the world championships after all."
Grotts took over third on the final, steep uphill. "All the US guys were running next to me cheering - I couldn't hear my own thoughts or anything or even how big of a gap I had gotten. I looked back and saw a gap and he had blown up a bit."
"I was nervous going into the final descent - I wanted to keep it upright. Coming into the finish and looking behind me and seeing no one was the best feeling ever."
Grotts had gotten third at the Albstadt World Cup in the spring, so he knew he could potentially make the podium at Worlds. "But a third place at Worlds means a whole lot more and now I know I can really race up here with these top guys even if I'm not as proficient at the starts and descents," he said. "I'm good enough and there's always room for improvement. I'm looking forward to next year and I'll be looking for that top step."
Grotts, who will still be an under 23 rider in 2015, is famous for his diesel engine - he tends ride consistently lap after lap while other riders start fast and blow up. "A lot of people can put out one good lap, but I can put out super consistent laps."
Grotts doesn't have a lot of riding plans for the coming off season. Instead, he's looking forward to switching over to some running. "There are a few half marathon running races in Durango which I'll do. They are good for the winter because it's too cold to ride all the time.
"I'm also thinking about doing the Cape Epic next March. It'd be an interesting experience and after talking it over with my teammates, I think I'd learn a lot. It would be a different style of racing and you just have to keep it fresh."
Grotts' medal was the first world championship medal for an American male in a cross country event in 13 years. The last was Walker Ferguson's bronze in the under 23 race at the 2001 world championships in Vail.