Gee Atherton won his first elite downhill world championship title in Val di Sole, Italy in 2008. Then the competition got tougher and year after year passed without another world title. Finally, on Sunday, six years later, he won his second rainbow jersey.
The win couldn't have come at a better time. Atherton was hoping to save a season that did not live up to his expectations.
"I'd like to have done better this season, but at least I'm finishing it off on a high note," he said to Cyclingnews. "I'm torn about this season. There have been some good results and some not so great results, but I think any time you finish in the top five in a World Cup, it's an ok season. The level of riders today is incredible. Anyone can finish on the podium at any race."
"I knew that the world championships at the end of the year were a chance to redeem myself. I had good speed at the end of the year here. I'm stoked I could put it together for this final race."
Atherton said there were a lot of differences between his first world championship win and this one.
"It was more of a plan to win this year. 2008 was an amazing race. I was a lot younger then, and I was racing by the skin of my teeth, bouncing down the hill. If I hung on and won, then that was amazing and if I crashed, then I was at the back of the pack and no bother."
"You approach every race different. I came into this one a lot more experienced and I knew what it would take to win. I knew what would go down. The world champs are always quite unpredictable and you have to take in as many factors as you can to take the unpredictability out of it."
During his run, there were a few times Atherton thought he had blown it. "I made silly mistakes. It's downhill mountain biking after all and at the end of the day, you never know what's going to happen. Unexpected things go down. You're not safe until you cross the line. Josh went down in the last 200m."
He was referring to Josh Bryceland, the last man down the mountain, who was leading the race until he came down wrong after a jump and broke his foot. Bryceland still somehow managed to finish fast enough to win the silver.
"I didn't know I'd won it today literally until the last man was down. It was a close call," he said.
Atherton said, "I think this world championships is the highest level it's ever been. There were six, seven or even eight guys who could have won today. That was quite intimdating coming into the event knowing that. It's not like it's a two- or three-horse race."
"Everyone has different styles and different approaches. If you're watching other riders to look for tips, who do you watch if there are eight riders who could win? It's important to ride your own race and focus on what you're doing and not look at the other guys too much."
Atherton doesn't look at the race footage or pay too much attention to the times of his rivals before his run. Instead, he focuses on riding his own race and not getting caught up in what is happening.
"I knew how fast I had to go and a lot of riders were crashing, but you can't pay too much attention."
Overall, the British star was delighted be world champion again. "It's an incredible feeling to be back in the rainbow stripes. Winning the world champs is never something you stop wanted and I never stopped working toward it."
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