It’s a cut throat World being a junior on the World Cup circuit. Two years to master your nerves and find your form on the hardest tracks the world has to offer before you get tossed into the elite ranks.
For most of these kids, it’s their first time racing abroad, and against competition that actually challenges them, all while trying to learn the ropes of the World Cup circuit. A baptism of fire.
The introduction of a separate junior category in 2013 means that the juniors field is more competitive than ever with most elite teams hosting a young ‘un. Now you have to beat more than 50 juniors each week to collect a trophy, not just five or six of the fastest.
Of course, it used to be a tough gig before there was a junior category too. Only a small circle next to your name on the result sheets would indicate you were a few years shy of the rest of the pack, leaving you to fend for yourself in a field of Elite pinners.
In Lenzerheide, Finn Iles successfully wrapped up his second consecutive junior downhill title. An impressive feat considering there were still two races of the year to go. He’s certainly one of the world’s hottest riding prospects and has already ‘juniored’ most of the elite field having finished ‘seventh’ in Vallnord and secured the best time of the whole field in a rain affected Mont Sainte Anne.
With ten wins under his belt in just 14 races, he must be itching to properly test himself against the elites. But is he the greatest junior ever? He follows a long lineage of post-pubescent, pimply pinners who have proven themselves way before they can grow stubble. Some of whom have gone on to massive success (Hill, Hart, Vouilloz) while some have struggled to quite turn that early pace into a clutch of World Cup wins (Fairclough, Bruni).
We’ve judged the riders on three categories – how many ‘wins’ they took in the junior category, how many World Championships they won and their highest elite finish. Of course, numbers don’t always tell the full story. From 2008-2009 Brook MacDonald and Danny Hart were locked into a fierce battle – both great riders and World Cup winners but none of them really able to get a stranglehold of domination over each other as youngsters so their figures are comparatively weak.
Either way, the numbers do tell certain stories, let’s get stuck in:
Wins – 10/14 (71%)
World Championships – 1/2 (50%)
Highest elite finish – 1st (rain affected), 7th (non-rain affected)