Interview: Ruaridh Cunningham

Junior men’s Downhill World Champion on winning, training and getting into downhill

Ruaridh started racing Downhill in 2002 at the age of just thirteen. He finished third in his first race and, the rest, as they say, is history... 

He won the British National Series in both Youth and Junior categories and has been Scottish Champion three times.  The 2007 season saw some major changes with big sponsors coming on board. He was also looking towards getting some major results on the World Cup circuit, and he started working with Chris Ball to improve his skills and fitness - it worked, with a 12th place at the opening World Cup and finished with the aforementioned Junior World Champion jersey at Fort William.  

Ruaridh is looking forward to the 2008 season - his first year as a professional rider, where he will take his place amongst the other young guns, ready to realise their full potential amongst the established racers… 

Marcus Farley talks to Ruaridh about becoming Junior Downhill World Champion, his background and his plans for this year’s race season with the Chain Reaction Cycles/Intense team.     

Bikeradar:How does it feel being the Junior men’s Downhill World Champion?  Are you still pinching yourself or are you getting used to it now?

RC: At the time it was awesome!  It was my main goal for that year and I knew I was capable of winning. As time has gone on I've thought less and less about it, but then I’ll see a video or a picture of it and it puts a smile on my face.  Then again, I still want to go further in the sport and be known for more than just that race.

Talk us through the day.  How did the practice runs go? What was going through your mind as you set off on the actual final run? Did you think you were going to win it, or was it a pleasant surprise?

Well practice wasn’t too great in the morning, I ended up changing a couple of lines on my final practice run and Ii was getting pretty nervous a few hours before the race.  When I set off on my final run I just tried to stay as smooth as possible and not make too many mistakes.  It went well until around halfway and then I hit a photographer!  When I crossed the line I knew I had gone top three, as I knew Swanguen had done a 3.08 and knew I'd gone quicker than that. The crowd was wild when I eventually stopped and I checked the board and realised I'd done it!

It must have been great winning it for Scotland on home soil?

Yeah, I don’t think it could have been planned any better! I had loads of friends there and a lot of family too, so it was pretty awesome to do it for them as well as myself.

You’ve just signed for the Chain Reaction Cycles/Intense Racing Team.  What’s it like riding the Intense M6?

I've only been out on it once because of my knee injury. I really like it, all the parts on it are different to what I used last year, but within a couple of runs I had it dialled. The bikes are going to improve as the season goes on, so I can’t wait!

What’s it like sharing a team with the legend that is Chris Kovarik? Any tips you’ve learnt from him so far?

I've not even met him yet, but I'm looking forward to it. I can remember watching him as a kid and trying to put on his style down the local tracks. I think having someone with his experience will be a massive help, especially this being my first year as pro.

What’s your focus for this year? The World Cup? The UK NPS? The Senior World Championship? And what do you hope to achieve?

The World Cups for sure, I want to be consistently in the top twenty and achieve the odd top 10 result, too. World championships are also a goal but making the squad is a mission in itself! If I start the season how I ended last year then, for sure, the Worlds will be a big focus.

Can you tell us how you got into downhilling? And any tips for young riders wanting to get into it?

I started by ragging a hardtail round the local woods.  From there I quickly progressed and did my first race at the age of 13.  After coming third I realised that I wasn’t too shabby at downhill and figured I might as well give racing ago.  I think for young riders wanting to race, I would say just enjoy riding and ride loads, everything else will sort itself out.

What’s your training regime on and off the bike?

Well my coach Chris Ball sorts out my training for me.  It involves a lot of different workouts, road riding, cross country, gym, and of course a lot of downhill, too.

Most 18 year old guys are too busy chasing girls or drinking to concentrate on being World Champions.  What keeps you motivated and focused?

You can always progress, always improve on previous results and there’s always someone to try and beat. Also, being able to do something you love so much as a job is a pretty motivating prospect.

Who has inspired you the most?

Loads of people – Steve Peat, Sam Hill, Ricky Carmichael, Travis Pastrana to name a few.  I guess reading about guys like Steve, Warner and Steve Page in MBUK as a kid is what inspired me to ride in the first place.

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