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The World Championships at Val di Sole in 2008 featured one the most drama-filled downhill races in history. As the riders came down, Steve Peat was on the verge of securing his first World Championship with a quick time. Sam Hill, who currently held the World Championship stripes was just feet away from the finish line when he crashed and threw it away. One rider was left that could swoop the stripes from Steve Peat; fellow countryman, Gee Atherton. Gee ran the race of a lifetime and in bittersweet fashion became the 2008 UCI World Champion in downhill.

Val di Sole 2008, Gee wins his first Elite DH World Championship. photo by Gary Perkin
Was winning World Championships a specific goal for you the year you won?
It was for sure. I'd had a few years of under-performing at World Champs and decided it was time to change some stuff up and change my approach a bit

Did you approach your winning race differently than other World Cup races that year?
No, not really. Once I was at the race it was pretty much business as usual for me, as much as is possible at World Champs.

What is one piece of your preparation that you feel is unique to you and no one else?
Just chilling with Stevie Bell at the top of my run. He's so chilled...a pretty unique guy.

Did you work closely with your National team and coaches when you won?
Not especially, no. The GB team are always pretty good for support but it is hard to work closely with them when we are away racing World Cups all year.

How important was your preparation in securing a victory the year you won?
I raced all the way up to the World Champs weekend, So I was feeling sharp. I think that helped me a lot
Gee and sister, Rachel, both earned World Champ stripes in 2008. photo by Sven Martin
Your Victory
As a World Champion, I imagine you think about your winning run often.  Let's break down the experience a bit...How did you feel the night before your race run?
I was pretty relaxed, just chilling with Rach [Atherton] in the hotel. Looking back, I think we both knew we were on for a big weekend.

How did you feel riding up the lift?
Like I was ready to get wild!

What was it like rolling into the start gate?
I didn't have any different feelings to normal. I remember thinking how chilled out I felt.

Recount your run in detail.
If I'm honest, I don't really remember my run. I remember thinking I was taking it too steady and had to pick up the pace a bit, but other than that I dont remember that much.

photo by Sven MartinWhen did you realize you had the winning run?
I had qualified fastest, so I knew I had won when I crossed the line. I remember Peaty nodding at me to say I had got it. He didn't look that stoked but he was dead cool about it.

What do you remember most about the day?
I remember the few moments after when all the team and Affy and Rach were all grabbing me, saying I'd done it. It felt rad. I remember a crush of media dudes around me and Clay [Porter] was there just bouncing up and down, his camera was pointing up in the air and he didn't care, he was just stoked. I remember being stoked seeing how happy he was.

The Payoff
Did winning a World Championship effect how raced after the victory?
Yeah, I sucked for a year after.

How did your victory effect your career and your future with mountain biking?
It was pretty huge, definitely a key moment for me, you know? It's pretty cool being able to say I was world champion.

How important is getting another World Championship win to you?
Yeah, its up there.

Gee Atherton swoops the stripes, Val di Sole, 2008
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In General
Aside from the World Champs you won, which World Championship is most memorable to you?
My first one, in Colorado [Vail, 2001]. The track was like nothing I had ever seen, completely nuts, but amazing. A few moments before my run, a truck backed over my bike, so it was fucked. Andy Kyffin leant me Steve Peat's spare bike which was pretty cool of him, but it was like riding a horse. I was pretty small, so I struggled a bit.

As downhill mountain biking racing grows, do you think the World Championships will always be the ultimate title?
I guess that is a personal thing. I think it's just as cool to win the World Cup overall championship. It's a more accurate measure of talent, I think. But winning World Champs is cool, too.

A few weeks after World Champs, Gee was chucking his carcass bigger than anyone at Rampage
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Do you think Gee is ready to step up his game again in 2012? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

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