Another perfect season in 2017?
Above: Watch Rachel Atherton’s perfect 2016 season recap which breaks down each race and what it took to win each one.
In 2016 Rachel Atherton won every single round of the World Cup as well as the World Championships. How on earth is she going to follow that?
Before last season, no one thought perfection doable. Theoretically possible yes, but so unlikely and so previously unheard of. Not even Atherton herself thought it would happen; “Mostly when I did think about it I thought ‘nobody has ever done it so it must be impossible’. And in a way the closer it got to the end of the season, the less likely it seemed.”
Not many remember now but Atherton had a fairly serious back injury – picked in training – at the tail end of the 2016 season. Coming into the last round (Andorra) Atherton was actually uncertain that she’d racing at all, let alone winning. Her total victory is testament to her ‘living legend’ status.
Motivation and pressure
It’s going to be hard to follow that season. Not only must it be difficult to summon up the required motivation but for 2017 Atherton is on such a high pedestal that she is more of a target than ever for being knocked off it.
In an interview with Red Bull, Atherton is arguably already playing down the expectations. Can do another perfect season? “Almost 100% not. The last two years have been unreal. In 2015, I was second at round one in Lourdes. If I had won that first race that would be two perfect seasons.”
The pressure of the 2016 season is not something it appears Atherton wants to be in a hurry to experience again. “The pressure was unbelievable to put it altogether one last time. I wanted it so badly and I just tried to ignore it. I was pretty loopy the whole race, my emotions were all over the place.
“Each morning I would have to physically run around the pits early like a mad dog trying to get rid of enough excitement and energy so that I could contain myself and get on with warm-up and practice. I’ve never had that much nervous energy before that I literally couldn’t keep myself still.”
Nothing left to prove… almost
Atherton has stated that she wants to try to focus on enjoying her season a little more. “I want to soak it all up because no one races forever. Of course, I still want to win but not at all costs anymore. I’ve got nothing left to prove to myself and that I believe is the hardest thing to achieve.”
Whilst we believe her that she’s not concerned with performing perfection again, there is another achievement in sight that must still be a factor in Atherton’s mind. Namely, the potential for her to become the most successful rider in World Cup history. 41 wins is the target and although not mathematically possible this year, a strong tally of victories could see her gunning for that title in 2018.
Who’d bet against her?