After she secured her third rainbow jersey
The World Championships have been wrapped up in Andorra and the downhill season has finally come to a close. It’s been a series that has taken us around the world, from the blistering hot peaks of Lenzerheide to the sloppy mud of Mont-Sainte-Anne and everywhere in between.
There has been one consistent thread throughout the year’s racing though – the domination of Rachel Atherton. Atherton won six out of the seven World Cup races this year and she can now add to that a World Championships crown.
Rachel was last to ride down the hill on Sunday and she smashed the time of Manon Carpenter by 3.238 to crown a nearly flawless year. Third place went to Tracey Hannah who finished nearly ten seconds back on Rachel’s time.
A third world championship is no mean feat, but Rachel has had a whole career of unbelievable achievements, we’ve listed the best here
Sunday Times Young Sportswoman of the Year – 2005
In 2005 Atherton won Junior downhill World Championships and the Sunday Times Young Sportswoman of the Year award on the back of it. Former winners of this award include gymnast Claudia Fragapane and tennis player Heather Watson who have both gone on to great successes in their respective sports.
Ten years ago downhill was even more of a minority sport than it is today, so for Atherton to earn national recognition for her racing was surely a sign of her massive potential.
The Atherton Domination – Vallnord 2008
Rachel won the women’s downhill race by 8.47 seconds, Gee won the men’s donwhill by 0.31 seconds and Dan won his first and only 4X title. Mountain biking’s fastest family had arrived in style and a season of total domination would follow for Rachel.
Watch: Dan Atherton now races enduro, here’s his GT Sanction
Becoming Britain’s first ever female World Champion – Val di Sole 2008
In the nineties and noughties the French dominated the women’s downhill World Championships, first with Anne-Caroline Chausson and then Sabrina Jonnier. Up until 2008, no British woman had won the downhill crown (a fact that seems unbelievable given the current British domination).
However, on a rough Val di Sole track Rachel put 12 seconds into second placed Jonnier. Rachel hadn’t just beaten the rest of the field, she had decimated it. This was a symbolic changing of the guard and the beginning of a new, British dynasty in World Cup racing – long live the queen(s)!
Racing through the pain – Maribor 2010
The 2010 race in Maribor, Slovenia was a wash out. It was wet, windy, slippery and cold – even the chairlift was closed. Despite the difficult conditions, Rachel was able to keep it rubber side down and take the win.
This was not just a routine win for Atherton though, it was made all the more impressive by the fact she was riding with a broken finger and her hands strapped to the bars. Not only was Rachel showing she was faster than the rest of the women, she was probably tougher too.
The home turf double – Fort William 2013
Despite enjoying dominant seasons in 2008 and 2012, a win at Fort William had always eluded Rachel. ‘The Bill’ holds a special place in the heart of any British downhill rider and the partisan crowd are ravenous for a home win every year.
In 2013, Rachel was finally able to get the monkey off her back as she smashed all challengers on Aonach Mor. To make it even sweeter, Gee won the men’s race too.
The second World Championships win – Pietermaritzburg 2013
Pietermaritzburg is a track that’s loathed by downhill riders for it’s flat pedally sections and lack of real technicality. It’s a track that suits the burly pedallers over those with the best bike handling skills – this was shown most clearly when enduro rider Jared Graves was able to come third there on a trail bike.
However, Rachel’s win there was significant because it showed how much she had increased her physical capabilities. In her youth she had been known primarily as a technical rider, however beating all challengers at Pietermaritzburg showed that she would now be a favourite on any course.
Helping the next generation – Red Bull Fox Hunt 2014
Rachel is not just a top racer, she’s a great ambassador for the sport as well. She’s a big advocate for getting more women involved in the sport through organising training days, sponsoring the junior women’s category in the British Downhill Series and running the Red Bull Fox Hunt.
The Red Bull Fox Hunt is a women only event where Rachel chases a bunch of racers down the hill and tries to catch as many as possible on the way. The first event happened in the Pentland Hills in Edinburgh and is being re-run again this year.
Rachel Atherton’s hard work saw her named as the 23rd most influential woman in sport by the Independent earlier this year.
The hat-trick – Vallnord 2015
Rachel often claims she would rather win World Cup races than World Champs, but there’s no question that the World Championships are ultimate test of a rider. You have one run to go flat out and test your pure speed against the rest of the riders – chequers or wreckers.
Rachel won her third title on by far the hardest World Champs track we’ve seen in a number of years. She still has a long way to go to challenge Anne-Caroline-Chausson’s nine titles however.