Racing through the pain in Maribor 2010
There has been one consistent thread throughout the past decade or so of downhill racing though: the domination of Rachel Atherton.
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.
Some other Rachel Atherton blasts from the past…
Clearly Vallnord has always been kind to the Atherton clan as in 2008 Rachel, Gee and Dan all took home first place in their respective disciplines.
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.
Val di Sole 2008
Becoming Britain’s first ever female World Champion.
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)!
Fort William 2013
The home turf double.
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 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.