At just 20-years-old, Brit mountain biker Rachel Atherton is smashing records, most recently picking up a first at the Mountain Biking World Championships in Val di Sole, Italy. We grab five minutes in her busy schedule to chat prizes, punctures and being a pro biker…
Have you always loved being outdoors?
How did you get into mountain biking?
Growing up I was always with my brothers. We used to ride our bikes and build jumps all the time. When they started racing BMX I did too, then we slowly switched to 26-inch wheels and downhill mountain biking.
When did you decide to take it up full time?
I remember finishing school and thinking that now is the time to make a go of it. Growing up I never wanted to be a pro biker, I just rode for the fun of it. I wasn’t even aware that you could be a pro biker! When I’d been racing for a few years I realised one day that this was what I wanted to do. So I did it!
Did you find it pretty hard to break into a male-dominated sport?
Not at all. I always rode my bike when I was little and when I started racing it was rad to be with other people who liked it as much as me! I’ve always been closer to boys than girls and having brothers made it easier to understand males. I feel safer around them and I think that’s why the sport appealed to me, although at first I didn’t realise it. I think that it’s good for girls to be in supposedly male-dominated sports. (Watch a fantastic clip of Rachel and her brothers in action here!)
Do you consider yourself to be an adrenaline junkie?
I guess so, yeah! I like the variety of feelings that riding my bike gives me. Other things come close, but there is nothing quite like it.
Can you give us a run down of your average day?
Certainly! I’ll get up and check the weather then have breakfast, ideally outside, then hit the gym for training of some kind. A few mates turn up and we go riding somewhere around our house. Then I’ll come home and have lunch, ride the track and jumps in our garden, perhaps ride some more downhill, maybe some motorbike action. Then have some more food and go and hit one of the local farm/street parties to dance the night away!
And if you could have the perfect day, what would it include?
Oooh, there are so many perfect days to be had. It depends on my mood, but during the season when we are racing so much, my perfect day would involve the sun, my friends, and either trails (dirt jumps) or motorcross. Then a BBQ on the decking, music and drinks. Pretty chilled out, happy and perfect.
What are your plans for this summer?
The summer is our busiest time of year. We pretty much race every weekend, so the plans for this summer are to win! When I’m at home I really just like to relax with my family and train hard. Me and my brothers have just bought our first house so that’s pretty exciting.
What’s your favourite place to ride?
This is starting to sound like a home-sweet-home affair, but really my favourite place to ride is around my home! It’s so hard to name a single place in the world because different tracks offer different terrain and different feelings. Anywhere with a good ride to the top of the hill is good I suppose!
Do you still get nervous before a big contest?
Yes, for sure. But the longer you compete for, the better you become at dealing with nerves. Now I quite like them, as I know how to handle myself and my nerves, and they make for better racing,
What is the atmosphere like behind the scenes?
Behind the scenes at races, in our pits, its pretty laid back. I operate best when I’m having fun, the whole team does. But when the time comes to be serious we are. There is quite a lot of competitiveness floating around at races, but I think it needs to be there to make good racing.
You must travel a lot in your line of work: what are your suitcase essentials?
Painkillers and lots of shoes! You never know what the weather will do!
What have been your biggest career setbacks?
Injuries for sure. Last year I missed the entire season apart from two races. It’s a pretty hard thing to deal with but it makes you stronger in the long run.
And what have your greatest achievements been so far?
Well, definitely every World Cup win I have had, and at the second World Cup when my brother Dan won the 4X, my brother Gee won the downhill and I won the women’s downhill, that was pretty special. And then winning the 2008 World Championships, where Gee also won, That was special too. (Watch the highlights here!)
Who or what are your inspirations?
My brothers are hugely inspirational to me, and I am lucky to know some amazing riders. I see traits in everyone that I admire and its great to learn from them. I get inspired when I think about people who have pushed their bodies to the limit, people who have fought against all odds. When I’m in a beautiful place with my friends and family, doing what I love, I feel such an urge to go out there and give everything my all. (Watch a fantastic clip of Rachel and her brothers in action here!)
What affect does your career have on your personal life?
Quite a big effect I think. My life and my career are so closely entwined that it’s hard to separate them sometimes, my friends all ride and my boyfriend does and that’s the way I like it.
How do you relax when you get the chance?
I like to ride my motorbike, re-arrange the house, I also read a lot. I like to go fishing and shooting, see bands, cook, dance, shop, chop wood, do menial household things! I love stone walling on a sunny day, and regular stuff that has nothing to do with bikes!
What’s up next for you?
The very next thing for me is the next two World Cups. First we’ll be heading to Canada, then to the Crankworks Festival in Whistler, then to Australia, then the final World Cup in Austria, then home! After that, wherever the wind takes me!