Rachel Atherton first met
Mille Johnset in 2012 when Mille was a flower girl at Hafjell handing flowers to Rach for her 15th World Cup win. At the tender age of 11, she had already been racing for a year and had won the 2012 Norwegian Championship.
“My first race was a small local race in Drammen called Aron cup," Mille said. I loved the excitement, the speed and the feeling of flow. I was already hooked – even though I was the only one in my class! I know Rachel had the same experience many times."
In 2013 she was a World Cup course sweeper and seeing her ride the steep and technical track the team all agreed that this was somebody that they be should be keeping a close eye on! Rachel said “Even aged 12 or 13 Mille was so strong! Its so exciting to be able to help her develop her potential on a bike.”
Part of the ethos of the Atherton Academy is to provide a pathway to World Cup success without the pressure of young riders having to deliver results or be too much in the public eye. but after her 2016 season, when in addition to the British Downhill Series she also swept to victory at Red Bull’s Foxhunt there has been a definite surge of interest in Rachel’s protégée!
Rachel said “Mille is so mature, she is so sorted with regards to how she presents herself, her instagram account gives a real sense of this girl’s dedication and drive, she is having fun riding her bike, training with her friends, she doesn’t feel the need to strike sexy poses or to wait for some editor to come along and organise a shoot, she is telling her own authentic story – and she has almost 10,000 followers already – she’s so switched on. It’s exciting how a few of the girls coming through into Juniors now are all so good at promoting themselves and their sport, I follow them all!"
"But Rachel is my inspiration," Mille admits. "She’s so kind to me with loads of tips and advice. It really is like being part of the family; when I come and stay in the UK with the team I usually stay at Gill (Head of Communications) house and get woken up with her kids jumping on me – I’ve got a little brother the same age so it's like being at home!"
"I’m pretty good at packing my bike (less than 10 minutes) but its great to have mechanics Pete and Joe around for any more serious fixes," Mille carries on.
"I’m pretty serious about my training – I go to the Norwegian School of Elite Sports. It’s great because we have time to train during school hours. Every morning we go for a 2-3 hours ride – it's hardcore! I do have a less serious side, though. I love just hanging out with my friends, having a laugh. Brage Vestavik has been a friend on the Norwegian training squad for about 4 years so I’m super excited that he’ll be here for my first World Cups, I have a girly side too – I’ll always get my nails done before a race – I guess its pretty balanced in the end!"
Team Director Dan Brown said, “our primary objective for Mille has been for her to gain some solid race experience. We took racing pretty easy in 2016, just the IXS Cup and a couple of rounds of the BDS; unfortunately, Mille was off the bike for 10 weeks after a crash left her with internal bleeding, 2017 was a bit more intense!"
Because of the UCI rules and how they apply to Juniors, Mille will be racing this year’s World Cups for the Norwegian Federation. Whatever shirt she’s wearing, we will be supporting her 100%. We haven’t set Mille any targets for 2018, except to have fun. It’s a massive step up to World Cup level and often riders find that first year of Juniors very disorientating, I know that our new team-mate Charlie Hatton has talked to Mille about his own experience of struggling to make that necessary leap of confidence. All that said the thing about Mille is that she is so stoked to ride her bike, and we wouldn’t be surprised to see that Norwegian jersey on a podium very soon!
Words: Gill Harris
Images: Dan Hearn / @Welshi 23 / Peter Lewis / Thomas Killgenbeg / Mille Johnset.