Rachel Atherton: In Her Own Words

Apr 19, 2017
by Red Bull Bike  
The first UCI Mountain Bike World Cup downhill race of the season gets underway in Lourdes, France on April 29-30. British star Rachel Atherton has recorded 15 consecutive World Cup and World Championship wins in a row, including a ‘perfect season’ in 2016, but it hasn’t always been the case. Here, the Queen of downhill racing talks about her early life on two-wheels.

Rachel Atherton poses for a portrait during Red Bull photoshoot in Aberystwyth Wales UK on March 09 2017 Olaf Pignataro Red Bull Content Pool P-20170319-00327 Usage for editorial use only Please go to www.redbullcontentpool.com for further information.


When I was a young eight-year-old girl first racing BMX, I could not win a single race. A British girl called Charlie Phillips, the sister of former world champion Liam Phillips, always beat me and I used to sing in the car on the way to races the Irish folk song To Win Just Once. So I grew up hungry for that win.

Eventually it came but I didn’t exactly plan then to win as much as I have, although winning races has always been a motivator for me since I was little, and I guess that’s important to develop that drive.

I wasn’t even aware last season I was going to equal Anne-Caroline Chausson’s record of consecutive wins until I’d actually done it. The team knew but kept it from me so I didn’t get stressed out! It's surreal as I used to chant “Anne-Caro” in my head when I was riding—she was my absolute hero and I still get nervous talking to her.

Rachel Gee and Dan Atherton pose for a portrait in UK on February 5th 2014 Nathan Gallagher Red Bull Content Pool P-20140319-00138 Usage for editorial use only Please go to www.redbullcontentpool.com for further information.


But the biggest influences were closer to home and I pretty much owe my entire life to my brothers, Dan and Gee. I wouldn’t have started riding and racing bikes if they weren’t doing it.

When we started racing mountain bikes, Dan used to say to me “if you want to be the best you have to ride your bike outside of races and practice more” but I just wanted to race and then get back to school sports.

Then Dan and Gee started to win races and I thought “I want to do that” and I got really into the racing.

Growing up with the boys was just mad, I wanted to be with them and do what they did. I had no idea how to be a girl, I wore their old clothes and rode their old bikes.

Rachel Atherton performs during Red Bull photoshoot in Aberystwyth Wales UK on March 09 2017 Olaf Pignataro Red Bull Content Pool P-20170319-00366 Usage for editorial use only Please go to www.redbullcontentpool.com for further information.


It was just so gnarly being a 14-year-old girl, totally out of her depth trying to get down the hill but there was no other way so I had to learn to ride it.

And when they started racing abroad, I missed them so much so I guess the only way to hang out with them all summer was for me to race too!

As the big brother, Dan did everything for me: got me old bikes, taught me how to ride and told me “if you want to race World Cups you have to start wearing goggles”. But I was like, “no way”, at least initially.

I think chasing anyone who is a little bit faster than you is going to bring out the best in an athlete—I don’t think it matters if that person is male or female.

But looking back my brothers were stronger than me, they were more skilled and therefore I was always pushing to keep up.

Rachel Atherton performs during Red Bull photoshoot in Aberystwyth Wales UK on March 09 2017 Olaf Pignataro Red Bull Content Pool P-20170319-00347 Usage for editorial use only Please go to www.redbullcontentpool.com for further information.


Men are generally more aggressive tackling things (of course there are exceptions), more reckless, stronger, that’s the way the human race has evolved but women, when it comes to mountain biking, can often be more skilled in their delivery, more calculated, more analytical. Because we aren’t as strong physically, we have to be more clever. Both sexes can learn from each other.

I have learned to be selfish and self-confident from men but, from being a woman, I have learned to be clever in my choices, to listen to my body, to listen to the earth and trust in things. To be a great athlete, it’s important to be in touch with both sides.

Going back to my brothers, having that support no matter what, them always there for me to ask questions and laugh with, that definitely allowed me to relax and develop into a natural racer.

Rachel Atherton performs during Red Bull photoshoot in Aberystwyth Wales UK on March 09 2017 Olaf Pignataro Red Bull Content Pool P-20170319-00357 Usage for editorial use only Please go to www.redbullcontentpool.com for further information.

I will never forget that feeling of Andorra 2008 when we all won World Cups in our respective disciplines. It was insane and I could have burst with pride.

There are many times when I would have given up my race win in a second if Gee could have had it instead—it’s the hardest thing to do well yourself as your sibling struggles to find speed or is injured.

We’ve all grown up a lot and don’t live together anymore. Dan has stopped racing downhill and I started riding and training on my own.

Rachel Atherton performs during Red Bull photoshoot in Aberystwyth Wales UK on March 09 2017 Olaf Pignataro Red Bull Content Pool P-20170319-00359 Usage for editorial use only Please go to www.redbullcontentpool.com for further information.


So we spend more time apart now and I don’t just blindly follow my brothers anymore. I am a woman who knows how to train and ride a mountain bike in my own right and I want women everywhere to have that recognition and respect that we can do it for ourselves.

For me, does that mean I’ll retain the rainbow stripes of World Champion? I’d love to but it’s such an all or nothing race—one day, one run, there are absolutely no guarantees.

Rachel Atherton relaxes during Red Bull photoshoot in Aberystwyth Wales UK on March 09 2017 Olaf Pignataro Red Bull Content Pool P-20170319-00335 Usage for editorial use only Please go to www.redbullcontentpool.com for further information.



MENTIONS: @redbullbike



Must Read This Week

84 Comments

  • + 115
 LOL! Let's move past the brother stuff, shall we? She'll smoke most of us here anyway. And that step-down road gap jump on the fourth pic... no way I'm doing that!
  • + 9
 Couldn't agree more, however that step down road gap jump is really Gee in a wig.
  • + 12
 Only "most of us here"??
  • + 6
 I'd let her smoke me anytime she wanted!
  • + 2
 Agree completely!!
  • + 1
 I'd love to hit that step down gap Frown looks fun
  • - 1
 The think about DH is it's just you vs. the clock no? Or am I missing something?
  • + 73
 I gave her a fist bump in the chair line at Whistler. It was neat.
  • + 9
 DON'T WASH THAT HAND!
  • + 60
 So now she agrees with Claudio? I am so confused now.... I'll go talk to the earth; maybe it can enlighten me???
  • + 31
 There is no doubt her brothers have been an influence on her riding career. And without a doubt her brothers had someone to look up to as well, it's just that they were most likely men. The men they were racing against, the men that were winning world cups.

But Rachel and her brothers have something in common. They have the work ethic and the drive that has allowed them become as good as they are. And maybe some genetics Smile

I think were you get into trouble here is making the assumption that she is only as good as she is because of her brothers. Which is ridiculous. Nobody gets to where the Athertons are without the work they have put into it.
  • + 13
 I think she just wanted to clarify and make sure she stated it clearly. I think she would be in a similar position if she was the youngest boy instead, people would still be like "oh that young Atherton just followed his brothers", which, as she said is a "yes" but also kinda like calling someone a "natural" - it ignores the aspect of hard work. She followed her brothers by riding hard and training hard.

I mean shit, just having a sibling who is as motivated as you is super cool, because it's a constant person who's there to help push you and vice versa. I am sure she has helped her brothers, and each of them helped each other.
  • + 4
 ease up keyboard hero
  • + 2
 Probably her statement to Claudio upset her brothers too. No more bedtime cookies since.
  • - 2
 @handynzl right on my brother!
  • + 23
 "...but women, when it comes to mountain biking, can often be more skilled in their delivery, more calculated, more analytical. Because we aren’t as strong physically, we have to be more clever. Both sexes can learn from each other." Too true. I have seen and experienced this and it applies in other areas of life too.
  • + 30
 I hear the same thing about rock climbing from my kick-ass rock climber wife. Typically, men can rely more on their strength while women rely more on their technique.
  • + 10
 @jbravo: Totally thought of the rock climbing thing as well. It's the one sport where the women are nearly as good as the men at the top levels, maybe even pass them in the future with more women getting into the sport.

My wife started climbing after me and especially when it comes to sport, she's just better. Some bouldering problems I can beat her on, just because I have power and reach. She's got weight on her side and what seems like a natural ability to be efficient.
  • + 11
 This is why I like watching Womens DH - smooth, calculated and precise. It is like watching a completely different event compared to the Mens DH.
  • + 5
 @StackingItSince1991: just like a martial arts movie...
The men use harsh facial expressions and big kicks, the women however, have far better technique and look far more artistic. Michelle yeoh and zhang zhiyi for instance.
  • + 2
 @StackingItSince1991: Yeah, and it lasts so much longer.
  • + 2
 @jbravo: so true. My 14 year old ass kicking skier daughter says the same thing.
  • + 2
 @StackingItSince1991: Same here. It's a shame RB coverage of the races boiled it down to just Top Five, more time for sugar water ads and Bromance, I'd imagine.... :/ I can't even remember the last time somebody like Mio Suemasa appeared on the screen....
  • + 2
 But the point of it is time from a to b. If the better technique balances out the lack out strength, why are the men so much faster?
  • + 1
 @justindisgustin: Because it doesn't negate the inferior strength. Women can't make up that gap naturally. They can reduce it with modern training techniques but their physiology only takes them so far. Men can however learn to be more focused and calculated with training and habit formation.
  • + 19
 Why is it when someone needs to toughen up we say,
"Grow some Balls"
'Balls' are fragile and weak, to toughen up we should be saying,
"Grow a Pussy", because pussies can take one hell of a pounding and just keep coming back for more.
  • + 4
 Well said my friend, instant classic... I liked the insight on her transition in the sport. I come from a large family of siblings and it was always a competition in everything from sports to eating... So, I can completely comprehend...
  • + 13
 Last time I tried listening to the earth I got a belt when I accidentally touched the live against my ear.
  • + 3
 that gets your attention in a hurry-don't it! still chuckling.
  • + 1
 LOL
  • + 9
 I thought this was an awesome read! Errybody giving her shit about listening to the earth, cmon! I think she just means being in tune with your surroundings, give her a break!
  • + 5
 I thing this whole started as an overeaction mostly because it all started with a random comment from a color caster, who are literally paid to say random shit to make boring bits entertaining, so expecting factual evidence from them is just a no. (Go try talking non stop for a couple hours) Rachel is right in being mad with the whole issue it takes a lot of f*cking effort and hardwork to get where she is. even if she did followed her brothers thats obviously not why she is sucesfull anyone of us can go to an elite at the bike park and ask to follow him, mtbers in general are nice people and they will most likely agree, so finding world level athetes to follow is not reserved to having them as brothers if any of us can do it why are we not winning a lot of world cups? Because it takes a lot of will power that very few people have and for that I respect Rachel.
  • + 1
 Looking at the silver lining, it also opened up the conversation and put it closer to center stage. If she would have simply stated her points without controversy, fewer would have heard.
  • + 2
 @jbravo: yeah you are right, I just think that is a bit unfair making Claudio and Rob the "bad guys" in this story.
  • + 3
 His whole comment was "thats certainly part of it." She crazy to criticize Cladio over it. She should try commentating and we should see how that goes. I bet she'll stop the flow of commentary to give the politically correct history of the riders success - BS. Yes she works hard. Yes she just said her brothers helped above. No Cladio did not say anything wrong.
  • + 5
 Surely we all progress from following faster riders down the hill and it's pretty clear Rachel needs to be following the men down (brothers or not) because none of the women were good enough to touch her last year. What a year, maybe never be done again by anyone! Was for me the athlete of year across all the sports I watch. Anyone down on her should look at themselves and ask whether they could commit to anything like she has done for the good of her sport as well as her own race weekends. Total respect and complete awe
  • + 5
 As the big brother, Dan did everything for me: got me old bikes, taught me how to ride and told me “if you want to race World Cups you have to start wearing goggles”. - Really, it's that easy :p
  • + 8
 I just bought some goggles, but they forgot to put my number plate in the bag...
  • + 7
 Everyone should cut her some slack. She is a fucking legend on a bike.
  • + 2
 That last paragraph really made no sense contextually. They should rather have done this as another long interview such as the Gwinn one. Would really want to read that, but this was poor.
  • + 2
 @NicoBoshoff - that was the same reaction I had. After doing such a great job on the Aarons Gwinn piece, I was looking forwards to a meaty, in depth interview with Rachel Atherton. But instead we get a bit of a soapbox piece. I totally concur with what she has to say, but IMHO PB missed a great opportunity to start an "origins of the athlete" series.

I did crack up when she said she still gets nervous talking to Anne-Caroline. There's a very level headed lady for you.
  • + 5
 I'm offended and need a safe space.
  • - 2
 HAHA
  • + 2
 I have so much respect for her as a racer and she clearly earned her success but it's amazing to think that at the BDS this year 15-16 year old boys were going faster than her.
  • + 4
 Who cares?
  • + 3
 It was just so gnarly being a 14-year-old girl, totally out of her depth trying to get down the hill but there was no other way so I had to learn to ride it. Lol.
  • + 1
 Claudio didn't say anything wrong and let's put the shoe on the other foot. How good a commentator would Rachel make? Judging by the interviews I've seen she should keep her mouth shut. Sick racer - but not a great sport.
  • + 1
 I hope that someone can rise up an challenge Rachel Atherton before she reaches her DH twilight (and goes Enduro).
I think Caroline Buchannan in the next few years could be that person.
  • + 4
 That Atherchin - just saying.
  • + 5
 Its what helps them Atherwin.
  • + 4
 Remember the time Claudio pushed her....buttons
  • + 1
 She is so clever and mentally strong. I can't imagine how many won and loses races did to accomplished that level of serious confidence.
  • + 3
 She's better than 90% of us on here, no doubt
  • + 4
 90%? i'd say 99.9 % Wink
  • + 1
 @Bruccio: your probably right
  • - 1
 I also think tha all a female potential talent for MTB are all riding Horses. Horse sports are the only ones I can think of where males and females compete against eachother. Imo if a profeasional Horse rider chick changes to MTB she could domiate. If Gwin can win without a chain then a chick could win.
  • + 3
 Learned to be selfish from men? Hahaha! The gender pay gap is real!
  • + 1
 These are the words of someone who can't let things go. I should know. I admit my mistake, apologise, and try to move on. It's a struggle.
  • + 2
 Why are we even discerning between men and women? It's mountain biking and we are mountain bikers.
  • + 1
 Agreed
  • + 1
 I just fucking love her. She is such a ledge!
  • + 0
 Now I'd rather think that Gee is so fast because he has been riding with Rachel
  • + 1
 Exactly! It's one thing to say that an athlete improves by chasing someone faster, but is this really a case of the chased having to push harder and faster to say ahead? Probably both.
  • + 1
 its just called 2 brothers
  • + 1
 So whats the drama with Claudio and Rachel? I'm confused?
  • + 6
 Claudio said during live commentary at one of the races that Rachel is fast because of her brothers. She in turn got upset and said it takes hard work to get where she is. Both of which are correct statements. So......yeah.
  • - 2
 Claudio is just jealous because she could beat him any day, any track and probably in a fight.
  • + 11
 Long live Claudio! All hail Claudio!
  • + 24
 I once timed Claudio's run and compared it to race times. It was good enough to easily get on the women's podium and he rode it blind. Give him a few more practice runs and I know who I'd put my money on.
  • - 2
 hahaha yes are you saying her bros are only fast because of her?
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