Interview: Rachel Atherton 2015

rachel atherton

Whether you’re a mountain biker, or not, the name Atherton is quickly becoming a household name. Between Dan, Gee and Rachel, the Atherton family has accumulated over 25 championship titles in the mountain biking race scene! The youngest of the triumphant trio, and only female, Rachel Atherton, has had a killer race season this year and continues to work hard to promote women’s riding.

I haven’t been riding for the longest of time myself, but I’ve always loved watching mountain bike races and seeing these athletes hurtling down mountains, pushing the limits of the human body and overcoming some terrifying obstacles and injuries. Rachel Atherton has always been an exciting rider to watch for me. She makes riding look easy, but is able to carry a delicate balance between aggressive riding and graceful manoeuvrability. I frequently watch her race and say to myself, “She’s not human. Can’t be.” Her focus, passion and skill are inspiring for any rider, male or female, and I was totally star struck to meet her at the Red Bull Foxhunt this year.

The second women’s Red Bull Foxhunt took place in Scotland last month, coordinated by our 2015 World Champion, Rachel Atherton. This mass start downhill event encourages women to race, meet one another and support female riders in mountain biking. I caught up with Rachel over the weekend to chat about her race year and the importance of the Foxhunt to her.

rachel atherton

Hi Rachel! Firstly, massive congratulations on the race season this year. You rode so hard, and passionately. I feel we saw a different side of you almost, and it was so exciting to watch! You looked to have ridden with such determination this year. Where did this drive come from, and did you feel that change in yourself?

Yeah, I think I’ve said it before, but there was definitely a pivotal moment when I was up at the start at FortWilliam World Cup, with Joe my mechanic. I was sick with nerves, dreading it really, but then it was like a switch flicked over in me. Joe said to the team after that he literally saw my whole body change. I just thought, “I can do this.” It didn’t stop me getting sick before all the races though!

Going into next year, how will you physically and mentally prepare to retain your title, and does this add more pressure?

There is always pressure, whether you win or lose, I’m not sure which is the greater – impossible to say really since all the pressure comes from inside. I do try very hard not to think of the past, or where I am in the overall, or what anyone else is doing, but it’s what I tell the girls that I work with on the BDS – just focus on your race. It’s not always that easy to take my own advice! What I have learnt is how important it is to have some downtime before training for the next season becomes all-consuming.

More and more women are getting into mountain biking, and events like the Red Bull Foxhunt are perfect ways to meet other women and have an introduction to competitive racing. How important is it to you to support female riders, and encourage the next generation of athletes?

The Red Bull Foxhunt is ideal for women looking to get into the racing scene and try it out for the first time. It’s also fun for the more experienced riders and just getting everyone together really. I find that women are more confident with mass starts, and I want events like these to inspire confidence and excitement for racing. These events show a lot of comradery between women which is what this sports needs, more support!

The track this year is a little more technical. Some bigger features and some difficult heather to navigate through. What do you think of the track, and what’s your favourite section?

I came up during the summer to oversee the track build and walk each section because I wanted to make this year harder, offer more lines, and push the riders a little more. The track is great for challenging the more experienced riders, whilst catering for the beginners with easier lines as well. My favourite bit has to be the mass start with all the riders gathered together and charging off down the mountain. It’s amazing to see and be a part of.

This year the Red Bull Foxhunt sold out in just 24 hours, which is incredible! Surely that shows just how needed these women’s events are, do you think there’s scope to open the applications to more riders next year?

It’s amazing just how quick the Foxhunt sold out this year, I thought the website was broken on the day the applications opened! It’s great that so many women want to be involved, and there’s certainly room to expand the event in the future, providing we don’t exceed the size limitations. This is the second year that we’ve run the women’s Foxhunt, so we have a good foundation to build and expand on in the future.

A lot of women are looking to get more involved in racing, but aren’t sure where to start with regards to training. You speak highly of yoga for core and balance, but what essential training do you think is necessary for the mind and body?

You need to look at all of these areas to make the most of your chances. I love yoga and view it as much a part of my training as lifting weights in the gym. It has surprised me how few of the girls have any real focused training plan so I have some ideas for tackling that issue next year – watch this space! Everyone can start to get their body in the best possible shape by eating right – organic where possible, loads of colourful veg, and if you suspect that there is something you aren’t getting enough of, don’t be afraid to supplement – there are excellent pro-biotics that I take, based on loads of different grasses, and they don’t taste THAT bad….!

And finally, how does your off-season calendar look, and when does training start for next year’s races?

I don’t have a whole lot of downtime. We get the month of November off which is important to me for rest and catching up with family really. Then it will all kick off again in December when training schedules begin to get prepped racing next season.

Chatting with Rachel was a highlight of the Foxhunt for me. She’s super lovely and easy to talk to, it’s easy to forget that she’s the current World Champion!

Her passion for the sport and for women’s riding is refreshing, and I love hearing and seeing the efforts of athletes who support that. I’m excited for what she has planned in the future, and I’m already crossing off the days in my diary for the next Red Bull Foxhunt! I wish Rachel all the very best of luck defending her title in 2016, and she continues to be a total badass icon for all riders out there.