Over the years, Rachel Atherton has become a major player in downhill racing. After winning a host of categories in 2005, she was named Times Young Sportswoman of the Year and hasn’t looked back since.
She totally dominated the women’s downhill circuit in 2008, winning the World Cup overall and taking World Championship gold. On her way to the World Cup, overall she took four World Cup wins, and only missed out on a top two finish at one race, in Fort William. Unfortunately, Rachel was involved in a road accident during pre-season training and took time out to recover, missing the entire 2009 season. But she returned and proved she was worthy of world titles after taking an impressive number of victories in 2010 to leave her in seventh place overall in the UCI Women’s Elite downhill ranking. Since then Rachel has done nothing but go from strength to strength. Since 2008, she has taken five UCI World Cup titles (2008, 2012, 2013, 2015 and 2016) and four World Champion titles (2008, 2013, 2015 and 2016). Only overwhelming illness during the 2014 season put Rachel off her game, but she bounced back to redefine women’s DH racing, doing the ‘double double’ in 2015 and 2016, and completing an unprecedented perfect season in 2016 by winning every World Cup round. Rachel looks set to continue to dominate the world’s podiums in 2017, proving that she is the best female Downhill Mountain Biker on the planet!
Sport: Downhill (DH) mountain biking
Resides: Dyfi Valley, Wales, United Kingdom
- 4x female downhill mountain bike world champion
- 2x World Championship title holder
- Most successful downhill mountain biker of all time
- Record holder for most consecutive wins in UCI World Cup events (male or female)
Give us a brief outline of your in-season training routine.
I’ve made some changes this year since starting to work with coach Nick Grantham. The biggest shift has been that we focus on the quality of work that I do rather than just trying to clock hours in the gym or out on the bike chasing numbers! At this point in my career it’s about training smart.
[highlight]We have three main areas that I concentrate on:[/highlight]
1. Strength and power
Some of the tracks on the circuit are so wild I have to make sure that I’m physically strong enough to withstand not only the demands of race day, but also the training! I’ll typically hit the gym twice a week to work on whole-body strength. I’m probably lifting less in terms of the load on the bar, but I’m learning to shift it quickly. Nick is always banging on about force production versus force application. I just nod and smile at him!
2. Energy systems
I have to admit, I don’t always enjoy this part, but Nick assures me it’s an increasingly important area! In the off-season we get a lot of work done on the static bike, but once the season kicks off it’s about time out on the XC and DH bike getting runs in. This year I’ve done less road miles (fun) in favour of shorter, sharper efforts (no fun at all). I dread those sessions!
3. Special conditioning
This is probably all the other bits and pieces that I need individually as a rider to keep me race ready throughout the season. I’ve clocked up a lot of miles on my body, especially my shoulders, and there are some things that I will need to do differently to every other rider just to be able to get on the bike!
Are there big differences in your in- and off-season nutrition?
I’m pretty particular about the food I eat and I still like to keep on top of it in the off-season so that I’ve not got too much work to do once the season starts. Once we get to the season, it’s important to be organised with my shopping so that I know I’ve always got access to good quality food. I shop in the local market, but it’s miles and miles from home to the shops, so running out of food is a nightmare! I also start to shift my focus toward performance and accept that there are times when I simply need to fuel the machine!
The other thing that I have to consider in-season is meal timing. I’ve got this wrong on a couple of occasions when I’ve eaten a little to close to an interval session. I’ll let you figure out what happened! Over the years I’ve built up a good understanding of what works for me as a rider, but we still get help from a nutritionist to make sure we are doing everything that we can. Nutrition and supplements can be so confusing.
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6 years in a row….🇬🇧National Champ🇬🇧!! Really stoked to put down a really fun, fast & committed race run after a weekend with alot of shoulder pain, the poor shoulder isn't getting much rest with trying to get back upto speed on the bike & training to keep me strong – but it's amazing what you can do if you go with your INSTINCTS!! That's today's lesson 😉😆👍😘🔥🇬🇧
What advice would you give to a woman who wants to pursue a sport like yours?
Just go for it! If you love it, get after it! The biggest thing I’ve noticed, which I think will really help other women competing in DH, is that working hard on their physical preparation will have a massive impact on performance.
What are your thoughts on female equality in your sport? Have you seen growth in participants over the past few years?
Definitely, and it’s improving all the time! The number of women and girls I see out on the trails is mind-blowing. Often, when I was a girl, I was stood on the podium on my own! We had a great chat about this on the way back from some testing in California. Nick told me that parity at the Olympic games only happened in 2012 – that was the first time that men and women competed in all of the same events. I didn’t even realise that! Just imagine the missed chances to inspire the next generation. We’ve still got a way to go in DH, but the more coverage of women racing, the more likely we are to see future generations of shredders coming up through the ranks.
Is there something you wish you knew when you started?
Something my big brother, Dan Atherton still says to me all the time: “You don’t have to ride every race and every practise run like you have to win at all costs.” I’d have saved my body a lot of wear and tear!
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Photos by: Rutger Pauw / Red Bull Content Pool
Author: Tanja Schmitz
Founder and Editor of Fitness Magazine. You’ll find her behind her computer or on her bike, dreaming up new ways to improve or create content for you.