Mountain Bike downhill: Rachel Atherton gives a boost to Junior Women
Rachel Atherton has won almost every major international downhill title going and she’s not slowing down. In 2015, her goals include the UCI World Championships and the UCI World Cup, which kicks off in just over one week.
But before that, there is another major date on her calendar: On April 4 and 5, the British Downhill Series (BDS) gets underway in Scotland with, for the first time ever, a Junior Women’s category. And that is thanks in large part to the British Champion who is sponsoring the new category. Her aim: to encourage more young women to compete in her favourite sport.
“A dedicated category for the Junior Women will recognise and reward these Junior athletes,” she said. “I can remember being stood on the podium on my own sometimes. I want to make sure that the girls coming through today face stiff competition from the start. That’s going to have a positive impact on the entire field.”
The Director of the British Downhill Series Si Paton immediately embraced Atherton’s move and told her:
“If you build a shelf, you will always put something on it.”
In 2015, that shelf is a Junior Women’s category for 13 to 18 year olds. In the future, Atherton would like to see this divided into Juvenile (13-14 years), Youth (15-16 years) and Junior (17-18 years) as is the case for the Men.
“On average there are more than 20 girls across the whole Junior category for every round, which is mega encouraging when I look back to some of my early races. But next year we’ll be looking to explode this.”
While Rachel Atherton was able to rely on her older brothers Dan and Gee to pave the way for her, she realises that most young women coming into the sport are less fortunate.
“I’ve always been conscious of how I lucky I was having my brothers to help me. I want to be more involved with the women’s side of racing and offer the kind of help and advice that was such a huge deal for me when I started out.
“It was really important for me to work with the BDS because it is so much at the heart of what makes UK mountain-biking great. We’ve all come up through the ranks and I still love racing the series today.”
This year she plans to be at five of the seven rounds of the British Downhill Series, “running clinics, organising track-walks and generally being on hand with advice. I can’t wait.”
What better role model for these young women than the two-time European Champion, two-time World Champion and three-time World Cup Champion? Her advice to any girls considering taking up downhill is simple:
“Just do it! It is the greatest, most empowering thing you will ever do.”
Her enthusiasm is catching and fuels her motivation to keep chasing victories in major competitions: “My goal is always to win. I didn’t take the World Champs or the World Cup overall title in 2014 so there’s plenty to aim for,” she says. “Every race is different, every training session, every run. There’s always something to learn. And when those race nerves kick in it can feel like you’ve never raced before.”