Rachel Atherton storms to world title in South Africa
Event: UCI Mountain Bike World Championships
When: 1 September 2013
Where: Pietermaritzburg, South Africa
Expectation can be a powerful thing. Something that Rachel Atherton knew all too well at the top of her final run in Pietermaritzburg.
Atherton was riding high in the world cup, overall leader with just two rounds remaining. Pundits were talking of a revival of the kind of form that saw the 25-year-old from Salisbury claim the downhill world title in back 2008.
The pressure was notched-up further on Saturday’s official timed run, which saw Atherton smash the opposition, a huge 16 seconds faster than nearest rival Tracey Hannah of Australia.
Yet in downhill racing, there’s no such thing as a foregone conclusion, when the slightest miscalculation can spell disaster, as evidenced in the final run by Atherton’s Great Britain teammate Manon Carpenter, who clipped a tree, crashing and losing almost a minute.
One by one the challengers came and by the time final rider Atherton took to the start house, the hot-seat hundreds of metres below was awash with gravity racing royalty; Tracey Hannah, Caroline Buchanan and fastest of all, Atherton’s world cup nemesis, Emmeline Ragot of France.
In the end, the pressure only acted as a catalyst for a blistering yet technically perfect run from Atherton, which, despite being described as ‘wild’ by the rider herself, carved over eight seconds off Ragot’s run, ending a five year title drought for Atherton, following a long and difficult recovery from a near career-ending road accident in 2009.
What they said
“It’s been a long time coming with me having won my last title in 2008 and so I was starting to wonder if it would ever come again.”
“I really wanted to these rainbow stripes so I’m just really stoked to have done it today!
“It was really tough but I heard all the people screaming and yelling on the pedally section and I was just like ‘Dig, dig dig!’ the whole way to the finish! I was in absolute agony and I think I’ll need a whole sea of salt to recover but that was wild!”
Why should this be the British Cycling Ride of the Year 2013?
To win a world title in any sport takes devotion, dedication and incredible commitment. To have the belief to retake the rainbow jersey after a five-year hiatus takes a special kind of talent, fortitude and resilience.
If ever there was any doubt, Atherton’s second world title elevated her into the pantheon of downhill’s greats.