Last weekend saw the Atherton siblings launch their very own bike brand, Atherton Bikes, at the London Bike Show where they were allegedly 3D-printing bits of bike on site! We caught up with Rachel to find out more about the grand plans for Atherton Bikes, but also to find out how she’s been getting on this off-season, and how her training is shaping up looking ahead to the 2019 Downhill World Cup Season.
Interview with 5X World Cup Downhill Mountain Bike Champ Rachel Atherton
BIKERUMOR: The 2019 UCI World Cup Downhill season kicks off in Maribor, Slovenia in just under 4 weeks’ time. How has the off-season gone for you, and can you tell us a little about what your training involves at the moment and how it will look in the run up to the first event?
Rachel: Yeah, I feel like I’m in the middle of my off season still, and everyone is talking about the first race and I’m like “no, I’m not ready yet!”. But I never feel ready. I started training quite late this year. I needed a good break before I started training again. So, I had quite a long time off, not with a strict training plan. But I’m back on it now. I guess we’ve ridden bikes all winter, testing the new bikes, but now it is more structured. Now I’m trying to get strong in the gym. That is what is important for me you know, the strength. Trying to get a strong as I can, to take the crashes, to take the day after day after day of racing.
BIKERUMOR: Have you taken any time off the bike? Have you taken time to relax, gone travelling, done some yoga, outdoor swimming?
Rachel: Yeah, I’ve definitely had time off after the last race you know, after World Champs. Last year I was injured after World Champs, so I spent the whole winter injured last year so I really missed having that time of just riding your bike for fun so this year I was loving it just riding for fun at home with your mates, just riding the trail bike you know, it was really good. We went on holiday but I was ill for the whole time. We did a bit of riding on holiday, we hired some bikes.
BIKERUMOR: Road or sticking to trails?
Rachel: Yeah mainly trails. I guess at home, I’ve just discovered a nice path along the estuary, so I’ve been doing that a bit with the dog on nice days, just to relax, not just going hell for leather down hills. So you ride out along the estuary and across the bridge and back and it is really nice, the dog loves it.
BIKERUMOR: So, you’ve 4 weeks until the next race, sorry to remind you…
Rachel: “Is it! Oh god!”
BIKERUMOR: What does your training plan look like? Do you start scaling down the gym work and weights?
Rachel: Yeah, I guess it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been an athlete for, you always have a question over what you’re doing in the winter. You’re never 100% sure, you’re like, “am I doing the right thing?”, but you’ve just got to stick to your plan. For me, it is a lot of gym work still, keeping that strength going. Moving down the reps but getting heavier, trying to get that strength up, and then on the bike, more interval based stuff so, shorter faster intervals. I do 10 second sprints. I do 2 minute intervals or 10 second sprints, and then long rides on the cross country bike, which is just a long climb and then a fast descent, so yeah, sort of shorter and sharper. One thing I’ve done this year is I’ve had to change up my training a bit. It has been slightly depressing but my back just can’t take it as much anymore. A lot of athletes, you know as you get slightly older, I just can’t do heavy squats or heavy deadlifts anymore which I’m gutted about because I love it.
BIKERUMOR: Can you recommend a solid body weight gym exercise for downhill racers?
Rachel: I’d say a good old press up you know. It is something a lot of people suck at. I suck at it. I had a long time out the gym and I started back and I couldn’t do a minute plank, and now I’m smashing it.
BIKERUMOR: Do you do press ups with claps?
Rachel: No, because my wrists are too bad! It is so bad! So if I do press ups I have to do them on dumbells or on handles because I’ve had so many operations on my wrist. A lot of people say, I’ve got this injury or I’ve got this injury, you know. I’ve had so many injuries and you do have to adapt, so I do split squats instead of squats. That takes the pressure off your back enough. And I do press ups on handles or dumbbells, and lots of shoulder stuff to try and keep those shoulders healthy.
BIKERUMOR: Getting the right fuel in the right amounts must be a real priority for you. Do you have a strict nutrition plan whilst training that you stick to rigidly, or do you just listen to your body and eat food and drink caffeine at will like the rest of us?
Rachel: Yeah, not like crazy rigid but I’ve definitely been learning over the years. It is so interesting, and I always bore people to death with it really but I discovered acupuncture a few years ago and that kind of Chinese medicine, that whole take on things is so interesting. I’ve got a few books; I’ve got this one book ‘healing with whole foods’ and it is so incredible and it really explains how to eat for your body type and your constitution; if you’re a cold person, if you’re a hot person, if you’ve got heat or dryness or deficiencies, yin and yang, and all this stuff you know. It is really really interesting and it makes such a hell of a difference. Especially after the season when you’re really knackered. I get a lot of sore throats and swollen glands. I had glandular fever a few years ago and that was really hard to recover from. When I’m run down it starts coming back. My weak point is my glands and my throat. Eating right for my body type really helps.
BIKERUMOR: Nutrition seems like it is a massive passion of yours.
Rachel: Yeah it is, you notice it so instantly. Every week I find new things and new recipes. I love cooking and I think that is something that can be done so easily. People say “oh, I haven’t got time”. One of my favourite things is cooking everything from scratch so I can eat really healthily, but I try to cook it as quick as I possibly can to prove that you can do it; last night I got back from riding and I was absolutely knackered, my boyfriend was out still. I just put on a pan of brown rice to boil, got some coconut oil, chopped up some leeks, fried them for a bit, them put some Quorn in, carrots, put it all that in together. Had it on really low – went for a bath and then when I got out it was ready. It is super healthy, really good for you and it is easy to do. You’ve just got to get into the habit. You just have to really practice, then it becomes second nature you know. Smashing out loads of garlic and ginger, and just chucking it in. It is just practice, same as anything really.
BIKERUMOR: In terms of fueling, do you use anything caffeine as part of your daily regime?
Rachel: Yeah definitely. It doesn’t matter how healthy you are, especially as a racer and an athlete where you’ve got like THIS minute to perform, and that’s all it comes down to. Caffeine is a proven performance enhancer. Everyone uses it, and for me, it is part of every day. You are so tired, you really are pushing it sometimes. You’re on the mountain for hours and hours and you need that caffeine. For me it is Red Bull. I’ve tried to brew a coffee in the middle of the woods but it doesn’t work, so a can of Red Bull is easy you know. You can take it with you. You can have it there. Admittedly I do spill it quite a lot in the gym and Gee, my brother, always gets really angry with me – we train together, well, we train at the same place. And if I spill it I always leave it sticky all over the floor and he gets really cross with me (much laughter).
BIKERUMOR: I know you are gluten free. Do you have a sweet tooth like everyone else. Is there something that is your guilty pleasure?
Rachel: Yeah definitely, I have a sweet tooth. A lot of the time it is important to be happy and to feel happy and like you’re not depriving yourself. Maybe it is more of a women’s thing but I definitely feel happier if I’ve had some chocolate. Apart from the fact that a bit of sugar really gives you a kick. It can be anything from chocolate to cake or Haribo. It is all sugar and all good!
BIKERUMOR: We’re going to shift the conversation a little now to talk about periods. It is being talked about quite a lot in the news at the moment. As a female athlete do you ever consider your menstrual cycle in your routine?
Rachel: Yeah it is, and over the years I’ve definitely learned a lot. It is definitely something you learn as you get older. It can be horrible because when you are doing it and you don’t know what is going on you feel crap you know. I remember being on training camps and road riding day after day. One morning you wake up and you’re dead, you’ve got literally no energy at all and you’ve got a 2 hour road ride to complete and you’re just absolutely dead. I remember I smashed like 3 snickers bars and then I was good to go, and that was the only thing that could get me out there. I think it is really interesting. You definitely have changes that occur in your pelvis, and you can hurt yourself a lot more easily in the gym if you’re lifting heavy weights in the gym around the time of your period, so that is something to consider. And obviously, if you’re really not feeling it just don’t try and force yourself you know, do something else.
BIKERUMOR: In terms of competitions, have you ever found that it has affected you in any way at all?
Rachel: Yeah, I actually have, and it is totally the opposite to what you would think. Some of my best performances and biggest winning margins have been the day I got my period. And it is crazy because you would think that it would be the opposite. I remember the World Champs in South Africa, and a few big races in Fort William with big winning margins. It has always been the opposite of what I thought. You get your period and you’re like “Oh my god, this is going to be the worst day” but for some reason you get like a big burst of energy and you feel like, kind of strong. Maybe the days before are the worst days, when you feel at your worst. It would be interesting on the results sheet to have where everyone was in their cycle, because it would be so interesting! You’d be like “well she won, and she just got her period” (much laughter), yeah, it’d be amazing I think. The girls have talked about it before and like, a lot of them talk about the pill and how that affects them and I’m like “just don’t do it, you’ve got enough going on in your body without taking that”.
BIKERUMOR: Moving on to the race calendar, 2019 sees the addition of an 8th round to the World Cup calendar, in Snowshoe, West Virginia. Have you ridden the track there before?
Rachel: No, I don’t think anyone has. There’s been races there before but I’ve not been, and most of the people haven’t been. A new venue is exciting, a challenge, and should be good.
BIKERUMOR: Can you tell us what your favourite track is, are there any that hold lots of memories for you?
Rachel: Definitely Fort William, in Scotland. That holds a lot of memories, some good, some bad. It is my home World Cup so the atmosphere up there is incredible. It is probably one of the busiest World Cups. 40,000 people and it is just crazy and so cool. The track itself is really, really technical, very physical. A lot of rock and a lot of gravel and really demanding on the body and the bike. So when you conquer that, you get to the bottom and feel just amazing.
BIKERUMOR: Which round this season do you think poses the biggest challenges to riders?
Rachel: Well, a lot of it depends on the weather. That is one of the biggest things we’ve got to play with; if it rains half way through a race weekend or on race day and you haven’t practiced in the rain, that kind of puts the cat amongst the pigeons so, I think the weather is the biggest challenge, and yeah just plain old racing!
BIKERUMOR: Your most exciting news recently was of course the launch of Atherton Bikes. Could you explain to us briefly the process of additive manufacturing and how this works so well for bike frame building?
Rachel: Yeah this year we took the giant leap for… man kind? (haha), and launched our own bike company, Atherton Bikes. It has been a huge learning curve you know, a crazy thing to do, half way through our careers, still racing. Most people wouldn’t consider it until they’d stopped racing and had the time. It has been a massive team effort, but we’ve joined up with some incredible engineers, that have the know-how of additive manufacturing which, to you and me is 3D printing. Aerospace and Formula 1 technology, they’ve worked in that sector for years and so we thought, why not bring it to the bike industry; it hasn’t really been done in cycling. We 3D print the lugs, which are kind of like the cornerstones of the bike if you like, and then the tubes are joined with an adhesive and bonded together to create the frame. It really allows for customisation which is the most exciting thing. You know, every single frame built can be customised to the rider and fit perfectly, which is a huge advantage. It is pretty exciting.
BIKERUMOR: You’ll be racing the 2019 season on Atherton Bikes flagship prototype DH bike. How are you getting on with it in training? Have you ridden many iterations of prototype yet?
Rachel: Yeah we’ve been intensely testing the prototypes this winter and really honing it and fine tuning it ready for that first World Cup in April. The best test is a World Cup race track, putting it through its paces, smashing it every day and you know hopefully, it will perform as well as we hope.
BIKERUMOR: Are you on the final bike now?
Rachel: It is going to be a long game process over the whole year really. That’s the idea with 3D printing. Most companies have to commit to Far East manufacturing and mould a minimum quantity, whereas we can change each frame as we make it. If we learn things during the race season we can keep progressing and refining that bike.
BIKERUMOR: Do you think you’ll change it up during the season to adapt to different tracks?
Rachel: Yeah, a lot of people have asked that question – are you going to change the bike depending on the track, but I think as an athlete when you get used to your, tool, if you like – you have to ride that bike down every single track, you really get used to the length of it, and the angles, and I think changing it drastically wouldn’t be a very good idea but definitely little tweaks here and there would be within reason.
BIKERUMOR: Are we going to see enduro, all-mountain, trail and XC bikes from Atherton Bikes in 2019? If so, when can we place an order?
Rachel: We’re going to launch the first products to market around May. We’ve two all-mountain trail bikes, and then the downhill bike. They’ll be launching early summer. We’ll start with those but we’ve some pretty hot plans to add more to the range over the next two years. We’ll see. For me, kids bikes is an exciting thing so that is where I am really passionate. We’ve got talks about an E-Bike, gravel bikes, we want to do it all basically, yeah.
BIKERUMOR: Us UK riders are desperate for news on Dyfi Bike Park. How is the development coming along, and when can we book an uplift?
The Bike Park is going swimmingly. We are chomping at the bit really. It has just taken a long time. It will probably be around the same time as the Bikes are launched. Any time now basically. This spring we hope to open the bike park.
BIKERUMOR: Finally, 2018 Tour de France winner Geraint Thomas is pretty nifty on the descents. Do you think you could beat him on an Alpine road bike descent?
No, definitely not (much laughter). I’d be terrified. Maybe if I had my full face and knee pads on but I don’t think that would look very good.
Credit for all pictures goes to Moonhead Media.