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Rachel Atherton to Race Leogang – Interview, Bike Check & POV of Lenzerheide Finals

rachel atherton interview winning lenzerheide 2023 world cup dh plans to race leogangCredit: Nathan Hughes
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In one of the greatest returns to racing in the history of our sport, Rachel Atherton took the win at the first round of the 2023 UCI Mountain Bike World Cup Downhill in Lenzerheide last weekend. The British rider’s 40th World Cup Win comes after an extended break from competition.

This was Atherton’s first race since Lenzerheide in June 2022, where she placed 6th. Before that, we hadn’t seen Rachel at a start gate since 2019 when she snapped her Achilles tendon in Les Gets. And of course, her time away from racing was further prolonged with the birth of her little girl, Arna, in 2021.

baby arna rachel atherton celebrate winning lenzerheide finals world cup dh
Baby Arna gets her share of the limelight as Rachel parades her around the Lenzerheide finish arena after winning her 40th World Cup DH. Credit: Nathan Hughes.

We’re over the moon to see Rachel back doing what she loves, and back to her winning ways! After the dust settled, we caught up with the DH superstar to find out how she felt throughout the weekend, hear her reflections on her race run, and to learn whether or not she’ll be defending that leader’s jersey in Leogang next weekend!

We also grabbed Rachel’s AM200 M to check out her preferred settings for race day.

Interview: Rachel Atherton

Bikerumor: I think I may have just witnessed one of the greatest returns to racing in the history of the sport. Congratulations! How does it feel to win the first round of the season?

Rachel Atherton: It feels totally surreal, 100% hasn’t sunk in yet. I honestly had no idea whether i’d even qualify – I was so nervous! It’s easy and comfortable for me training at home at Dyfi Bike Park on tracks that I know well, but a World Cup is something else entirely – all through practice I really struggled. There were definitely points that I almost didn’t race, I just had no idea if I was riding well or not and the other women looked so good!

rachel atherton 2023 world cup downhill lenzerheide am200 m dh bike
Rachel won the top sector by over a second, gradually losing time over the course of the track to 2nd place Cammy Balanche. Overall, she did enough to secure the win by 0.534 seconds. Credit: Nathan Hughes

Bikerumor: How much opportunity have you had through winter and spring to try different setups on your race bike?

Rachel Atherton: Well I ride a lot at home – Dyfi Bike Park – I ride downhill pretty much every Friday and Saturday and it’s a mix of fun laps with friends and fast gnarly laps! The last couple of months I’ve been trying to take it more seriously and starting to try full runs as I’ve thought more about racing.

It’s such a process though. After I had Arna, I just wanted to ride for fun. It was so refreshing for me as a racer, to not put that pressure on myself and just ride for fun and enjoy the laps and not to stress about what line I’m on, is it fastest, to not care if the group of friends stops a lot to chat etc. It’s been amazing not to be pushing myself to be fast all the time but instead to just ride and I feel like as a bike rider I’ve gotten better because of that.

I have had a lot of bike time which certainly counts for something!

When training full time, I never really had loads of bike time because I’d be so exhausted from the gym etc. I’d just turn up, do 5 full runs, then go home, so this new pace of shredding all day with mates, having a laugh, trying things like stupid lines, big jumps, doing massive trains etc., etc… I feel like it’s really added to my bike handling skills and that feels so good!

Since I started thinking about doing a few races this season, the last couple months I’ve definitely started to work on my setup more, but naturally as I’ve gotten faster since having Arna baby, your bike setup gets better as you ride better.

But world cups are just so different so it was awesome to be back in the Fox pits with Jordi, Jules and the gang getting their advice!

baby arna and rachel atherton after lenzerheide world cup dh finals run
Credit: Nathan Hughes

Bikerumor: When did you decide you were going to race in Lenzerheide and what factors played their part in that?

Rachel Atherton: I guess I have always known that I wanted to do something this year. I raced Lenzerheide in 2022 and was 6th, and that was literally with no training at all, just chilled riding at Dyfi Bike Park. And, as I said, living at the Bike Park has given me so much.

Other pros come up and we ride together – I ride loads with Brendan Fairclough when he comes up, Bernard Kerr has just moved to our local town to shred more, Peaty and Laurie, Jordan Williams, even Nina. Other racers come to train at Dyfi a lot and that gives me such a good opportunity to ride with them and when I can sort of keep up with the men it gets me buzzing and fired up and it would always make me question, “should I race again” it’s always there in my mind when I ride fast because I love racing, it’s in my blood, I can’t escape that need to go fast!

So, I knew I wanted to race but I also don’t want to get hurt. I don’t want to be stupid, I have a baby, i have a lot of injuries, I know I need to train like **** to race world cups. There’s a reason everyone trains so hard, but I didn’t have the energy to train hard because Arna didn’t sleep very well, so I waited until she started to sleep better and I felt like I came back alive when I got some more sleep, so then I wanted to train.

I started training whilst she napped and honestly I’ve been training for about 2 months. It’s helped my mental health so much and then as I started to get a bit stronger I thought… Well, the “shortest and easiest” track is Lenzerheide! So, here we are!

Bikerumor: What were your expectations coming into Lenzerheide?

Rachel Atherton: Literally, I had no expectations! The women’s field is so fast now… watching on track the first day, I was honestly like “wow” they’re going for it!

Vero Widmann did this high line hopping over a rock into the off camber and I was on my first practice run. I could barely see a line and she was flat out already. I was like, oh s**t!

Rachel Atherton

I wasn’t even sure that I’d qualify. I just had no idea, but I kept saying to myself, “this is just for fun”. I chose to be here. I talked to Dan and Gee a lot and we all said, I’m not here to win, I’m just here because I love it and I just want to race and be with the team and promote Atherton Bikes!

rachel atherton interview winning lenzerheide 2023 world cup dh plans to race leogang

Bikerumor: You put in a seriously competitive qualification run. Did you have the win in your sights at that point?

Rachel Atherton: That was such a huge shock to qualify in 2nd and then 2nd in semi finals too. I was so surprised! Then I thought “don’t be stupid Rach, remember the goal, I’m not here to win, I’m here to race and put down a solid, safe run that I’m proud of”.

I 100% wasn’t trying to win, I just kept telling myself to be strong, breathe deeply, and be f***ing safe!

Rachel Atherton

With the new schedule it’s a lot harder physically doing two race runs back to back in one day. It’s savage on the body, so I was nervous as hell. But, it did give me more confidence that I must be riding my bike well and I must actually be stronger than I think I am!

rachel atherton top step world cup dh podium after perfect run
Rachel Atherton celebrates on the top step of the podium after what she calls “a pretty perfect run”. Credit: Nathan Hughes.

Bikerumor: Tell us more about your race run – did you know it was going well for you?

Rachel Atherton: By race day the bike felt amazing. The AM200 M is a seriously good bike, and that makes you feel confident straight away. I wanted to just do the same as semi finals. If I could get 2nd or 3rd, I would’ve been so, so stoked.

My lines were clever and safe and that made me feel confident. I knew I wasn’t taking any risks, and once you start that race day, it’s a snowball effect. The whole day is building and leading up to the the final run – the whole team get you to that start gate.

My run was awesome, my practice runs we’re really good so I knew I could do the same again, even though I felt really flat at the top before my run. Because we’d already raced semi finals, it was hard to get fired up to race again, and I was worried that I felt tired, but I looked over at Vali in the start gate and I thought “we will all feel the same, we’ll all be tired” so that helped!

My run was pretty rad. I fucking love racing because that’s the only time I ride like that – super committed to the gnarly sections and ready to lean into the turns a tiny bit more, and brake a little bit later… the track here is pretty gnarly and some sections the faster you hit them the easier they are, like the off camber roots, and some like the steeps. I need to be slow to be fast.

It was a pretty perfect run as far as I’m concerned, no big risks, not super sketchy, just solid and fast.

Rachel Atherton
rachel atherton red bull helmet leaders jersey 2023 uci world cup dh
The leader’s jersey draped over Rachel’s AM200 M following the first UCI World Cup DH Podium of the season. Credit: Bikerumor.

Bikerumor: At the risk of stating the obvious, you do now have a leader’s jersey to defend. Will we be seeing you in Leogang next weekend?

Rachel Atherton: It’s been a day of deciding that!!

We were planning to stay here in Lenzerheide for two days holiday then fly home. So, we’ve been talking all day about the pros and cons of me racing Leogang.

Originally, I said no, because I don’t want to be stupid, racing back to back is hard enough when you’re fully fit, but I haven’t trained enough and I don’t want to get hurt so I thought I’d go home, but the temptation is too much so we’ve decided I will go and race!

Rachel Atherton

I’m not racing a full season so it’s not like I’m chasing the overall title, but it just feels so cool to be doing this again and if I went home I’d probably get really down, so I’m prolonging the inevitable!

Bikerumor: Not a question: just want to thank you for being the incredible role model you are, and congratulations on your 40th World Cup DH win.

Rachel Atherton: Aww thanks, Jessie-May.

rachel atherton am200 m pro bike check lenzerheide 2023

Pro Bike Check: Atherton AM200 M Downhill Bike

Rachel rides the Atherton AM200 M downhill bike; a dedicated mullet with 200mm of rear wheel travel driven by Dave Weagle’s DW6 linkage. At 5ft 7″ (170 cm), she’s on a 460mm reach with a 50mm stem and a 450mm chainstay length.

Mechanic, Chris Kenward, tells us that Rachel prefers to run her suspension on the stiffer side. The Fox 40 Factory Fork’s air spring is populated with 5 volume spacers and 83 PSI. The Fox DHX2 Coil Shock is set up with a 475 lb/in spring. Neither damper is the current stock damper.

atherton am200 m dh bike rachel atherton fox suspension settings

Rachel’s drivetrain is set up with 165mm cranks from FSA, with the OChain Active Spider in the 9° position. At the rear, we see an 11-speed FSA cassette with the top two cogs removed to make it a 9-speed cassette. Chris tells us that, at home, the Athertons limit the bottom end of the cassette (remove the hardest two gears) as they like to pedal the bikes around Dyfi Bike Park. FSA don’t yet produce a 9-speed derailleur, so a SRAM derailleur takes care of shifting.

Rachel’s bike rolls on Stan’s EX3 rims (that MK4 sticker is incorrect) that are home to 2.4″ Continental Kryptotal Fr tires, both of the DH casing SuperSoft Compound flavor. Without tire inserts, Rachel runs 24 PSI in the rear and 23 PSI in the front.

rachel atherton pro bike check continental kryptotal fr tires front rear dh casing supersoft

In the cockpit, we have an aluminum FSA bar with a 40mm rise, cut down to 780mm wide. Finally, purple Hayes Dominion A4 brakes clamp 200mm Galfer Disc Shark rotors, front and rear.

Rachel Atherton’s Wining Run POV at Lenzerheide

Here’s a GoPro POV of Rachel Atherton carrying race winning pace down the Lenzerheide World Cup DH Track last weekend. Enjoy!

Good luck to Rachel and the rest of the Continental Atherton race team this coming weekend in Leogang. Will she hold onto the leader’s jersey? Let us know your predictions in the comments!

P.S. If Rachel wins this weekend, she will equal Ann Caroline Chausson’s record 41 World Cup DH victories.

athertonbikes.com

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nooner
nooner
11 months ago

Great interview Jesse! Hope you are going to Leogang? Cheers to Rachel, the Queen of DH!

Ashok Captain
Ashok Captain
11 months ago

Pretty much mirroring the comment below, but I gotta say – Chapeau Ma’am and am so glad that BR and J-M Mwrote about this incredible achievement. Thank you.

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