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Rachel Atherton on performance, pain, sacrifice and success

Mountain biking legend Rachel Atherton will take part in the inaugural Prudential RideLondon-Surrey 19 this summer as part of a team from Silverline, official tool partner of Prudential RideLondon. We caught up with the five-time world mountain bike champion to talk about performance, pain, sacrifice and success…

What are you looking forward to about Prudential RideLondon in July?

"I’m really looking forward to finishing along The Mall and seeing all the riders as they cross the Finish Line."

You have been riding for more than two decades. What does it take to be a high-performance sportswoman?

"Literally blood, sweat and tears, as well as going through the pain barrier with injuries, illness and gruelling sessions in the gym. I can’t tell you how much I hate doing sprints, but it has to be done. 

"My brothers Dan and Gee are both pro mountain bikers and we formed Atherton Racing when we were very young so that we could race together and run things our own way. Working so closely with them is awesome but also extremely stressful – there’s a lot of competition out there! "

What does an average week of training look like? Does road cycling play a part?

"I’ve been working with a new coach for the last two seasons and we’ve made some changes.

"The biggest shift has been a move to focusing on the quality of work that I do rather than just trying to clock up hours in the gym or be out on the bike chasing numbers. I’ll typically hit the gym twice a week to work on whole body strength, but we also mix things up with yoga, riding moto, climbing, stand up paddle boarding – anything to keep it fresh.

"I’ve always loved putting in long sessions on the road bike but this year has seen me doing less road miles in favour of shorter sharper efforts, which can be unbelievably nasty. I dread those sessions!"

What has been your proudest moment so far?

"There have been some absolutely unreal times, for sure. Winning the 2008 Elite World Championships in Val Di Sole by 11 seconds was pretty special. To be ahead by such big margins is always an amazing feeling and shows the hard work is paying off. 

"The ‘triple crown’ with Dan and Gee in Andorra in 2008 – when we all won our respective World Cups on the same day – is one I’ll never forget. And obviously recently the long winning streak in 2015-2016 was mega."

You've had your fair share of injuries. How do you find the courage and commitment to bounce back and get back on the bike, literally?

"I have certainly had my share of knocks! Most of them have been around my shoulders which will never be 100 per cent. It all started when I crashed with a truck when I was training on the road in America – I needed a nerve graft for that one and I’ve had eight more operations since.

"Last year, I dislocated my shoulder at the Fort William World Cup and broke my collarbone at the World Championships. Luckily, we work with an amazing team. I have masses of support and a strict rehab programme so it’s easier to see the end goal."

You've been at the top of the sport for a long time and with that comes expectations and pressure. How do you cope with it all? 

"The longer I’ve raced for, the worse the nerves have become.  It’s still more than likely that I’ll be physically sick on race day, but a good routine helps. Once I am in my routine, as long as I stick to it, I know I’ll end up in that start gate ready to race. Singing also helps me – a lot! It keeps my mind busy so I don’t have to think about the ‘what ifs’. 

"Everything comes into my routine – when to practice, when to eat, when to sleep, when to watch my GoPro footage, when to warm up, when to drink my Redbull and eat Haribo! It all helps get me ready to race and takes the thought out of it."

How important is it to prepare properly for races and to have the best equipment?

"As a team we need to be able to rely on our equipment all the time. It’s no good being in the start gate anxious about something on your bike. Having the right equipment that you can trust and rely on is vital. We’ve got some great equipment partners like Silverline Tools, GoPro, Endura and obviously Trek. Having these brands support us really gives us confidence in our equipment which has a huge positive influence when you need to perform at your peak."

The number of women in cycling has risen massively. Is that something you are pleased to see?

"It makes me so happy! Every time I turn up at a trail centre I’m amazed at the number of women out on their bikes. Biking in general is so accessible now. You can literally find a local centre, hire a bike, even hire a helmet and off you go. When I’m on my road bike too it’s brilliant to see other women putting in the miles. I’d encourage anybody, any age just to have a go – you’ll soon be hooked."