athertons beaumont gt 2012-2-2
athertons beaumont gt 2012-2-2

Athertons fill some big boots, but gains a son in the process. This year sees a marked shift in composition of two major downhill teams; the Athertons/Commencal become incorporated in to GT, whilst Marc Beaumont suddenly has to absorb the full force of Atherton Racing – he becomes part of them, they become part of that, it becomes one…well something along those lines...

From Dirt Issue 120 - Febraury 2012

Words by Steve Jones. Photos by Steve Jones.

In the world of M&A (Mergers and Acquisitions) I don’t know whether this is a reverse takeover or not, but ultimately it means GT now have two of the three strongest British male downhill riders ever, one of our leading forces in women’s downhill (now that Tracy Moseley is taking on lighter duties), and Dan Atherton will, how shall I put this…meanwhile he will be shaping a new future against the enduro clock, in the woods, and with a whole new bunch of tools. Expect to see a fully functioning DA in the clear–fell and darker parts of our conifer woods this season.

The timing is notable. It’s exactly a decade since Steve Peat moved from GT to Orange, coincidentally a time that both Marc Beaumont and Gee Atherton were still in the junior ranks engaged in a battle to work out Sam Hill’s supremacy. It’s a similar time scale since the Athertons featured on these pages for the first time, but now it’s relatively safe to say that Gee has very much taken over Peaty’s mantle as the UK’s strongest downhill racer.

The addition of Beaumont (MB) brings with it a different kind of safety – be it fused, fastened or bonded, this has to be measured against the decision of ‘Atherton’ giving way to something very much more GT than family on the surface. Will it be seen as GT or Athertons? Each brings with it a perceptible difference. With so much momentum behind the Atherton’s I think a lesser rider would struggle in the tide yet Beaumont has sufficient genetic modification to make him immune to all this – some would call it ‘Made in Shropshire’. Shoehorning MB into the team might be the wrong word, for the Athertons have hardly been short of space in the World Cup car park, MB as an inheritance on the other hand gives a more accurate description of the origins of this new team.>>

The team image will be crucial because for a decade it has often been difficult to differentiate between one of three Athertons on the hill, on a good day it’s only the ponytail that gives it away. Whatever, behind the corporate identity are four individuals hell bent on World domination. They might all have the name GT in common, but that’s as far as it goes. The future looks good for GT, hell I can just see Rachel marrying Marc and next year the team will be brought to you by the Atherton Beaumont–Browns.

Dirt visited the new team at their north Wales HQ at the end of last year>>

Click through to keep reading...

[part title="Athertons and Beaumont on GT for 2012 - Page 2..."]

athertons beaumont gt 2012-8-2
athertons beaumont gt 2012-8-2

Marc: Yeah, been doing a load of labouring, tin roof is off my new house. But yeah, I’ve been riding with these guys since the youth category. Didn’t ever think I’d be riding alongside them. Had a long relationship with GT, they’re happy with what I’ve been doing. It’s a new incentive for me.

You’ve been/are a key person for GT, won a World Cup for them, first in a long time. You carry the legacy of Nico, Peaty, Carter, King and co. It’s huge.

Marc: On paper we’ve got a strong team. It’s exciting, but more importantly it’s nice to have a structure around it, there’s been people in and out in the past so it’s good to have something solid.

Rather stupidly I then turn to Gee and take the wrong direction, and begin reading my interview notes from the wrong place. I question him on his five World Cup wins in fifty races, three of his wins having come in one season, 2010, and one going as far back as 2004. Trying to restart I question Gee on his staggering efficiency at claiming a podium place at a World Cup (82%) which is equalled only by Minnaar.

Gee: It’s a shame it doesn’t equate across to wins as well you know.

Not closing the deal?

Gee: It’s something I’ve always found easier in the past you know. I find it easy to get to a high level but it’s those last small steps that you have to approach differently and really it’s only in the past few years that I’ve realized that. It’s altered my approach to racing.

Not wanting to push the bike detail too far I was aware Gee was not fully happy with last years race bike, and also the fact that his bike was running many pounds heavier than his opponents. With that in mind I tried to be a bit more tactful with this one.

Maybe this GT bike will change all that. The bike might be the small percentage to get those wins, Marc has proven what it can do.

athertons beaumont gt 2012-7-2
athertons beaumont gt 2012-7-2

The competition, Aaron Gwin in particular, will have been tweaking, fine–tuning, whereas you are having to reset and…shit he’s not going to like that…or I guess you can look it at Gwin came in on a fresh bike and took it to another level?

Gee: It goes to show when riders arrive at the top it’s not because of one reason, they’ve got everything right in their camp and they have pulled it all together, and they don’t just win one race they get on a roll. You only have to look back at the past and see riders that have dominated the year. Gwinny, Sam (Hill), Peaty. A rider just gets into their comfort zone and starts winning races.

And the new team might get you on the roll?

Gee: Yeah undoubtedly, I’ve always responded well to change in the past and it’s important you don’t get stale. If you keep everything the same it gets…well, not boring, but definitely stale sometimes.

[part title="Athertons and Beaumont on GT for 2012 - Page 3..."]

athertons beaumont gt 2012-6-2
athertons beaumont gt 2012-6-2

Rach: We just went up Moelfre for the afternoon.

Gee: We tested it, we had too, even if you jumped on the best bike in the world if it didn’t suit you it’s no good. I personally know really quickly when I get on a bike whether I can win races on it. It’s not something you need weeks and weeks of testing on. Plus you know quickly whether you can work quickly to adapt it to how you want to ride it.

The Fury (GT’s downhill frame) just needs tweaking from production to World Cup standard, pretty simple, bit of offsetting here and there.

Marc: I’ve worked on it quite a bit since 2009, the angles are completely different, especially for Champery this year we managed to squeeze the angles out of it to get it to work with, as you say, offset hardware and offset cups in the headtube.

Sat deep in North Wales terrain where the family have lived for many years, the new location has given Dan Atherton room to create. A field fashioned into a Welsh Woodward. Sheep Hills literally brought back to where it belongs. Dan got bust, but here he is going bigger, higher, longer than ever. A World Cup podium racer in both downhill and 4X Dan Atherton comes with a profound understanding of everything two wheel and is a true competitor. The world enduro order might just be about to be turned on its head

Been a quiet few years for Dan Atherton?

Dan: Been busy

Yeah I can see from the bloody field

Dan: I guess it’s just been a few years of injury. But hey…

Where does Dan Atherton go from here?

Dan: Next year, I’m just going to be doing a lot more enduro stuff.

Not just a case of ‘just’ surely?

Dan: I don’t know. I feel like downhill is at a very high level now and I wasn’t comfortable going at the speeds required to be the best downhiller in the world and tried a few enduro races this (2010) year and felt a lot more comfortable riding a shorter travel bike. Enduro is a lot more in my comfort zone that’s for sure.

Beaumont, what are your feelings on that comment? Were you in comfort zone in France at the Transprovence?

Marc: Not at first no, but the speeds they go for the distance they travel is different, but I was trying to go fast on something that I didn’t know, completely above the level I should have been going at…Nico and them go 75% with no mistakes, I was like 90% and going wrong for two days.

Dan, what you got lined up?

Dan: All the major events, Enrico’s Superenduro series, Transprovence, Mountain of Hell, Mega and as many Maxiavalanche as I can do. I enjoy those races. I think it’s a big turning point in Enduro now as to where the format goes. Whether it goes down the stage route or down the mass start route. I personally think the timed stages seems a lot more professional and maybe think that that’s where it should go, take it to major cities around the world, you don’t need to have a massive mountain.

Can we talk about the potential race you might be organizing?

Dan: Later.

What is it about enduro racing that you like?

Dan: I think it’s like Marc says you know. It’s like in downhill you know exactly where you are going, you know every stone, every root and route and the only way to get in the top five is to go 110%, and to do that everything has to be inch perfect. I think enduro is won slightly more in preparation in terms of training and the overall way in which you have prepared for the event as opposed to your line on the day. Of course you have to be prepared in downhill, probably more than in so many other sports because the pace is so fast, I definitely think there is a little bit more leeway in enduro and I think it’s more about your fitness and preparation before the event.

Yet as Nico and Clementz proved – a ten second gap separated them over seven days of racing and you can mess it up in last forty metres of the event. Enduro can still be tight?

Marc: It is. But it’s a different kind of race craft. You have to be smart and alert, some places you don’t know where it goes, so smart and instinctive, whereas downhill…well you need a little bit of instinct sometimes maybe where you have got something wrong and have to wiggle out of a position you shouldn’t have been in, but it’s so much longer. In the first few days of TP (Transprovence) trying to go hard and ten minutes in I’m absolutely blown to bits. And then you spend five minutes recovering and then that five minutes in the middle of the stage is wasted whereas those boys will be going at the same speed the whole way and that’s how they pick up time on you. It’s a totally different thing to try and train for.

athertons beaumont gt 2012-4-2
athertons beaumont gt 2012-4-2

Dan Brown (team manager): We want to have the most competitive bikes on the circuit. Or at least one of them.

Enduro and downhill?

Dan B: We are confident that the Fury can do that and there are a few bikes in the range including the Sanction and Force that can do that for enduro, but it’s a three year deal and there will definitely be an element on working on a new machine.

Let’s focus back on downhill, Rachel, big injuries last few years, must have been moments when you thought, ‘that’s it, I’ve had enough of this’?

At this point there was another long silence so I swiftly moved the approach, moved to tactful mode. OK I’ll start somewhere else. Bloody good year last year Rach’?

Rach: Thank you.

Podiums every race, considering what you had been through that’s pretty strong?

Rach: Having an injury or two is pretty easy to deal with, it happens to everyone, but having them consecutively year after year, they are not life threatening but they do take their toll on you and definitely there are moments where you think ‘is it worth it’. For me this year has been such a big learning curve, I have learned that you can do well without going 100% and like Gee said, we all do well under change and I am super excited to…I don’t want to say put the last few years behind me, but it’s not been that bad, but it’s nice to say this is a fresh start. And lets go.

But still building on a successful season in 2011?

Rach: Yeah I was pleased with the way last season went, but it ended a bit…no I was pleased with last year. One win at Windham, you need to turn seconds and thirds up a bit. New people and products. Change is an easy way to do that.

[part title="Athertons and Beaumont on GT for 2012 - Page 4..."]

athertons beaumont gt 2012-5-2
athertons beaumont gt 2012-5-2

Rach: I think it’s easy enough to have a year like that but to keep doing it when you have got a target on your back, everyone sees what you are doing and you are sort of forging the way, you need to keep changing and bettering yourself and it is hard to do. It’s not out of the question to do it again.

It’s nice here in North Wales isn’t it, you must enjoy the off–season?

Rach: It’s interesting to see what another rider does during the off–season, it will be interesting for the team to have another angle to it with Marc on board.

GT, quite a history?

Gee: The time when we were getting into downhill Peaty and all those boys were storming it. And I remember looking at it and thinking that is the coolest thing.

Rach: I think we are all thinking it would be good to bring back the glory days because certainly before I started racing it was all about them, all the iconic photos you look at nowadays are all about them.

Gee: It was good for GT to want to do it as well as us. It’s rare you get the sponsor with as much motivation as the team.

But it’s been a thin decade for GT

Marc: I’ve been there since ‘09 and I think that the team has come a long way, I mean I’m not talking massive steps here at becoming a huge team again, but it’s fair to say we have come a long way as far as presence at races. And now this opportunity with Athertons is the next step to be above and beyond everyone else.

Must be so hard at the top, Gwin and Hart have brought yet another layer.

Gee: No it’s not because it’s the same every year, you have two or three smashing it to pieces and every single rider in the race has to step their game up a huge amount for the following year to match that.

Marc: At the end of each year you know what areas you’ve sucked at and what areas you know you need to go and work on, and then you maintain and improve everything else. If you don’t have that at the end of September it wouldn’t be much fun would it? That’s the drive.

Good that Marc has done some tweaking Gee? This year your bike was unproven.

Gee: Yeah I think this year I was slightly uncomfortable where we had got to with the development of that bike.

Not like you were going slow at the beginning of the year.

Gee: No, and I wasn’t going slow at any part of the year, but like you were saying, it’s one thing getting close to the win but another thing getting the win, and that’s where I have been struggling this year. It’s not a case whether the bike was right or wrong but if your not comfortable on it then…

How’s it all going to work in 2012? You four will be off around the World and Dan will be up the woods cutting trees and building tracks.

Dan Brown: That’s pretty much what it is now. They’re rarely in the same place, maybe at a few races and back here, but that’s what Atherton Racing does behind the scenes.

athertons beaumont gt 2012-3-2
athertons beaumont gt 2012-3-2

Dan Brown: We are working on something, nothing we can let out of the bag yet, but we are working with one of our sponsors about a development programme.

Animal Atherton was a big thing? That’s come to an end?

Dan Brown: Those guys have got different avenues they want to go down. Time to go to a more global brand I guess, and it just happened that One Industries merged with Six Six One, and then One wanted to develop a bike range and then…well it came together at the right time.

Finally words to Dan Atherton…chainsaws, lawnmowers, what shall we talk about?

Don’t ask me about the John Deere. No idea, I haven’t said anything I can get in trouble with so I’m happy!

And, like all GT riders before them they head out to sunny California for part of the winter. I mean, who’s gonna feed the cat and dog?