Rachel Atherton heads to World Cup Round 3 in search of creating British history.
The chairlift had stopped and the crowds dispersed at Val Di Sole. Sat on tarmac, hot, stained with fork oil, chain lube, and beer, flanked by the massive GT and Rockshox juggernauts, Rachel Atherton slugs her seventeenth winning bottle of bubbly. Seemed to be going down well – and so it should, she’d just equalled Peaty’s record of seventeen World Cup wins on the deafening Italian track.
She didn’t make a song and dance about it, I’m not sure she even knows to this day the significance of the numbers herself as she pulls out of Llangynog en route to her Andorran destiny. It has been a rollercoaster journey laced with tears, mud and sheep shit.
Rachel raced her first World Cup in 2004, which was the same year that Gee won his first in Schladming on an Intense. She spent her first three years of her racing career largely in Wales and without ever losing. All that changed in that important Atherton year of 04 when she began spinning on the world’s latitudes never far from Mountain Ash and Moelfre but now stitched in with some Mont St Anne and Calgary grid points.
She won Livigno Worlds in 05 as a junior and followed up in 2006 with her first senior World Cup win – in Brazil – and that put her on equal terms to Gee who won another in 08 before leaving it a while to regain shape in 2010.
Let’s not rush too quickly past Andorra where in 08 Gee and Rach did the double. And at the Val Di Sole Worlds where they did another double at which point Rach was now outgunning her older brother on the world circuit, before in 09 … she dramatically got shot down by injury. The year that Sabrina Jonnier nailed 6 out of the 8 races.
She got her shit together in 2010 but it was a largely drizzly season, although by now they’d got well settled in Llangynog what with the quarry, the backyard and the Farmer’s Arms.
Welsh race appearances were now becoming thinner: one of the local shepherds got her to stick a few times in down his hill – this seems to be an annual pilgrimage – but that was about it.
Last year Rach won five out of seven, a feats of such proportions that have been a rarity since, the mighty ACC – Anne Caroline Chausson, who has 41 world cup wins to her name, and pretty much dominated the circuit from 1996 to 2002, with only the odd race that she didn’t win! There are more than a few similarities between the two, but most importantly within the compressed environment of a race run the GT racer seems to have more time on her hands, more composure, more flow.
Andorra is a special place for many reasons. This weekend is MASSIVE. Not only do Peaty and Rachel go in holding the greatest World Cup success rates for British racers but it’s also where the Sheffield man won his last. Two hundredths separated him from Gee on that day in 09, the year when the mighty Gwin gained his first podium.
This season Gee and Rachel have gone nuts together. Peaty won qualifying last weekend in north Wales, that most hallowed of Atherton soil. We all wish them good luck to keep the battle going.
Rach is well on her way to smashing the British record set by Peaty back in 09, but will she ever be able to catch the legend that is Anne-Caroline Chausson?