Let's take a look at the world's most dominant cycling siblings - determined Dan, graceful Gee and racey Rachel: Meet the Athertons...
Dan Atherton: Starting out racing at 14 on a BMX in the cider-swilling setting of Somerset it was only a couple of years before his enjoyment expanded to mountain bikes, taking his younger brother and sister along for the ride. The instigator of the Atherton family's involvement with bikes, Dan has a lot to answer for.
This interest to try new things has led to Dan investigating every avenue of riding that he can and his extreme talent has led to him being counted at the top of them all. Crowned Downhill National Champion in 2004 and taking a second place World Cup finish a year later put him amongst the best on the downhill circuit early in his career. But his excellence in Four-Cross as well establishes him as a true great. Consistently on the podium and with a world cup win to his name, he is notable for his breadth of achievements.
The variety of terrain and obstacles that Dan rides could be the reason behind his unique and fabulous style that makes him stand out in any situation, whether it be jumping what others won't on a race track or pulling off moves that dedicated trick ferrets would be proud of.
With BMX now back on the agenda, Dan's ambitions seem only to be getting greater. For many, the opportunity to compete on the world's biggest stages would be a dream come true and though this is doubtless the case for Dan as well, it is visions of flowing tracks and spectacular jumps that fill his dreams, and fuel his desire to get behind a digger bucket. Evidence of his decidedly individual and creative outlook.
Gee Atherton: Known across the world of mountain biking as Gee; George, the middle Atherton sibling, has been a sensation in the sport since the age of 15. If Charles Dickens was around nowadays he'd be doing well to construct a character that inhabited the world of mountain bikes better than Gee. His technicolour talents put the full array of accolades within his grasp and his fearless determination makes them a reality.
In 2004, at the age of 19, Gee won his first Downhill World Cup on the technically challenging track in the Austrian resort of Schladming. A win at this level may have seemed inevitable after his results in the junior categories, including two World Championship medals, but to gain it at such a young age was outstanding. In that year, his first in the senior ranks, Gee also won the National Championships at his first attempt.
He has gone on to top podiums the world over, finishing in the top five of the World Cup series every year since, most notably taking gold at the 2008 World Championship alonside sister Rachel, and most recently securing the Mountain Bike World Cup Series title, an accolade that has eluded him until now.
When Gee steps into the other genres of the sport, as he often does, he does so like a thunder storm. With a Four-Cross World Cup win and a second place at the inaugural Red Bull Rampage, the toughest of events to be judged on creativity rather than speed, he demonstrates his all-round talent when others are confined to a single discipline.
Front covers the world over, pin-up photo shoots for girls' magazines and mainstream TV appearances are now the habitat of the middle Atherton who is credited as being one of the most progressive riders of all time.
Rachel Atherton: There must be something in the water in Shropshire. In the case of Rachel, the youngest of the Athertons, it certainly seems so.
At just 24 years of age, she might just be the most talented of the bunch and over the past few years has become a major player in downhill racing. After winning a host of categories in 2005, she was named Times Young Sportswoman of the Year and hasn’t looked back since.
Indeed, she totally dominated the women’s downhill circuit in 2008, winning the World Cup overall and taking World Championship gold. On her way to the World Cup, overall she took four World Cup wins, and only missed out on a top two finish at one race, in Fort William.
Rachel was hit by a truck during pre-season training whilst out on a road cycle, and took time out to recover. She is now fighting fit and proved she is worthy of world titles after taking an impressive number of victories in 2010 to leave her in seventh place overall in the UCI Women's Elite downhill ranking.
The youngest of the three, it's obvious Rachel didn't want to be overlooked or left in the shadows. Eye catching and suggestive, her style on a bike has the hallmarks of influence from her brothers put through the wash with her femininity. The glamour and finesse of a girl on a beach cruiser combined with the vigour required to win races.
She is a mass of pleasant contradictions, a wonderful paradox, shy but often the loudest and most outgoing, feminine in a masculine sport, delicate on a bike but aggressive when called for. All of this on its own makes her something of a treasure within the sport but it's the way in which she's backed this up with incredible race performances, and at times complete annihilation of the competition, that sets her apart.
Taking junior level wins wherever she competed, securing World Cup and Championship titles in the same 2008 season and attracting press attention all the way, her position as darling of the sport was never really in question. Reiterated by the respect she gained in the mainstream media, receiving prestigious awards from the likes of the BBC and The Sunday Times, usually reserved for more orthodox disciplines than biking.
Photos © Yorick Carroux, Rutger Pauw, James McPhail, John Gibson, Sven Martin, Mark Teo, Robin Kitchin / Red Bull Photofiles
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