The Athertons’ ride started when Dan, then 15 and the eldest of three siblings, first took to the BMX tracks around their home near Exeter and encouraged his brother, Gee, and sister, Rachel, to join in. A decade or so later, on 1 June 2008 in the Andorran resort of Vallnord, four Mountain Bike World Cup races were held and the Athertons won three of them.
The family’s assault on the sport has continued ever since, with new fronts opening this year as they launch their own brand of bicycles and a bike park near their Welsh base.
Unlike many stories of sibling sporting success, there is no pushy parent involved in this tale. “It’s purely down to our older brother just nurturing us into it,” says Gee. “He had this drive and this passion. I don’t know where he got it from, but he had this will to give everything he could and to push as much as he could to get us to this point.
“He seemed to have this plan as to what we needed to do and how we needed to get there, and me and Rach, we were just happy to go along with it. It’s this drive he had and he instilled into us, and we all seem to have this similar passion and this similar will to do well.”
Dan finished third in the four‑cross World Cup rankings in 2008 and has gone on to concentrate on enduro events and masterminding the various Atherton enterprises; Gee won the overall downhill World Cup title in 2010 and the world championship in 2008 and 2014; Rachel and the Frenchwoman Anne‑Caroline Chausson stand as the greatest female downhill mountain bikers of all time. Rachel has won the overall World Cup title six times, more than any other woman, and the world championships five times, doing the double in three of the past four years – “Anything less than that again is going to be a failure,” she says of the coming season – and faltering in 2017 largely because of injury.
“Going into last season I felt really behind and having that doubt and that fear of not having done enough really makes you work hard,” she says. “I’m by no means ahead of the game any more. The other girls have caught me up and it’s a hard battle now to take that win.
“Everyone’s pushing each other and you need that to stay motivated. Because you do get a little bit complacent when you win a few times and you think, ‘I’ve got this under control.’ Then you’re beaten and the fire comes back up.”
The runner-up to Rachel in the World Cup and the world championships last year was Tahnée Seagrave, a British rider eight years her junior with whom she has an unusual relationship that started when the young pretender was a child and Atherton already a champion and role model. “I can remember her as a young girl and she’d send me drawings she’d done,” Rachel says. “She’d draw dragons and send me notes and now we’re battling on the World Cup stage. It’s crazy, really mad.”
Last year Seagrave described her rival as “the best mountain biker of all time”, but expressed frustration at her high profile. “It’s hard when you’ve got someone at the top who’s been there for such a long time. I feel that other people’s talent goes unnoticed,” she said. “It’s a shame. Because Rach has been dominating for so long, she’s the one people are looking at. In the men’s there’s none of that. Credit is given where it’s due.”