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The racing game

Rachel Atherton qualified first in the downhill at Worlds in 2007

Rachel Atherton qualified first in the downhill at Worlds in 2007 (Image credit: Steve Thomas / Cyclingnews)

By Steve Thomas

All three members of the Atherton family's racing team are in medal contention at the UCI World Championships after a day of 4X and downhill qualifying. Sister Rachel qualified as the fastest woman in the downhill, while brothers Gee and Dan qualified second and 22nd. In the four cross, Gee qualified eighth and Dan 16th.

2007 is the first time that Great Britain has played host to the UCI World Mountain Bike Championships, and the venue is the far northern Scottish outpost of Fort William, which has hosted numerous World Cup events in recent years. It is widely considered to be the best organised and supported race on the fat tyre calendar, despite the seasonal advance of the Highland midges.

There is no disputing the fact that the host nation is the world's number one ranked nation in the downhill [according to UCI rankings of August 21, Great Britain is ranked second in the downhill. - ed.], despite never actually having their own downhill World Champion; and the Atherton trio plays no small part in the nation's downhill and four cross prominence; with Rachel winning the junior world title two years ago along with a World Cup and third overall last year while Gee finished fifth in the downhill and seventh in the four cross standings and Dan earned 16th and 10th overall respectively.

Command of the downhilling roll of honour moves every few years. The Americans ruled the early roost, followed by the all conquering and still infallible French. Both nations boast ultra-high ski lift-serviced mountains and bags of sunshine and open trails, both factors which were long attributed as reasons for their early dominance.

Britain, on the other hand, is a small and wet island nation. It distinctly lacks mountains over 1,000 meters high, and you could tally the ski lifts on a spider's toes. Those factors make Britain's sudden rise to prominence all the more surprising; "Steve (Peat) was a real inspiration and spur to everyone; he really started things and gave everyone something to aim at and the confidence to go for it," Gee surmised.

Read part I or part II of this feature.

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