Pietermaritzburg – MTB fans are gearing up to welcome the unique British brother and sister combination of Rachel and Gee Atherton, who come into the UCI World Cup, presented by Shimano from 11 to 13 April, ranked as number one in the world in their respective downhill categories.
The siblings, who live in Wales, return to the 3km Pietermaritzburg downhill track with different perspectives, with Rachel returning to the scene of her dramatic world title clincher last year, while her brother Gee is keen to master the layout that left him out in the cold at last year’s World Champs.
After finishing outside of the top five, getting back into the swing of things in Pietermaritzburg is an important goal for Gee and having ended the season as the top ranked downhill rider in the world he will want to carry that form into the new season.
“It is pretty important for me to start strong,” the GT Factory Racing star said. “From a good start you just have to build momentum throughout the season.”
Rachel echoed the sentiments of her brother about a good start to the season and felt that after their double victory at the Fort William leg of the 2013 season they gained a lot of momentum and maintained it for the majority of the season.
Rachel has raced once in Pietermaritzburg and rode to a convincing World Championship win in 2013 so she is confident that the course suits her style of riding and is pretty happy that she can handle it just as well this year.
“The course is brilliant, a bit scary in places but it is great!” she mentioned enthusiastically. “It is a lot of hard work but the jumps in the midsection help us carry some speed and if you get some good speed up then you will be rewarded but in saying that peddling in the midsection is brutal!”
the competitive nature of the siblings means that winning in Pietermaritzburg is the ultimate goal and having won their last season Rachel is confident she can replicate that but for Gee getting onto the top spot of the podium is going to be slightly more difficult considering he has to get past hometown hero Greg Minnaar first.
“Having only raced there once and winning means that I feel that the Pietermaritzburg course is my course and I really want to repeat that in the World Cup series,” Rachel mentioned.
“It’s always great racing in South Africa and the atmosphere is always great and the people are always welcoming and friendly. I have had top five finishes there in all of the World Cups I have raced there so it has been good but I would really like to win there,” Gee added calmly.
It has been a busy offseason for the Atherton’s and their GT Factory Racing Team who have been all over Europe in the build-up to what should be another exciting season for them. Getting back into racing shape has been a focus area for Gee who went through some minor procedures in the offseason.
“The offseason has gone really well. I’ve been training with the full team, DH and Enduro riders on warm weather training camps that we’ve held in Spain and the Canary Islands and riding a lot of our local tracks as well. The team Coach Alan Milway hasn’t let up on us for a minute.
“It has been even busier but I am now fit and ready to go – I had a minor elbow op just before Christmas and some work on my ankle back in October but they’re healed up better than ever,” Gee added excitedly.
It has been a far more scalpel free winter for Rachel who is fit and raring to go for the upcoming season and feels that maintaining her fitness and avoiding injury is vital.
“It’s my second injury free winter so I’ve been able to ride, train and ride some more I’m absolutely loving it and feeling strong.
I’m fully fit but every time I write something like that it makes me superstitious. It’s important for me to find the balance between winning races and being safe. Riding safely but fast is so much fun!” she said warily.
The UCI MTB World Cup, presented by Shimano, takes place at the Cascades MTB Park in Pietermaritzburg from 11-13 April 2014. More information can be found at www.mtbworldcupsa.co.za