Champion mountain biker Rachel Atherton on biking in Mid Wales

I feel privileged to be able to travel all over the world to compete in my sport. I compete in the Alps and the mountains of Canada. I’m happy on the road, it’s great to travel around with Gee, my brother, and the support team who work with us. But it’s great to come home to our little corner of Wales, with the knowledge that the place you live in is just as amazing as any place you’ve visited. It’s so beautiful, so peaceful.

Growing up

Rachel Atherton, successful British mountain biker.

Rachel Atherton by Laurence Crossman Emms
We moved up to Llanrhaeadr about 10 years ago. We wanted to choose somewhere that offered the best mountain biking and this area my mum’s spiritual home. She’s very earthy and really in touch with her hippy side, free and outdoorsy. My dad’s equally enthusiastic about the outdoors life, but also has a determined, competitive edge and believes you can achieve anything you want to in life if you have the passion and the desire.

A lot of our success in mountain biking comes from our upbringing. We grew up outdoors and in tune with nature. It gave us such an appreciation of what’s real and what’s important. We’ve got a couple of bike tracks that we built here when we moved ten years ago, planting tiny little fir trees and conifers and now the trees are huge and it’s amazing to grow up with it.

Special areas

Rachel Atherton Racing the British Downhill Series 2014

Rachel Atherton, British Downhill Series 2014, Llangollen by Laurence Crossman Emms
The Berwyn mountains are amazing whether you’re on a bike or on foot. The area around Llangollen is beautiful. We’ve got some tracks around Betws-y-Coed too and that’s amazing because you can finish your ride and just jump straight in the river. This area is so special to us. When we moved here there wasn’t really a mountain biking scene. Now within an hour of this place there are four or five well-established tracks. My older brother, Dan, has played a big part building the tracks in the area. He’s just moved to Machynlleth in the Dyfi Valley because of the potential there for great riding, We reckon he’s run out of space to dig out any more trails at home, so he’s had to go further afield.

Riding in the Dyfi area makes me feel like I am completely connected with the land. One minute you’re smashing down a gnarly, eye-watering downhill, rocks flying off your tyres and your heart pounding, literally bubbling with the excitement. The next you’re hurtling onto a path bathed in sunlight, with foxgloves fighting for space, bees lazily floating around, a stream trickling below mossy banks, the smell of pine and red kites circling high above. The contrast is startling. I can’t help but be grateful for the opportunity to experience our home country as it always has been – and having a bloody good time doing it! This is why I love mountain biking in Wales.

Permanent holiday

Rachel Atherton mountain biking.

Rachel Atherton by Laurence Crossman Emms
People often ask whether it’s possible to ride just for kicks and for a few years I think we got wrapped up with the training side of things. Now we’re back to basics – we ride because we love it. It’s such a cool place. We might be preparing for the next world cup event, but the people we go out with will be friends from around the area who are out for pure pleasure, to get the most enjoyment they can out of the day. It does rub off on you, thinking maybe this doesn’t class as a training day because we’re having too much fun.

“Away from the bikes, we bought a little boat quite recently so every opportunity we get we head over to Aberdovey, or Ynyslas. We’ve always been in the mountains and it’s great to explore the coastline, it’s like you’re on a permanent holiday when you’re there. Dan summed it up perfectly. He’d been out training all morning doing a massive ride and he took the boat to Aberdovey and he said: “I really can’t believe that this is my life.” He’s right. This is just day-to-day. What’s even better is that you don’t have to travel far to get anywhere. You can be up in the mountains one minute and right on the beach 20 minutes later.