Just over three minutes into her final run, Atherton shimmied over a rock drop, through a hairpin, and over another drop-off. It was kind of thing that most of us would think twice about riding, but for Atherton, it looked pretty routine. She hit the inside, looking to set up a fast line through the next rock garden (Looking to set up some fast lines of your own? Check out our Big Book of Training).
That’s where routine—and very nearly Atherton’s run—ended. Mud on the track made for sketchy traction. Then Atherton’s rear wheel hit a rock. What came next was nothing short of two-wheeled wizardry. Atherton’s rear wheel flipped left and threw her sideways, a situation that would have put most of us in the dirt.
Watch her unbelievably skilled handling here.
“That inside line after the drop set it off,” says Jill Kintner, a three-time mountain bike world champion and BMX Olympic medalist. “I don’t think she meant to go there, especially in the mud, but British riders ride that crap all the time and know how to get sideways.”
Somehow, Atherton managed to hang on. In fact, she not only kept it upright, but she also threw a sweet swap, putting her bike back on track. And then she sent it into the rock garden.
Though Atherton has a knack for making even the most technical downhill track look easy, that was unique, even for her.
“That was not an easy move to pull off,” said Kintner. “She obviously had the foresight to keep her eyes up and looking where she wanted to go, but holy crap, she would have been freaking out.”
If Atherton was freaking out, there was no sign of it during her run. She later shared a photo on Instagram that showed her giving an animated postrace interview. By then, it was obvious that even for Atherton, this was a tricky save.
“[I] almost had the biggest crash but somehow saved it!” she said. Atherton finished fifth on the day, which shows just how little room for error there is in World Cup downhill racing.
A four-time world champion, Rachel Atherton began racing BMX at age 8, drawn to the sport by her brothers Gee and Dan. When her brothers shifted to mountain bike racing, Atherton followed. “I didn’t have any idea that I could be ‘pro’ at this racing thing, I just loved bombing down hills on my bike with the boys, flying off drops, and scaring myself,” she…