Women’s downhill: Sisters reign supreme

A battle royale at the top of women’s downhill (DHI) racing is pushing the quality of competition so high that it’s inspiring a whole generation of new riders to look up to their heroines and hit the track.

Like most disciplines of cycling, and across sport, success in mountain biking usually comes as a result of a continued input and sacrifice not just from an individual rider, but also from family, friends and club-mates.

And that’s true for the many of the biggest names in women’s DHI today. They have benefitted from parents who make sacrifices and siblings who provide the fierce competition, driving childhood rivalry. And each has surpassed those origins to become global stars in their own right.

Look at the stats for the last five years and it would be easy to assume that British rider Rachel Atherton has always had it all her own way, but it’s not as simple as that. Natural talent and hard work do come into the mix, but there’s more to it than meets the eye.

Atherton’s compatriot Tahnée Seagrave, aged 23, looks to have the talent to tip the balance of power her way. She already has bronze and silver UCI World Championships medals. Her three UCI World Cup wins last year helped net her second place overall behind Atherton.Even at the rounds she didn’t win, she she was on the podium at every outing except Leogang, Austria, where her third-place finish met with a DQ for leaving the track. And at 2019 opening round in Maribor, Slovenia, Tahnée took the top step by over 0.8 seconds, from... guess who… Rachel Atherton.

Atherton has two older brothers, both successful pro downhill racers in their own right, and with whom Rachel has raced for years, now in their own team: Dan (age 37, multiple podiums in the UCI World Cup and National DHI Champion) and Gee (34, two-time UCI World Champion and multiple wins in the UCI World Cup ). With huge parental support and sacrifice, all three developed through BMX and into DHI, with the older boys naturally leading the way. They were certainly tall shadows to step out from, yet Rachel has significantly surpassed both her brothers to achieve six UCI World Cup titles and become five-time UCI World Champion, head and shoulders above the rest of the field. Rachel is world famous, but at the age of 31 she looks to have a fight on her hands like never before.

There are parallels in the rivals’ stories. The Seagraves are a tight-knit, devoted, driven family, with parents Tony and Jo relocating from London to the French Alps and setting up their own team – FMD (Follow My Dream) Racing – for Tahnée and her younger brother Kaos, who competes in Men Elite DHI. And while here the ages are flipped, there’s no doubt it’s also the sister who grabs the biggest headlines.

If Tahnée continues to push her performances to reach her full potential, this could be her year for the overall top step.

But there are a number of other Elite Women who will continue to raise their game to attempt to block them both out – and it’s been a family affair for many of them.

There’s Tracey Hannah, third place overall in the 2018 UCI World Cup. Now aged 30, the 11-time Australian Champion is letting her riding do the talking to outstrip her big brother “Sick Mick”, who inspired her to start riding and ultimately settle on DHI.

Myriam Nicole, 29,  was UCI World Cup winner in 2017, fourth in 2018, and bronze medalist in last year’s UCI World Championships at Lenzerheide, Switzerland. She is a consistent high finisher. She missed the first round this year due to injury, but is set to return – and will refer back to her 2015 campaign where she only raced two rounds yet grabbed 11th overall! Myriam got into riding aged four, following her three older brothers. Now she’s the one to follow.

And her countrywoman and newly crowned French Champion Marine Cabirou, 22, earned sixth in the 2018 UCI World Cup overall, and is expected to make even more impact this year. Marine was drawn into the sport that now defines her by her brother at the age of eight, and like Seagrave, even in her early 20s, is pushing the agenda.

Every one of these riders is a star in her own right, in her own country and around the world of downhill. And every one of them is a woman inspiring countless girls across the globe who can follow their heroines to race.