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The Final Installment of the Dan Atherton Interview, Queenstown Chronicles

By Seb Kemp

The Athertons set up camp in Queenstown, New Zealand for two months at the beginning of the year. After a stop off in California for a month they lugged a display case worth of bikes and bits over the Pacific and have set up camp in the adventure capital of the world. Surrounded by mountains, bathed in summer sunshine, and with a riding infrastructure already established (including the brand new Skyline gondola accessed downhill trails of Bob's Peak that fall right into the centre of town), they have found a place that offers them a good base from which to prepare themselves for another season of combat and action on the World Cup circuit. By the time you read this they will be moved on to the next location for their ongoing pursuit of professional triumph, but here we ask where their inspiration comes from to be so professionally motivated. It seems they look beyond traditional mountain biking templates and instead find influences in the most unlikely of places.
    In our final installment with Dan and his siblings, we talk about the task of working the media, getting cabin fever and setting up future ventures. Dan confesses to following some rather extreme examples but bare with him and look beyond the surface to see where he is going. Rach talks about her unwillingness to let anything get in the way of what she wants to achieve and Gee says very little except to clearly state that they are not afraid of going it alone. They appear to have clarity and a finely defined sense of who they are, but I still do find myself asking the question, what is the personal price of being so single-minded?
photo by Sven MartinSeb - I noticed you guys don’t really keep up with all the mountain biking news and stuff. Are you detached from mountain biking in some ways because you don’t have the time to keep up with all the web stuff and magazines, or do you just like to look at a bigger picture, outside of biking.

Dan - I definitely look at things like Keeping Up With The Kardashians and Rob and Big for inspiration and not just stuff in mountain biking. When we were setting up the Atherton Project this year me and Clay were looking at the Kardashians as a real model to follow. I think it's the closest thing to the Atherton Project

Seb - Really?

Dan - Yeah, because it’s totally mundane as f**k stuff. It is not like Rob and Big or  Fantasy Factory were everything is set up. Keeping Up With The Kardashians is set up to a degree, I know, but it is mundane life. Although they are totally different people to us it’s like boring as f**k stuff they are doing when they are filming, which is what we want for the Atherton Project. We don’t want it fake or set up.

Seb - You want the Atherton Project to be boring and mundane?

Dan - (Laughs) We just want it to be...this set up stuff where we are riding with other athletes, like when we did that thing with Cyril Despres [French enduro motorbike rider], looking into their world and giving mountain bikers an insight into something not just mountain bike, but on top of that, we don’t want to be setting up funny stunts really. You know, making it look false and fake.

Seb - You want a genuine look into the reality of what you guys are doing?

Dan - I think that's what we market it to be. I don’t think we should try and make it something it isn’t by setting stuff up, but it is hard sometimes. Like for example the other day when the other two went on the scooters and Clay didn’t film it so we had to do it again set up and it wasn’t as good.

Seb - So you need someone around you full time to be filming right? Those shows [Kardashians] are twenty minute edits made out of months of footage, and it does come down to the edit and how the story is told, the vision for the story.

Dan - Pretty much Clay was doing it all himself up until this year but now he has it dialed with some more people involved.

Seb - So working with Clay will be a bit different this year?

Dan - He won’t be at our house. He will a bit, but he won't be living there like last time. He used to be there all the time. It was too much. It wasn’t good because we ended up filming nothing because he was there all the time and we thought we had loads of time to film something but we just wouldn’t.

Seb - So the other thing you have been doing with Clay is filming for his new movie 3 Minute Gaps right? Gee, you were quite involved weren’t you?

Gee - Yeah but I didn’t film everything with Clay as planned. I had a crash at Dunedin [NZ National Championships] and hit my head pretty hard so I couldn’t shoot for a few weeks, which just happened to be the time Clay was here in New Zealand.
Photo by Sven MartinSeb - So Dan stepped into the fray?

Dan - Yeah Clay just asked if I wanted to shoot instead of Gee. I wasn’t going to have a section before this. It could have gone either way. I could have said no to Clay very easily. I was thinking about it for a while and I figured it would be stupid not to film.

Gee - It turned out way better like this though.

Dan - Clay just wanted another story that wasn’t just another rider section. Clay is good at making epic stories out of nothing (laughs).

Seb - It’s not exactly a nothing story is it? Your recovery and all. Being in a movie that is due to be released right at the start of the season, does that help boost your confidence coming into the season?

Dan - Yeah in a big way. I think it puts a certain amount of focus on my goals and what I want to achieve. It’s definitely helped psych me up for the season. I have never really done a project like that without these two [nods across the table at Gee and Rach], it’s always been a family thing. So it felt good to have some limelight on me for a change. It’s probably what I needed at this stage in my recovery. It picked me up a little bit.

Seb - Was the process of filming good for you?

Dan - Yeah it was fun but it was hard. Until that point I had been riding to improve and then suddenly I had to go as fast as I could every time we filmed for a week. It definitely made me get faster. I was sh*ting myself every night thinking, "f**k, please don’t crash. I do not want to crash." Everyday I had a big shady moment where I told myself to calm down.

Seb - So it helped your progress to recovery?

Dan - Yeah it was the best thing that could have happened. It pushed me massively because even though in one respect I need to stay relaxed, stay calm and improve slowly, because the last thing I want is to get hurt again, I still do need to step it up massively to get back on track and that was the best environment to do it; on trails around here that I had already ridden. Gee had always said that filming was one of the best ways to get fast because you have to go fast. You have to make every run count and get every line perfect, time and time again.
     There is probably no better place to film a section than here in Queenstown. Everything is on your doorstep, it is all set up, all the tracks are there already. It is amazing to be able to go to a new venue everyday.

Seb - What do you think of the place Rach?

Rach - The stamps are too big (laughs). It’s a rad place but it is easy to get cabin fever. Stuck in the bubble. It’s a sick place though.

Gee - I think anywhere you go like this for training you can get cabin fever. You go to somewhere and you are doing the same thing every day. You are training, there is nothing to do in the evening, you have to eat all the time and you have to have rest days. It gets pretty boring.

Dan - This is the best all-round place I have been to train.

Seb - What do you mean about all-round? A nearby gym and great road riding? (laughs)

Dan - Not really good road riding. There are massive potholes.

Rach - The downhill and the gondola make it easy to ride downhill bikes more.

Dan - This is the first winter when we have ridden downhill from February onwards. Usually it is not until we get home at the end of March. This year we have had an extra two months of riding downhill. Which is what I needed.

Seb - In years past, and I’m talking several year ago, you had quite a blasé and laid back approach to off-season training. You would just ride BMX and build a skatepark in the barn. When did things change?

Dan - When we got injured. I think injuries are a huge part of it. When you get injured you have to do specific things to sort it out. You can’t brush it under the mat and carry on, you have to address those issues.

Rach - The older you get, even year to year, changes what you need to work on drastically. When you are young you can get by on your skills alone and wing it, which is why there aren’t many young racers who are consistent.

Dan - I think we also knew that we needed to build a huge skills base when we were young, which is why we rode BMX and dirt jumps and skateparks all winter because we knew that was the best thing to build a strong skill base. We wanted to hold that for as long as we could. I hadn’t ridden dirt jumps for so long until yesterday and just doing that reminded me what a good skills base riding dirt jumps is.
Photo by Sven MartinSeb - Changing subject now, it is pretty interesting how you guys have set up your own team and you employ people to work for you. It is pretty unique, so did you have an inspiration from outside of mountain biking?

Dan - Yeah, Formula One. That was an inspiration for us for sure. In F-1 certain teams are set up and they get sponsors for the team. We have always had good mentors, people who taught us how to set something up. How to go about life to get the most from it. We didn’t want to put all this effort into setting up a team then next year end up riding for a different team. We wanted to set something up solid that would be there when we finish mountain biking.

Gee - Then if we set it up ourselves, we could work with who we wanted not being told who we were working with. We can choose who we work with and work with sponsors that would be best for our racing careers, rather than just something to do with politics. So now we can get into the position we are in now where all of our sponsors are the ones we would choose to use. They are with us because they are the best and they think we are the best.

Dan - We are all very demanding and specific about what we want, so it wouldn’t work if we were told what to do by anyone else. Rach and Gee especially are very specific in their needs.

Rach - At the end of the day nothing annoys me more than people who have the potential to get to the top or succeed but let other things get in their way. I prefer to do things off my own back, if that is the only way to do something.

Dan - At the start we sacrificed a lot. We could have got a lot more money off people.

Rach - Yeah at the start people were asking Gee to ride for them and he said there was no way he could leave us.

Dan -  And also we have an infrastructure and a template we can take and apply to anything else if we wanted. Now we know how to build a team. it doesn’t matter if it is a race team or a team to build a road, or whatever (laughs)

Seb - So we have heard it first here on Vital MTB, Atherton Racing are due to diversify into road building.

Rach -  I think it was different for us right from the start. There were three of us and that’s pretty much a team right there.

And there we have it, a perfectly cheesy, yet poignant line to draw this chapter to an end. They are brothers and sisters, but they share more than many siblings do. They live, work, travel, train, and play alongside each other, almost nonstop, all year round. There are not many people who share so much of their life with their siblings, or anyone in fact. They are a solid unit that goes beyond just family, they are an inseparable team who contain all the necessary conflicting and complimenting character traits to be able to help them all achieve their best. They are fiercely driven and finely focused on racing down hills faster than yesterday.
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