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​If you follow downhill racing, you know that Rachel Atherton is a name you're highly likely to find atop the leaderboard of any race she enters. In fact, with her win at last weekend's World Championships in Val di Sole, Italy she capped off an incredible streak of 15 World Cup/World Champs race titles on the trot, a feat never before accomplished by any rider, male or female. In the wake of such an outrageously dominant display, it's not hard to resort to thinking she's got it too easy. But we wanted to know more, so we took a look back at just how she went about putting together a campaign that really has no equal. Dive into the numbers and the stories below, and join us in congratulating Rachel on an achievement that has truly been a privilege to witness. And here's to more of the same - in fact, what reason would we have to think the streak is going to stop here?

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2015 got off to a hotly contested start, with Rachel quite content to finish second to Emmeline Ragot in Lourdes, after having battled serious illness and struggled to find her best form for most of 2014. We then had to sit through the customary 2-month wait until the next race, which would prove to be quite a challenge: Fort William threw everything and the kitchen sink at the riders, with a rain delay forcing the organizer's to move qualifying to race day which makes for quite a workload on one of the longest and toughest tracks of the year. After a disastrous qualifier (by her standards), Rachel bounced back to take the win by an incredible 8 seconds - the first of 15 in a row!

Fort William high fives for everyone - photo Sven Martin

Digesting the numbers in the table above, one thing stands out: Rachel consistently manages to pull out great performances in her finals run, even when qualifying doesn't quite go her way. On average, she improves her qualifying time by 10.7 seconds come race day, and on average, her winning margin is 5.6 seconds. Without being able to step up her game so consistently, she would be nowhere near a win streak of such epic proportions. Take Lourdes in 2016 for example, where rain made for tough conditions throughout the week (not to mention that the Athertons had moved from GT to Trek over the offseason, so there was a new bike to race for the first time as well). Rachel qualified 2nd, only to take a massive 22 seconds off her qualifying time to end up winning by almost 5 seconds. Of course the weather was responsible for such a big improvement in track conditions, but the point is that Rachel knows how to win when it counts.

No holding back - Rachel actually hit the peak of her helmet on the bars on the finish line huck in Lourdes - photo Sven Martin

The closest call of the win streak came at the 2016 Lenzerheide race in Switzerland. With a sloppy qualifier that landed her in 2nd place, Rachel had to push hard in the finals. She found 6 seconds, which was enough to see her take the win by a mere 0.7 seconds ahead of a charging Tahnee Seagrave. Like so many times before and after, a tiny mistake and the streak could have ended right then and there. But as we know, it didn't.

Pushed to the limit in Lenzerheide - photo Lee TrumporeCould have should have would have - there were a few of those during the streak as well. Emmeline Ragot crashed while looking on for the win in Lenzerheide in 2015, which could have seen the streak ended before it was even called a streak. It's easy to shout "lucky" at such times, but that's the reality of racing. Winning the splits is never enough.

A clean run in Lenzerheide 2015, and the streak builds momentum - photo Duncan Philpott

As any true fan knows, the weather is always a factor in the World Cup. Sometimes it seems like all you need is for a couple of team motorhomes to show up somewhere for it to start pelting it down. MSA in 2015 saw the rain move in just as Rachel was about to drop in, and although she did her best to "ride like Sam Hill does, just forget about the rain", she came down 11 seconds slower than her own fastest qualifier. It didn't matter though, she was still the fastest girl on the day.

It's easy to say you're gonna ignore the rain and the slick rocks, a lot harder to do - photo Duncan Philpott

Rachel doesn't particularly approve of World Championships being just the one run per year to determine who's World Champion, but the win streak does include 2 of those as well. "Just another race" probably seems less relevant after a week of hype, a custom bike, and the heavy expectations of the whole world on your shoulders, but Rachel isn't fazed. Of course, with Timed Training not counting for points or the starting order at Worlds, the stats are less meaningful here, but all you need to know is that Rachel smashed it twice, and the win streak lives on.

All out in Andorra for Worlds 2015 - photo Sven Martin

The only constant is change. That was never more true than when it comes to DH racing. With a race series that spans the globe (albeit not quite as often as we'd like, yeah we're looking at you UCI), you have to master every surface and every kind of weather if you aspire to lifting the World Cup overall trophy, let alone putting together a perfect season. Rachel proved that point with an emphatic win in the jungle of Cairns in 2016, although she'll take issue with the notion that it was ever easy, despite what the numbers say here.

A familiar sight - photo @maddogboris

A win streak is one thing, but a perfect season is another. Rachel came into round 7 of the 2016 World Cup in Andorra having already wrapped up the overall series title, but a 3rd place in qualifying and some jittery nerves left her doubting whether going 7 for 7 was actually doable. Hindsight makes it look like a foregone conclusion, but Rachel admitted to having to "change things up" to avoid blowing it all so close to the goal (if the perfect season didn't start out as an objective, it sure had turned into one by now!)

7 for 7, unbelievable - photo Duncan Philpott

We're writing these lines just a day after Rachel capped off her perfect season with another World Championship title. Val di Sole put up a formidable challenge, as did a resurgent Myriam Nicole, but perhaps it was simply meant to be for Rachel. As for us, we're just wondering how we're going to get through another racing-less winter!

Still the girl to beat, and back in that jersey for 2017 - photo Sven Martin

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