The 2011 Commencal team launch took place at Coed Llandega Forest in North Wales yesterday, marking a new beginning for the Atherton family after an injury-plagued 2010. Gee's World Cup triumph was marred by serious crashes by Dan and Rachel, but following intensive off-season training and rehabilitation, the siblings turned out for the unveiling of their new Commencal Supreme V3 race bike fit and raring to start the season.
Much of the focus was on 29-year-old Dan, who suffered a broken neck in a horrific accident while training last September. It was a career- and life-threatening injury, and he spent months in a halo neck brace unsure whether he'd race again. But a positive CT scan in late January confirmed the bone had healed and he was given the go-ahead to resume his racing career.
Gee, Rachel and Dan talk with team psychologist Jamie Edwards during yesterday's launch
"It was definitely a life changing experience for me," he said. "I’ve come back after my off-season of rehab more focussed than I’ve ever been. A huge motivation for me was to just get back on the bike and beat Gee. That rivalry goes back as far as I can remember, and I remember lying in my hospital bed thinking I’d not done everything I wanted to do in my career. And I still wanted to beat Gee!"
Dan added that, while he was 100 percent fit, he'd be skipping the first World Cup round in South Africa to concentrate on training. Rachel, 23, who also missed races last year due to injury, is running a similar schedule. She'll miss the season opener at Pietermaritzburg to concentrate on strengthening her shoulder, which she dislocated at the World Cup in Leogang, Austria last June.
Rachel underwent surgery in September to repair the shoulder and like Dan, spent much of the off-season in rehab. She said her focus was on the Fort William World Cup onwards, allowing her time to bulk up in the gym. "I spent a lot of time on strength work over the winter trying to build my strength up so I can take the crashes that inevitably come with riding downhill," she said. "I just want a long season without injury."
Gee riding the new Commencal Supreme V3
Looking back on last year's World Cup campaign, 26-year-old Gee said the standard of competition was exceptional and he'd have won the overall title much sooner in any other year. “It was just a mega season," he said. "It had been the whole team's goal to win a World Cup championships. It didn’t come about easily – it's something we worked at for a long time and the competition was just relentless, there was no let-up."
He added that he was nervous about defending his title, but had developed a few things in training which he hoped would pay off. "Its cool being the underdog and having nothing to lose, but once you’ve won it and you're up there you're almost a sitting duck for other people," he said.
Dan is focussed on downhill this year, after spells competing in BMX and four-cross. "Four-cross for me is done," he said. "I thought to myself, 'I'm not superhuman, I can't do four-cross, BMX and downhill'. So I'm concentrating on downhill now; it’s what I love doing and it's what the industry loves. Fresh talent is coming in every year and it seems to be growing and growing, and that’s what I want to be involved in.”
The Commencal Supreme V3
This year the team will be racing on the Commencal Supreme V3 – their first new frame in three years, which we saw at this year's iceBike show. The team-issue bike sports a full Shimano Saint groupset including wheels, a Fox 40 RC2 FIT fork and RC4 rear shock, and PRO Atherton Star Series components. It was also running prototype Continental tyres which are being developed with help from the Athertons under the name 'Rammstein Project'.
Production versions of the Supreme V3 will be available in the UK and US from early May; prices in the UK for the standard build start from £3,599.99, and £1,599.99 for the frame only. The Atherton spec seen here will set you back around £6,499.99. For more on the team, visit their website, www.athertonracing.co.uk.