While Baron was busy ‘editing videos’ and ‘working’, I spent the day (yes, another day) up at Mick Extance’s enduro place with Bridgestone, dicking around on his new fleet of Honda CRFs. More on that very soon but whilst up there in Wales, we got the chance to witness ex-world downhill champ, Gee Atherton making petrol power seem highly inadequate during pre-season practice.
Paddling through peg-deep ruts and shit-inducing vertical drops, feet down acting as safety utensils trying desperately hard not to crash on loose rocks and die, Mick soon told us were tackling the Athertons’ training yard. It was difficult to imagine walking down, let alone slicing down aboard an £8,000 push rod at 50mph.
Downhill mountain biking is a sport that has to be seen in the flesh to truly appreciate. I’ve always respected any elite sportsman, though seeing Gee hustle live on the side of the mountain brought new levels of admiration. Remember Rob Warner’s infamous commentary during Danny Hart’s run at Champery? “I don’t know how he sits down with balls that big,” was the exact sentence that sprung to mind.
The factory Trek rider is also big into his petrol-powered variety of two wheelers, often spotted up at Mick’s place riding enduro. “I’ve been riding motorbikes all my life,” said Gee, scantily protected with only kneepads and a lid present in between chucking himself down the mountain. “I was 10 or 11 years old and my older brother, Dan had bought a bike home and we were ripping it round the woods. My dad always said I was too young for it at the time, and I wasn’t allowed to ride it, so I’d always sneak out with Dan and since then, I’ve been hooked.
“We spend a huge amount of time up here [at Mick’s place]. It’s split between a training side of things and just having some fun. There are endless tracks and trails to ride, and you can ride in any weather or condition. There’s also something new to ride every time. For us, it’s really good training: getting used to the speed and working the upper body and I find it really good before the season to get up to speed and throw a heavy bike around.”
Given the dire financial state of motorcycle racing and the affluent cycling sector, there’s no astonishment in seeing Gee pushing pedals as opposed to pulling a throttle.
“It was always something we loved to do but to get bikes and go racing was harder [than mountain bikes], and it was purely what was accessible to us. I’m sure if there was a motocross track near us we might have gone that way but circumstance said otherwise.
“It’s easy to get distracted and go for a rip on the motocross bike in the woods but at the moment, it’s the start of race season so we’re getting focused on the mountain bikes. I’ve just bought a rally car as well so that’s another distraction I’m trying to ignore!”