ATHERTON DOESN'T JUST WIN RACES, SHE DOMINATES THEM—OFTEN BEATING THE COMPETITION BY 10 SECONDS OR MORE. JUST 21, SHE ALREADY POSSESSES THE WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP RAINBOW STRIPES AND HAS WON A STAGGERING SEVEN WORLD CUP RACES. SLOWED BY A SERIOUS COLLISION WITH A TRUCK WHILE TRAINING EARLIER THIS YEAR, ATHERTON IS PREPARING TO RETURN THIS MONTH.
I never really had any female role models growing up because I was very far removed from racing and the whole cycling industry. And even when I started racing, the biggest influences on me were my brothers.
One of the only women whom I've ridden with who forces me to step it up is Lisa Myklak. I rode with her while in Santa Cruz this winter before my accident and we had a blast shredding the dirt jumps and skate park there.
When I met her for the first time, I was riding BMX and spotted this chick riding toward the park by herself. She just started riding, headphones in, and was loving it. There aren't too many girls who can just go out and ride on their own, and I was pretty impressed. I was immediately drawn to her, and somewhat jealous that there was another chick riding damn well, too.
It was so mad following a girl through dirt jumps, seeing her hair flying about and showing an obviously female style. We just kept hitting lines, taking turns to go first.
The thing about Lisa is that she has this relatively quiet, unassuming nature. She is just happy to be riding her bike, and it shows. She doesn't need to be the center of attention, though she often is, and she is a genuinely caring person. But she also has this neon streak running through her, and isn't afraid to boost as high or carve as hard as she can.
It is important to me to feel like a woman…but at the end of the day, I race my bike down a hill as fast as can be, and it is never going to be pretty.
The support and encouragement that I get from the guys is incredible. I think when they see someone riding and racing and simply loving it, that is what gains their respect, regardless of gender. This is a male-dominated sport, but it is getting better, and the women are catching up to the men in a lot of ways. I think women just need to quit trying to get everything equal and concentrate on getting through the dirt jumps.
Five top female riders discuss the women who inspire them, breaking into the boys’ club, zen and the fine art of femininity.
This content was originally published in Bike’s Sept/Oct 2009 issue.