Unless you’ve been out on a very, very long ride indeed you’ll be aware that there has been a bit of a kerfuffle about the BBC’s SPOTY nominees.
It’s all very controversial and well-reasoned opinions have already been expressed elsewhere on this site. But this is what I’d like to add to the great SPOTY nomination debate of 2015:
WHERE THE HELL IS RACHEL ATHERTON?
Maven of the mountains! Doyenne of downhill! Sister of shredding! Rachel is peerless as an ambassador for her sport: she just does not put a foot wrong. She comes across as genuine, enthusiastic and kind. She quite clearly loves her sport – and she wants everyone else to love it too.
She is a true inspiration to those of us who already love to ride, but are much less capable and brave. In the ultimate test of hero status, many is the time I have peered down a scary technical descent and asked myself, ‘What would Rachel do?’, before setting off. In fact I’d like that written on my top tube, please.
So here are my top five reasons why she should win:
1 – This year she’s British Champion, World Cup Champion (having won six out of seven rounds), and World Champion (note to Hollywood: despite coming back from illness). That’s a lot of Champions for one person.
2 – Our home-grown heroine is the most awarded British mountain biker in the history of the sport and has 28 World Cup wins to her name. Think of all that trophy polishing – she must be worn out.
3 – When she’s not riding she’s out there encouraging other women – this includes sponsoring the Junior British Downhill Series, and track walking with the participants. Then there is the hugely popular RedBull Foxhunt, where Rachel dons a faux fox tail and jumps on a bike and chases legions of enthusiastic women riders down a hill, having a jolly good time.
4 – She carried rival Emmeline Ragot onto the podium when the French rider – who had a broken ankle – retired. This is an exemplary example of ‘going the extra mile’ when, frankly, a handshake and a wibble of her British stiff upper lip would have been more than sporting enough.
5 – She handles her publicity with aplomb. Rachel’s Instagram account – I like to think of the Athertons as the Kardashians of dirt – gives us a glimpse of her personal and professional life that is a joy to behold. It’s here where we find out that, when nominated for the BT Sport Action Woman of the Year (which she didn’t win – what’s going on?), she took the tube to the awards ceremony. That she does loads for charity, that she likes a picture of a big sky as much as the rest of us and her tribute to Angus the trail dog was heart breaking. Why does this any of this matter? Because with upwards of 75k followers (and 52k followers on Twitter) she proves to sponsors that women riders can deliver value for any brand who chooses to support them.
Anyway, back in the SPOTY room: sadly Rachel won’t be going to this particular ball. No lovely dress. No crystal slippers. No rubbing shoulders with Clare, Gabby and Gary. It’s a shame, but bearing in mind the furore that has gone on this year she’s probably best out of it. After all, mountain biking isn’t about the establishment, swanky awards ceremonies and footballers, is it? Why waste time getting your hair and nails done when you could be out there digging a new bike park in North Wales, watching the sunset over the top of a mountain, or just riding your bike and getting muddy?
Downhill mountain biking is niche. It isn’t an Olympic sport. Riders don’t have celebrity partners or parents who appear on Strictly. Frankly, it’s just a little tiny bit too left-field for any of that. And that’s a big part of its appeal: in some ways the BBC are doing us a favour by keeping it out of the mainstream. Let’s just hope that the really savvy sponsors get that and see it as a reason to get on board, because the sport can’t go forward on love alone.
For the record this year I will be giving my SPOTY vote to lovely Lizzie Armistead – the ‘Rachel of the Road’ in terms of achievement and charisma. I’ve met Lizzie – briefly, and with her team mate Tiffany Cromwell – and she is friendly, engaging and good fun – I even have the ‘selfie’ evidence to prove it.
I’ve yet to meet Rachel but I’m pretty sure she would be exactly the same.