Back from the edge: the full story of Gee Atherton's return

After a horrific crash saw him airlifted to hospital, the MTB legend feared the worst for his career. Photojournalist Dan Griffiths captures Atherton's recovery and return to life on the edge.
By Dan Griffiths
19 min readPublished on
Gee Atherton as seen riding on his Ridgeline video edit in 2022.
© Dan Griffiths
The latest video release of the twice UCI Downhill World Champion Gee Atherton, The Ridgeline II – The Return, finds the 37-year-old back doing what he does best: riding seemingly unrideable terrain. The context of this film, and what it took to get there, makes it one of the biggest triumphs of the British bike athlete's career.
Content warning: This story contains images of serious injuries.
(CW: The two videos linked below show the crash – viewer discretion is advised.) In 2021, while shooting his previous edit, The Knife Edge, Atherton suffered a horrific crash, the worst of his career. Now, he refers to the Welsh valley where it happened as 'Death Valley'. He won't even drive along the road that runs through it.
Below is the story of what happened from the moment of his accident, the 15 months of physical and mental recovery, the return to racing this year in September at Red Bull Hardline, and, finally, riding back on the same terrain that almost killed him. This is what it takes to make it back from the edge...

Chapter 1: The accident

Gee Atherton as seen riding on his The Knife Edge video edit in 2021.

The Knife Edge was set to be the third edit in Gee's big mountain series

© Dan Griffiths

From the very first moment I was on this mountain, I knew I would be completely out of my comfort zone - the risk was immeasurable
The third edition of Atherton's Big Mountain series (Ridgeline in December 2020 and The Slate Line in April 2021 being the first two) brought The Knife Edge, and right from the get-go, it always had an eerie feeling about it. The jagged rock edges, cliff faces, and utter ruggedness of the valley in Dinas Mawddwy, mid-Wales, were intimidating. The location carried this energy that wasn't like anything we'd felt on the other projects. The previous projects had felt fun and enjoyable, but this one felt more about survival.
I remember the first time Gee took us up there, thinking it didn't even look possible. As we headed down the valley, the ridge came into sight, and he pointed it out – I'll spare you the exact expletive that came out of my mouth. I've always held a lot of faith in Gee's ability to tackle the seemingly impossible (Atherton has competed in Red Bull Rampage several times), but this was a whole new ballgame.
Gee Atherton in action during his his original Ridgeline video release in 2020.

The Ridgeline film from 2020 had set the bar for Gee's big mountain edits

© Dan Griffiths

We drove past this monstrosity of outcrops of rocks, and both of us said straight away - no way, that's impossible, it's too steep, it's too jagged
Jamie Robertson, member of The Knife Edge dig crew
Accessing it was a challenge within itself, and there was no phone signal nor any real civilisation nearby. You were constantly on edge, watching for rocks falling or for your own footing, making sure you didn't step off a cliff edge. As we made our way up the mountainside, nearing the top, things started to piece themselves together more. Suddenly, this thing looked like it might actually be on.
The Knife Edge was only supposed to be a short edit filmed from Atherton's point of view – a quick Instagram piece to work alongside the one we'd already been filming. As with all these projects, though, things soon snowballed, and before we knew it, things looked like they might shape up to be a full production edit.
Gee Atherton as seen in action on his Slate Line video edit in 2021

Gee's big mountain edits included The Slate Line, released in April 2021

© Dan Griffiths

The build felt rushed, particularly when we compared it to the work going into the other projects. We were literally hammering into bedrock, and our desperate attempts to carve out anything that resembled a mountain bike track were, for the most part, futile. Some sections were relatively straightforward and worked well, whereas others wouldn't link up, and you can only put so much faith into a drystone catch berm.
We knew it wasn't perfect, but eventually, things were looking like they'd come together enough for Atherton to actually have a go at tackling this beast. Testing began, and that process was relatively seamless. Most sections rode better than we could have envisioned, but again, it wasn't perfect, and there were a couple of sections that, in hindsight, probably should have been reassessed.
On several occasions, those dry stone catch berms would come in human form. A couple of stray shoots would see Atherton put his faith in the dig crew, as they would do their best to catch him before he flew off the mountainside.
Gee Atherton testing out a feature during filming of The Knife Edge edit in 2021.

The dig crew were on hand to stop Gee if required

© Dan Griffiths

When we realised Gee needed people to help him slow down, that's when we realised, 'OK, this is on another level'
Robbie Meade, The Knife Edge co-director
Going into these projects, Atherton having 100 percent confidence in himself and his crew is non-negotiable. It's this knowledge that allows him to tackle these challenges and continue to push through the discomfort. I don't think the Knife Edge became any less terrifying, regardless of how much he rode it. Still, sure enough, days continued to pass, and before we knew it, filming was near enough wrapped up.
As nerve-wracking as things were, we also had a lot of fun. The vibe among the crew is just as important as the crew itself when we're tackling these projects. The final day was no exception to that rule. We arrived in the morning, as usual, in high spirits, and minus the 'last run' nerves, nothing seemed out of the ordinary. We could have pieced together the edit with what we had from the previous days, but striving for perfection, Atherton was keen to link a few more sections and tidy things up.
Gee Atherton in action during the filming of his The Knife Edge video edit in 2021

There was no margin for error

© Dan Griffiths

I remember on the last day of filming, I messaged Gee and said, 'Let's just get this out the way'
Jamie Robertson
We all knew it would be the last day on the Knife Edge, and conforming to superstition, we took it to ourselves not to admit that. As much as we had enjoyed the process, we would all, Atherton included, be happy to see the back end of this one. Risks taken and dues paid, it was time to reap the rewards.
That morning's focus was on the most technical section of the course, which had proved difficult from day one. A sketchy drop led immediately into another, and there was no way of controlling speed between them. Atherton had two options, and neither was particularly inviting - he would either have to commit to the next drop or pull left onto the worst run-out line we'd ever seen. Nothing was conventional about this course, but how often do you question if the chicken line is more dangerous than the main show?
Gee Atherton as seen during the filming of his The Knife Edge edit in 2021.

The Knife Edge would push Gee beyond his limits

© Dan Griffiths

There was so much speed, and I had a split second to decide whether I was going slow enough to control it and hit the drop or throw left and try to survive the run-out - both were horrific options
There was never any doubt that the risk was real, but it's only human nature to block those thoughts out and think that the worst won't happen to you. We've seen this man tackle challenge after challenge throughout his 20-plus-year career, so it was only natural to assume that it won't happen to Gee, right?
Unfortunately, life tends to remind us of our mortality when we feel most invincible. In this case, that reminder was catastrophic...
When I saw Atherton get bucked and smash off that first rock face, I continued shooting as if nothing had happened. It took a few moments actually to comprehend what was happening - it just didn't feel real. As I saw him rag-dolling down the mountain for a fleeting moment, I could only assume the worst. From there on out, instinct kicked in, and there was no more time for thought.
No normal human could have survived that. I think that's why I was so traumatised by it because, filming it, I was in complete shock. I couldn't stop filming, but I didn't know what to do with myself. Everybody jumped up as soon as he stopped rolling, and we did what we had to do
Robbie Meade
The minutes and hours that followed all merged into one - there was no future or past. Bodies went into shock, autopilots were engaged, and from that point on, each moment was taken as it came. The only thought that mattered at the time was, 'OK, what can I do right now to assist this situation?' Nobody knew what to expect.
When we got to him, he was still unconscious, and at that moment, I think we all shared the same fear.
He broke his orbit, the bone around his eye, so his goggles just filled up with blood, and a lot of people honestly thought he was dead
Alan Milway, Gee Atherton's long time coach
Gee Atherton sequenced performing his line on his The Knife Edge edit in 2021.

The moment on the Knife Edge that changed everything for Gee

© Dan Griffiths

Three of us set off in different directions, up, down and across the mountain, in search of phone signal to call the emergency services. Meanwhile, everybody else stayed with Atherton and supported him in every way possible. Much of that meant physically supporting his body, so he wouldn't roll further down the mountainside, which posed one of the biggest challenges in the recovery process.
No more than 10 minutes after getting off the phone with the Welsh emergency services, helicopters could be heard echoing through the valley. The Coast Guard chopper, carrying mountain rescue, and two Air Ambulances carrying the paramedics arrived simultaneously. Although there was a long way to go in getting Atherton off the mountainside, we knew we were in the best hands.
The professionalism and efficiency of the emergency services was incredible, and they had us all involved in getting Gee off the mountain. We could tell they genuinely valued the cooperation, and they knew exactly how to keep us engaged and focused on how we could help, which is so essential in these situations.
Gee Atherton helped by paramedics following his crash during filming of The Knife Edge in 2021

Everyone feared the worst

© Dan Griffiths

It was a lot more involved than I thought. You realise that, actually, you can help, and you're not just a passenger. The environment was so challenging, and I think the paramedics needed as much help as they could get
Jamie Robertson
Everybody on the mountain had the privilege of knowing exactly how things were playing out, but it was a different story for family and friends elsewhere. Meanwhile, at Dyfi Bike Park, Gee's brother Dan Atherton received a call from Mountain Rescue, letting him know they'd had a call over to Dinas Mawddwy.
Dan Atherton, Gee Atherton on the Red Bull Hardline course

Dan (left) is the brains behind Red Bull Hardline and Dyfi Bike Park

© Dan Griffiths

I got a lot of calls, all at once. We'd just had another bad injury on the bike park at exactly the same time, and at this point, we didn't know what state either of them was in. These are stressful situations, and you need everybody to stay focused. You always have to try and be as level-headed and sensible as possible, which is difficult when it's your brother
Dan Atherton
As badly as Dan wanted to rush up there and help, he knew he'd be more use at the bike park, where he could liaise and keep everybody in the loop. The youngest of the three siblings and a fellow high-profile downhill professional, Rachel Atherton, was pregnant at the time, and the last thing he wanted was to worry anybody until they knew the full severity of the situation; so Dan did his best to keep things quiet until they'd heard more.
Rachel Atherton performs at UCI DH World Cup in Lenzerheide, Switzerland on July 9, 2022

Rachel Atherton has suffered from her fair share of injuries over the years

© Bartek Wolinski / Red Bull Content Pool

On the mountain, paramedics had stabilised Atherton enough that Mountain Rescue could get him off the scree slope and down to the bottom, where the Air Ambulance waited. He was off the mountain, but he was by no means in the clear. He'd lost so much blood that paramedics had to administer blood transfusions, so he was stable enough to get in the air and over to the trauma centre. Thankfully, none of us would hear about this until after the fact.
He was soon in the air, which was a relief for everybody, but the next few hours would feel like an eternity as we waited to hear the full extent of the injuries.

Chapter 2: Aftermath

Atherton was airlifted to the Major Trauma Centre at the Royal Stoke University Hospital, which was over the border in England. The hospital has been rated the best in the country for saving lives. Over four years, for every 1,000 people treated, 13 more survived than expected.
Gee Atherton in hospital at the Major Trauma Centre at the Royal Stoke University Hospital, June 2021.

Gee in the Major Trauma Centre at the Royal Stoke University Hospital

© Atherton Family

The list of injuries was immense. There was a high-impact fracture to my femur, so five or six pieces were blown apart, which blew through all the muscle and fascia around the bone. I broke five ribs, which also punctured my lung. An open fracture on my radius came through the skin, and there was a lot of nerve damage. I fractured my eye socket, broke my nose, and to top it all off, I knocked myself out
If you end up here, you know you're in the best hands, but you can also be sure you're in big trouble. Gee's Strength and Conditioning coach, Alan Milway, later compared the injury to something you'd see from a motorcycle or military accident - the severity was on another level.
Gee Atherton at hospital following his crash during The Knife Edge shoot.

Gee owes his life to the staff at the Royal Stoke University Hospital

© Atherton Family

Dan called me and explained what had happened, and at that point, my heart sank. As a parent, when your kids are hurt – and hurt badly – it hurts you as well. So I shot up to Stoke and saw him that first night in the critical unit. It was very hard to see him bashed up like that
Simon Atherton, Gee Atherton's Dad
Surgeons were quick to jump into action, prioritising the femur, which had suffered a compound fracture. The bone had shattered and torn through 15cm of muscle before penetrating the skin. The wrist had shattered too, and suffered a lot of nerve damage, so that was next on the list.
In those early hours, there was little communication from the operation room. The surgeon's priority was stabilising Atherton, so there was a window of uncertainty where nobody knew what to expect. All anybody could do was sit and hope.
Gee Atherton on a hospital bed showing the extent of the injuries to his legs.

Gee needed two operations on his left leg to piece his femur back together

© Atherton Family

We all just came together and held onto each other quite tightly. You go into a state of shock, but you carry on operating. You're waiting to find out the actual extent of the injury, and just doing what you have to do
Andrea Atherton, Gee Atherton's mum
Later in the evening, word came through that Gee was conscious. Although it was still unknown what the long-term effects of the injury would be, everybody could ease off a little bit, knowing that he was stable and in good hands.
In the days that followed, further operations would have to be postponed. Atherton had broken five ribs, which had punctured the lung. The effects of this meant it wasn't safe enough to proceed any further until the bruising had subsided. During those long days in the hospital, Atherton maintained his usual positive outlook. Although his body had taken an absolute battering, his personality had escaped without a scratch.
A week later, with operations a success, Atherton was discharged from the hospital, but the real battle had only just begun.
When I saw him in the hospital, I was shocked. I've seen him in some bad situations, but this couldn't have been any worse, with him still being conscious. You could tell he was putting on a brave face, but he was messed up bad
Dan Atherton

Chapter 3: Rehabilitation

Gee Atherton undergoing rehabilitation for his injuries in 2021

Although all smiles, recovery would be physically and mentally tough

© Dan Griffiths

Atherton's return to riding has been by no means easy, and it's been an intense process getting him back to any degree of normality. When discussing his injuries and struggles in the public eye, he's tended to sugarcoat the situation, but the reality is far more complex.
Gee Atherton training after his injuries that he received from his The Knife Edge edit

It would be a long road back to the top for Atherton

© Dan Griffiths

There were times when I was thinking, 'Will I be able to ride again? Will I be able to get back to the level I was at?' And there were times when I did doubt it. But the whole way through the recovery process, that goal of getting back to a strong level, where I could jump on my bike and ride whatever I want, was a massive driving force
The journey can be broken into two parts. The early stages consisted of soft tissue work on the leg, the wrist, the ribs, and the head. This phase of the recovery is all about small gains, chipping away, again and again, and it's by far the most challenging mentally.
There aren't huge rewards at this stage - at least not visible ones - but it's an integral part of the process, and its importance can't be understated. These tiny movements in the early stages of physio build a solid foundation for the bigger, more exciting stuff that comes later.
Gee Atherton receiving a massage to his leg.

Massages were a regular part of Atherton's physio sessions

© Dan Griffiths

The first phase is such a grind. It's so slow-paced, and you don't notice things improving vastly, but you just have to trust that it's working and gradually making you better
The recovery process for an athlete after an injury of this magnitude can be one of the most challenging things they ever have to deal with. Seeing Atherton's single-minded determination and resilience through the process has been inspirational, to say the least. Still, he cannot stress enough the importance of having a solid support network throughout the journey.
The work that's gone in behind the scenes is pretty heavy, not just for me but the whole crew. Red Bull put me in touch with the best treatment, doctors, and physios, and I've had to work harder than I ever have to get back to this level
By his side through the process was Doug Jones, physiotherapist and director at Altius Health Care, whom Gee and the whole Atherton Racing team have worked with for over a decade; Alan Milway, Gee's Strength and Conditioning coach, who first received contact from Gee in 2006 to help prepare him for the 2007 World Champs; and finally, Wayne Peters, physiotherapist and co-owner of Active8 Gym. Wayne has been Gee's local go-to man for all things recovery over the last five years.
Gee Atherton training in the gym with a helper

Gee rebuilt his strength gradually

© Dan Griffiths

The people you're working with are key to keeping you in a positive mindset. They'll keep you looking in the right direction, focusing on that goal and telling yourself, 'I can do this, I can get there'
Everybody was eager to hear how Atherton was doing and how long it would be until he was back on the bike. Everybody associates him with a brave face. Nobody wants or expects to see him struggling, and he would have been feeling the pressure more than ever to maintain a stoic facade.
Obviously, Gee knew it was bad, and we all knew it would be a long time until he was back to any sort of normality. He's so good at putting on a brave face and cracking on, but he couldn't really do that with this one, and it forced him to rest. It must have been so hard for him, too, because everybody was asking him how he was, and people didn't want to hear, 'I'm really struggling. It's going to be ages till I'm back on a bike'
Dan Atherton
In the later stages of recovery, lighter physio work was met with heavier strength and conditioning work. This is where Alan Millway's work started, but even that was met with setbacks.
Solid progress was being made in building strength back in the leg and the upper body, but things weren't healing as they were meant to. At the start of 2022, Atherton had a second operation on his leg. It was another femur operation, and the surgeons had to redo all the metalwork. The femur recovery essentially started all over again after that.
Gee Atherton training on a stationary fitness bike.

Hardcore cardio sessions were also on the menu

© Dan Griffiths

Atherton was starting to get back on the bike and could manage chilled laps down the bike park, but he was nowhere near the level he'd need to be at for the challenges that awaited him down the line. Not only did Atherton want to tackle Red Bull Hardline, but he also wanted to get the Ridgeline II edit out of the way before winter.
We couldn't restart the strength training until around eight weeks before Red Bull Hardline. Rather than me getting strong enough and then thinking, 'OK, I might be able to race', it was more me setting that goal in my mind that I wanted to do it and then doing everything in my power to get fit and strong enough to make it happen
Gee Atherton training

It was touch and go whether Gee's fitness would be up to scratch

© Dan Griffiths

Knowing the riding Atherton wanted to get back to and the timeframe they were working with, Milway could tailor his approach to focus on specific exercises that might actually give him half a chance of making it happen.
The last thing you want is to send a rider back into battle not physically ready to do it. Six weeks before filming, I made him jump off a 50cm box onto one leg to see if he could tolerate the landing. He told me he couldn't do it, and that was the indication that we had a lot more work to do
Alan Milway
Ticking all the boxes physically was one thing, but the mental aspect was equally, if not more, important. Milway has worked with athletes for the best part of two decades on all manner of injuries and rehab journeys. When asked what he considers the most crucial factor in any recovery process, he said it all comes down to motivation.
Gee Atherton training with a kettleball at a gym.

He had to rebuild all of his strength after being out of action for so long

© Dan Griffiths

To continue to feel motivated, people need to see results, so instead of focusing on what they can't do, we focus on what they can do. They won't be motivated if there isn't a light at the end of the tunnel. What is the motivation? It might not be riding a bike, but it might be a 100kg bench press
Alan Milway
Bike park laps had shown that progress was being made, but they were no real indicator of whether or not the leg would be able to withstand the big impacts. A couple of weeks before Red Bull Hardline, filming began on the Ridgeline, but even that wasn't a true teller of whether or not he was ready.
Eighty-foot [24.38m] step-downs would test the body like nothing else, but the stress would come in short intervals. Red Bull Hardline would be a whole new can of worms, as an endurance aspect would be involved. Two-and-a-half-minute runs on the world's most demanding downhill track would be a relentless approach to seeing if the body was ready.
You can't ride the bike park and decide you're ready for Red Bull Hardline. There's no way of knowing you're ready until you're riding it, so the whole week would be a learning experience to figure out if I had it in the bag. I just wanted to get through it, but there was no way of knowing if I'd be able to until I got there

Chapter 4: Red Bull Hardline

Gee Atherton at the start gate of Red Bull Hardline 2022

Man vs mountain

© Dan Griffiths

As soon as Atherton felt comfortable he could tackle the features on the Hardline track, he made the decision to return to competitive racing and race this year's competition. It was going to be tough but Atherton was up for the challenge.
Pursuing a win or even a shot at the podium on this course requires absolutely everything a rider has. In 2018, Atherton showed us just what it takes as he was crowned victorious, leaving everything on track.
This year was a stark contrast; going in, Atherton knew he wasn't up to anywhere near total capacity. Without the strength, there was no way he'd be able to survive another slam, and this knowledge would have sat heavily on his mind.
Gee Atherton practices on the Red Bull Hardline 2022 course

The Red Bull Hardline course would be a stern test of Atherton's recovery

© Dan Griffiths

My leg wasn't quite up for the track walk, so I checked a few sections on the quad bike instead. I was most worried about testing the new features because there were a lot of risks, and I knew I wouldn't be able to take a hit
It had been over a year since Atherton had been in an environment that could be considered remotely competitive. Now, he was finding himself right back in at the deep end. When he arrived at Hardline, most of his filming on the Ridgeline II was out of the way, so coming into race week, he at least had a week's worth of big mountain experience behind him.
The Ridgeline came first, and that was the hardest. The first day up there was most challenging, as I'd been so out of that performance environment, and suddenly I was back at the top of the Ridge, with cameras and drones pointed at me. All I could think was, 'I know what happened last time I was in this situation'. Once I dropped into it and set the ball rolling, things felt normal again
Going into Red Bull Hardline, Gee never intended to jump on his bike and try and get on the podium. His goal was to enjoy it and have fun; this was everything he'd been missing when he was injured. For his family and friends, seeing him take on such an event so early in his recovery was, to say the least, nerve-wracking.
Gee Atherton looks out over the road gap on the Red Bull Hardline 2022 course.

Sizing up the iconic Road Gap

© Dan Griffiths

I spent the whole time before it trying to persuade him out of it, telling him he needs to give himself more time. The injury affected him, and his way of dealing with it was to get back up there and prove to himself that he's OK - all we could do is support him through it
As riding began, Atherton had to keep reminding himself that his goal for the week consisted solely of getting through it. There was no pressure, and as you would expect from somebody taking things easy, the first sends only happened to be the biggest features on the course.
Gee Atherton prepping his body to ride the Red Bull Hardline 2022 course

Tape helped to manage the weakness in his leg

© Dan Griffiths

I had to keep checking myself, reminding myself this week was about getting through it rather than doing anything big. When I realised I was eyeing something up to hit it first, I had to tell myself - no, don't do it. With the scale of those jumps, even small mistakes can have enormous consequences
The more he rode, the more Atherton learned about where his body was, and the pain was the biggest factor. Most mornings found Gee hidden quietly away in the Atherton pits, taping up his leg, ready to withstand the pressures of the day. It wasn't used to that level of impact, nor the duration it had to cope with.
Gee Atherton at Red Bull Hardline 2022

Gee would be riding new features for the first time at Red Bull Hardline

© Dan Griffiths

I landed off the Road Gap and thought, 'OK, that works'. I was taking each section step by step. I landed the Cannon out of the woods and put in some big heavy cranks for speed like I usually would, and nothing happened. My leg was weak, and I was figuring out my strengths and limitations as the week went on
When it came to qualifying, Gee realised he had become a stranger to the start gate feeling. At the top of his qualifying run, the pre-race nerves and competitive spark were reignited once those bleeps went off. Arriving in the finish area, he was pleasantly surprised, and his mentality toward race day had shifted.
Gee Atherton racing during qualifying at Red Bull Hardline 2022.

Atherton put down an impressive, top-10 qualifying time

© Dan Griffiths

I was only planning to get down the hill in my qualifying run, but I did a lot better than I was expecting. Now I was thinking, 'OK, maybe I can push it'
On race day, the riders would do just two runs - practice and finals. These two runs were the only things separating Atherton from a clean week. Eager to push himself in the finals, Atherton switched it on for morning practice, but the course had other ideas.
I had a massive crash in the last practice run before finals and shunted a tree with my arm. The wrist on that arm is the same one I'd broken on the Knife Edge, and it's full of titanium. It went completely numb, it was tingling, and it was so weak. About two hours before my run, I couldn't hold onto my handlebar, so I had to ice it up the wrist and hope it would sort itself out in time for my race run
Two hours later, his arm still suffering from the morning's impact, Atherton headed to the top for his finals run. Given the circumstances, there was no saying how things would play out, but time and time again, this man continues to surprise us.
Gee Atherton at RedBull Hardline in Dinas Mawddwy, Wales on September 10th, 2022.

He sailed down the course despite carrying a knock

© Samantha Saskia Dugon / Red Bull Content Pool

I was surprised how well I could ride, and I felt like I was riding good. After a year-and-a-half off, I thought I would be pretty dopey, but once I dropped in, it didn't feel like I'd been away. I was getting my lines and feeling good - but I could certainly feel the weakness
To see him cross the line was a relief for everybody. Family, friends and an ecstatic crowd welcomed him home from what would be his last run of Red Bull Hardline for another year.
He'd achieved what he set out to do - survive - and so much more. Fifth place put him less than a second off the podium. Despite being obviously stoked to make it through in one piece, his competitive nature still had something to say about it.
Gee Atherton heading to the finish line of the Red Bull Hardline 2022 course.

Gee arriving to a hero's welcome at the Red Bull Hardline 2022 finish line

© Dan Griffiths

To be honest, I was pissed off I didn't make the podium! I was less than a second off, and I was thinking to myself 'I could have braked less' and all of that. But looking back at things as a whole, I was lucky even to survive it, and I was stoked. Crossing the line at the bottom, the crowd and the atmosphere were incredible, and everybody was cheering - it felt amazing
Red Bull Hardline was out of the way, but one last challenge persisted. One last shot at redemption.
Watch Gee Atherton's Hardline run, from 1:18:10 onwards, in the player below:


The world's toughest downhill MTB race is a severe test of skill and nerve on the infamous Machynlleth course.


Chapter 5: Back to the Ridgeline

Approaching the new Ridgeline II edit – with the line located in the valley next to the Knife Edge shoot – Atherton understandably was nervous. This concept took him down in spectacular fashion only a year ago, and now here he was, back where it all started.
It had been a long time since he was in a performance environment like this one, and besides a trip out to Whistler in Canada a couple of weeks prior, this would be his first real taste of big mountain riding since the Knife Edge.
Gee Atherton as seen during the filming of The Ridgeline II in 2022

The sun was shining on Gee this time around

© Dan Griffiths

I do these projects purely because I enjoy them. I've always enjoyed the creative side of building something I want to ride, rather than a race track, where I'm told where to go. The mountain is a blank canvas, giving us the freedom to make things as hard as we want. There are no boundaries, and I always make them a little bit out of reach
Knowing he wasn't up to full strength, we were all equally as nervous for him. At first, we asked why he wanted to do it so early? Why he wouldn't wait until he'd had a chance to build some more strength back? But the more we paid attention, the clearer things became.
Gee Atherton tests out the wind direction during his The Ridgeline 2022 video edit.

Atherton testing wind conditions on the ridge

© Dan Griffiths

Seeing how much work Gee's had to go through just to get back to riding a bike and even normality made me nervous about how soon he's come back. It doesn't seem soon to the public, but as somebody who's seen what he's had to go through to get back, it's nerve-wracking. I know he's got the head game, but this is the first time I've had to wonder if his body can keep up with his head
Robbie Meade
Atherton had been so single-mindedly focused on one ambition for a long time, and then one day, that very same ambition destroyed him, close to the point of no return. The same ambition had been on his mind ever since, taunting him as he sat at home defeated and entirely at its mercy. It was suddenly apparent why he needed to tackle this thing once and for all.
When he's focused on a Ridgeline or any great achievement, he's absolutely flat out to achieve it. He won't stop and keeps pushing himself to achieve it - whatever it takes. It's that same streak that's won World Cups and got him to where he is today
Simon Atherton
Though Atherton had his accident on the Knife Edge, that line was only intended to be a warm-up. Ridgeline II was supposed to be the main event, in the next valley over in Dinas Mawddwy and had been built out and completed in June 2021, just a week before Atherton's crash.
The line had been sitting there the entire time, waiting for him. The bleak Welsh winter had gone to work on the features, and the sheep had made their mark, so maintenance was needed to get it back to shape, but the foundations were in place.
Gee Atherton digging on The Ridgeline 2022 course.

The line had to be refreshed after a year's break

© Dan Griffiths

Before any work could be done, we had to get the crew up the mountain, which is always an undertaking. The terrain is steep and unforgiving should anything go wrong.
Approaching things this year, it was clear that there had been a shift in mentality. On the Knife Edge, Mother Nature reminded us who holds the power, and with that came a little more respect for the mountain. We'd always taken every precaution to eliminate unnecessary risks. Still, a fresh approach to how these risks were apparent after what had happened on the Knife Edge.
Gee Atherton rides on his the Ridgeline II 2022 course

The riding in the third Ridgeline film is as raw as ever

© Dan Griffiths

Gee had provided us with ropes and carabiners, for safety. Gee had sat at home and thought, 'Right, I've got a dig crew up there', and had gone out and bought this expensive equipment to make sure we were ok. It felt much more calculated, and we were taking more precautions
Jamie Robertson
During the build process, the shift in mentality showed in how the course was prepared. Each take-off, landing, and everything in between was prepped to perfection, and nothing got ridden on until Atherton was absolutely confident it was as ready as it could be.
In the past, we've dealt with features and sections that won't quite line up, and we've been guilty of saying, 'That'll do,' purely for the sake of getting it out of the way. This same attitude played a significant factor in the events that went down at the Knife Edge, and it forced us all to recognise that there's no room for cutting corners when there's this much on the line.
Gee Atherton as seen riding on the Ridgeline II video edit in 2022

Most of the filming took place before Gee competed at Red Bull Hardline

© Dan Griffiths

It's easy to become blasé when it's all going well, but the accident reminded us just how important it is that we're taking the proper precautions. On the surface, it looks like we pull up and throw ourselves down the mountain, but so much goes in beforehand to make it all doable, and we can't leave any stone unturned. The risk will always be there, but there's no point in adding any additional risk if we can avoid it
Last year taught us that sometimes, no matter how desperately we want the shot, it just isn't worth it. We could have pieced together an edit with the footage we already had from Knife Edge, and nobody would have noticed the difference. Perfection is only an illusion.
Gee's accident has made us realise the importance of knowing when enough is enough - it's not worth putting somebody's life on the line to make a film one percent better
Robbie Meade
Gee Atherton in action on his The Ridgeline II video edit in 2022

No stone was left unturned to make sure the shoot was as safe as possible

© Dan Griffiths

For my friends and family, seeing me back riding is great for them, but at the same time, it is difficult. To see me not just back riding but trying to compete and get back to the level of riding I was at before is definitely difficult for them
The Ridgeline projects have been tested on Welsh terrain, and they've shown that there's really no limit to how far they can go. They're a unique concept that can be taken anywhere, globally, and the scope is immense.
Every time we get through one, it alters our outlook on the rest of them. When it goes successfully, we think, 'OK, the sky is the limit'. Then you have one like we did last year, and it's a different story. This one has gone well, and it has lit that fire inside me, and I know I want more of this
Gee Atherton sequenced by photographer Dan Griffiths during a ride on The Ridgeline II video edit in 2022

Atherton now intends to take the Ridgeline series worldwide

© Dan Griffiths

Determination and resilience have got Gee back to where he is today, but he couldn't have done it without the help of everybody involved.
I've walked away from this because of the Air Ambulance crew, the coast guard crew, all the surgeons at Stoke hospital and the staff there. I can't thank those guys enough for piecing me back together in an incredible way, better than I ever could have imagined, and I couldn't be happier to be back

Part of this story

Gee Atherton

A multiple world champion and World Cup winner and Red Bull Rampage podium finisher, Gee Atherton is one of the greatest MTB riders of his generation.

United KingdomUnited Kingdom
View Profile