In the genes - how the James family have secured cycling success across disciplines

(Image credit: Phil Barker)

No other cycling family has a trophy cabinet so chock-full of precious metal. But how much of the James sisters’ prolific winning is down to gold-plated genes, asks Chris Marshall-Bell

How similar are you to your brother or sister? If you’re lucky enough to have siblings, it’s a question you’ve probably been asked countless times. While it’s not uncommon for siblings to share certain sporting traits or for a younger sibling to follow in their old brother or sister’s footsteps, it is extraordinary for five siblings to all become high-achievers in the same sport. But that’s precisely the story of the James family.

>>>> Subscribe to Cycling Weekly magazine and enjoy the best cycling fitness features every week

Hailing from the Monmouthshire town of Abergavenny in Wales, the James household counts 69 national medals across three disciplines of cycling between four sisters, Rachel, Becky, Ffion and Megan.

Twenty-nine-year-old Becky, the quiet and reserved sister, won two Olympic silver medals at Rio 2016, four years after she won national team sprint gold with Rachel – the energetic eldest, now 32. Rachel went on to win two golds piloting Sophie Thornhill at the 2014 Para-cycling Track World Championships.

Equally energetic Ffion, 23, fits in her training around studying natural sciences at Cambridge University. The only sister still competing today, Ffion won the cyclocross National Trophy series in 2019.

The fearless and happy-go-lucky Megan, who quit cycling in 2017 aged 17 and is now studying geography at King’s College London, won two rounds of the 2017 junior mountain bike downhill World Cup. There is a fifth sister, Bethan, aged 24, who has been severely disabled since birth and requires round-the-clock care. 

The James sisters’ mother Christine is a committed and strong local racer for Abergavenny RC and a former Welsh veteran cyclocross champion. Their father Dai is a former rugby player, while their brother Gareth, 31, raced the Youth Tour of Assen for Wales. 

We sat down (virtually) with Rachel, Becky, Ffion and Megan for the third instalment of CW’s ‘In the Genes’ series, to explore together how much of their shared talent for cycling is down to their genetic inheritance and the extent to which they’ve been shaped by their shared environment.

You can read the rest of this fitness feature in the April 22 issue of Cycling Weekly magazine, on sale now. If you're not going to the shops you can order individual issues of CW online. If you want to make the most of our weekly fitness content then you can subscribe and get the magazine delivered to your door and save on the cover price.