Anna Henderson: from champion skier to British cycling starlet
“Hopefully my Worlds medal is still at home,” Henderson says. “The last time I saw it, my brother was wearing it so it could have ended up anywhere.”
She is speaking on the phone from California after a last-minute decision to join a family trip there. San Francisco, Yosemite, Universal Studios: an idyllic holiday to cap a dream season on the bike. Her own meteoric rise could yet end up being the stuff of Hollywood scripts.
In late 2016, the former GB junior slalom champion skier made the decision to commit to pro cycling after a string of injuries on the piste. In a little over three years, the 20-year-old has gone from third-cat racing to elite World Championships selection.
She shone in Harrogate, taking a surprise TTT Mixed Relay bronze and finishing 22nd at the World Championship road race, despite being tasked with early-race support for Lizzie Deignan.
“If I got to the Harrogate circuit, it was a bonus but then to finish the race, I was pretty shell-shocked,” she says. “My legs just kept on giving, the crowds at home Worlds, the whole atmosphere kept me going. I’ve never enjoyed suffering so much.”
Henderson has proved more than equal to the escalating challenges thrown at her. Last year, she dominated the Tour Series, showing particularly good bike handling skills, and was British national circuit race champion. In her first big international race, Brabantse Pijl, she ended up in a breakaway with Marianne Vos.
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This summer, Henderson was runner-up in the British national road race and made a top-25 WorldTour debut at the Ladies Tour of Norway, guesting for Tibco. “Every experience is a new one and I just keep learning every day. It’s pretty amazing what’s going on right now,” she says.
“I didn’t expect to have the acceleration through the sport that I did but I’ve been an athlete all my life – ski racing since I was five. I’ve competed in swimming, hockey, netball, done everything. I have a very competitive nature and then my ambitions just carried me through and accelerated my progress through the sport,” she says.
When we talk in early October, Henderson was arranging teams for 2020 but said that racing in Europe was “definitely on the cards.” It will likely be a case of more races on the international scene and the ongoing discovery of what kind of rider she is:
“I know I pack a punch at the end but I wouldn’t class myself as an out-and-out sprinter. I’d definitely class myself as not a climber, but I think kind of a Classics-style rider is what I’m aiming to be.”
Given she herself feels that she is still on a huge learning curve, it will be fascinating to see exactly how far the gifted competitor can go. In contrast to her old sport, this will be an uphill struggle to relish for Henderson.
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