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Q&A: Rising UK cyclocross superstar Anna Kay

We chat to Helen Wyman’s protégé who is making her mark on the international cyclocross scene just as much as Tom Pidcock. Photos: TFOTO

Maria David
14 Nov 2019

As Tom Pidcock forges ahead in cyclocross, Anna Kay his opposite number in the women’s category is also garnering cyclocross glory. With greats of the sport Helen Wyman and Nikki Brammeier now retired, the Experza Pro CX rider is doing a sterling job filling their SPDs after she took silver at the U23 Cyclocross European Championships in Silvelle, Italy, and had a podium finish at the World Cup in Bern, Switzerland.

Not only did Kay celebrate her own success, but also that of her Experza Pro CX teammates and the Team GB squad which included her boyfriend Ben Turner. Cyclist caught up with Anna Kay ahead of her World Cup races at Tabor and Koksijde.

Q&A with Anna Kay, Britain's ride cyclocross star

Cyclist: Congratulations on winning silver at the European Championships. How was the race for you?

Anna Kay: I wasn’t expecting that result, to be honest. I didn’t go into the race feeling 100%. I’d had a few weeks of quite hard training and maybe the travelling just caught up with us a bit and I was getting a bit fatigued. So I took a really easy week and relieved all the pressure from myself, just trying to take in the whole experience and enjoy it. In the race I just went out hard from the start and the tactic worked.

Cyc: You had a battle with Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado, the Dutch racer who won the title. What is it like racing against her?

AK: In person, she comes across as really nice, but in the races she is very dominant. Ceylin is very strong, and is a really good runner. She’s got really fast feet, so at the Euros I knew she would push on in those running sections. I was shocked that I was even able to stay with her, so it’s given me a lot of confidence to know that I can challenge her.

Cyc: Team GB had a few results to celebrate. What was the atmosphere like at the European Championships?

AK: It was really relaxed, and Matt Ellis, the Team GB coach, made it a really nice atmosphere. The weekend was definitely a success for the whole team really – probably one of the best weekends we’ve had for Team GB. The junior girls did really well. Anna Flynn was 4th and Millie Couzens was 5th. Also Tom Pidcock and Thomas Mein finished in the top 10. Everything went to plan. There were no major things that went wrong, and Matt was really happy afterwards.

Cyc: You came to prominence at the National Cyclocross Championships at the Cyclopark in January, when you finished ahead of Helen Wyman and almost beat Nikki Brammeier. How did you feel about that?

AK: That was a breakthrough performance, because I didn’t quite think I was capable of staying with someone like Nikki, or being ahead of Helen. I dropped my bike a bit too heavily and my chain came off, so I had to run to the pits, and lost a lot of time. Maybe I could have won if that hadn’t happened, but I was still very happy with how things went.

Cyc: How did your cyclocross career begin?

AK: I got into cycling when I used to do mountain biking with my dad. I started mountain bike racing, and did cyclocross as a filler in the winter. After I got a good result in a National Trophy race at Derby a few years ago I was picked to ride for Team GB.

Cyc: And now you are racing for a Belgium-based team and are high up in the U23 rankings. What was your route from being a youngster in Gateshead to reaching this point?

AK: I got in with Matt Ellis, the Team GB cyclocross coordinator, and I made more and more progress. Then I signed with Experza a year and a half ago and Helen Wyman also joined the team. When she retired she became a mentor for the team. Although my races are out in Belgium I am still based at home in Gateshead and then I travel out for races.

Cyc: What is the set-up with Helen and her husband Stefan Wyman?

AK: Stef coaches me, Alicia Franck and another girl on the team. We used their house in France for two-week summer training camps every few months and we were there as a team. I think that really helped because we all got to know each other well and we got to take all of Helen’s insight. Helen has helped us pretty much with everything. With my second place at the weekend, Marion Norbert Riberolle coming third, and Manon Bakker coming fifth, Stef and Helen are quite pleased, as they’ve put in so much work into us.

Cyc: How has this season of racing abroad been for you?

AK: It was weird at first, travelling around and going to new places. It’s just been exciting – you’re kind of living a big holiday. I still haven’t fully adapted to it yet, but I’m still trying to take it all in.

Cyc: Where are your favourite places to go riding when you’re at home?

AK: When I was little, me and my dad always used to go to Beamish. There’s a big museum with woods behind it and that’s where we used to do mountain biking when I was a kid. So that’s one of my favourite places to ride.

Cyc: What are your next races?

AK: I have two World Cup races coming up. Next weekend will be Tabor in the Czech Republic and then the weekend after is Koksijde. This was my first ever race for Team GB, and my first ever international race, which I did two years ago. I was really scared, but in the end it was amazing racing in the sand dunes. I live quite close to a beach so I’ll go there so that it’s fresh in my mind.

Cyc: What conditions suit you best in cyclocross?

AK: At the start of the season I would have said dry and fast, but I quite like the mud. I definitely like it when it’s twisty and a little bit muddy – but not too muddy!

Cyc: What have been your highlights so far this season?

AK: At the start of the season Stef and Helen took us to America where we did two races – the Jingle Cross and the World Cup at Iowa City. That was amazing, and I got on the U23 podium for the first time in World Cup race. It was really special. Getting on the Elite podium in the World Cup in Bern has been my highlight too as I was third in the Elite race and I got the jersey for the U23 series lead. I couldn’t believe it. It was like one of those things where you come over the line and it feels like you’re dreaming. Then of course coming second at the Euros has been amazing.

Cyc: What have been the low points?

AK: Well I raced at Koppenberg, which was amazing but then we did the Ruddervoorde Superprestige race that same weekend, and I just didn’t feel myself. Helen and Stef helped a lot, and a nutritionist who has worked with Helen for many years worked with me. Having the right people around you to talk to and chatting about getting your head back in the right place is really important. It’s also important to get in lots of rest.

Cyc: Women racing in the U23 category can find it difficult stepping up to racing with the elites. How have you found it?

AK: A few years ago when I was first an U23 it was a massive step-up to race with the Elite especially when you are standing on the start line with the World Champion – it is quite daunting. There is stuff being put into place now, like with Helen and the junior races. So there’s more of a progression for girls now and I think that will help a lot. You have to trust that you will get better and it will get easier over the few years.

Cyc: How important is it for there to be a mentoring scheme for U23 riders?

AK: It is important. Helen and Stef have helped me this year with my confidence. Having someone with Helen’s experience and knowledge just helps when you have them telling you 'you can do this'. Hattie Harnden, who was 9th in the Euros U23 race, is mentored by Tracy Moseley. She was obviously very high up in the sport, so it helps having someone to guide you. When you are young you don’t really know what’s best or you might think you know what’s best but it’s just good to have different inputs from different people.

Cyc: What is your main goal?

AK: To win the World Cup overall as an U23 would be amazing. That would be a dream.

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