We caught up with the formidable force that is pro mountain biker Annie Last, fresh from her summer World Cup victory in Lenzerheide and ahead of her race at the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships in Cairns, Australia. Born in Bakewell, Annie represented Team GB in London 2012 aged just 21 and now rides for OMX Pro Team.
What got you started mountain biking?
I come from an outdoors kind of family and I'd always ridden a bike when I was younger, along with climbing, walking, camping. When I was about 10, I was into horse riding and my older brother was into cycling. I'd end up alternating between a weekend at the stables and a weekend stood in a field watching him race cyclo cross. In the end we decided we'd each give the other sport a go instead of just standing watching.
I remember before my first cyclo cross race not being too excited about riding round a muddy field in the cold, but after crossing the finish line and getting a goody bag with a Mars bar and a can of Coke, I decided I'd do it again! I started to race a bit of everything, cyclo cross, MTB, road and a bit of track, but I really loved the variety and challenges of MTB.
Have you ever found it challenging being a woman in mountain biking?
I've done a lot of training camps and races where I've been the only female in the group, and I've been lucky to never find it any different to being in a more mixed group.
There are definitely times when I've had to prove to other riders that I can ride a bike, as sometimes people expect that you can't ride certain things, because you're female. It can be frustrating to see people judge on sex instead of ability. But with the awesome female riders the UK has in DH and enduro, this seems to be changing.
You were only 21 when you rode in your first Olympics, and on home soil, to boot. Tell us about your experience of London 2012.
I had a really good group around me who helped me prepare well and made the whole experience as smooth as possible. The qualification process for the games was pretty full-on, it took a lot of travel and racing to secure a place for GB to compete. It's a complicated system and totals the points of three riders to determine if the nation gets a place to race or not. At the time, GB didn't have three female riders racing at the front of international races, which meant we were chasing points to qualify.
My race was the second to last day of the games, you're in the zone and focused on your performance, so I didn't get to see or enjoy as much of the other competitions and atmosphere until after I'd raced. Then of course, you have to make up for it on the last night.
The actual race experience was a good one though, having the home support was incredible. When I'd finished my race and was making my way back towards the team area, I got to finally take it in and meet so many of the amazing people who had come to support.
You’re riding with OMX Pro Team. How has your season been going this year?
So far, so good! I started off my year with the Cape Epic, which is the biggest MTB stage race in terms of competition. This was the first time I've done it and my race partner and I got a handful of podiums, won the biggest stage and finished second overall. So had a pretty successful week! The first three XC World Cups went ok, I'd had a chest infection during my preparations going into them, so wasn't in the shape I’d have liked to have been, but there were some good signs of returning form. Then at Lenzerheide, it all came together perfectly and I took my first ever World Cup win! It was such an amazing feeling and since then I have felt in a really good place.
You deferred your place at medical school. Have you plans to go there once you’ve given mountain biking all you can?
I was able to defer my place until after London then I had to take it or leave it. I love racing my bike and want to keep seeing what I can achieve. I'd love to be able to study and become a doctor when I've finished cycling, but you only have so much time, so I'll have to see where I'm at when the time comes.
Born and bred in Derbyshire, you’re a local hero! Why do you think Sheffield’s fast becoming the centre for all things outdoors?
Sheffield’s a really special city, there's not many places where you can get from the city centre to the proper outdoors so quickly. With the Peaks on the door step and loads of good options north of the city, Sheffield offers so many great walks, runs, rides and climbs and I think that you see so many people making the most of this.
What are you looking forward to most this year?
I love being in the mountains and riding my bike and exploring, and I also love coming home after and catching up with what's been happening!
What’s been the ride of your life so far?
It has to be the World Cup victory in Lenzerheide. I started 16th on the grid and worked my way through to the front of the race. I knew I had some good form but I didn’t expect to win – it took quite a long time for it to sink in!
If we're talking about just bike riding, then there have been too many amazing ones to pick anything out. But generally if I have a good single track I'm pretty happy!
What’s your next big goal?
The World Championship in Cairns, Australia, is the final race of my season and it’s the big goal. To wear the rainbow stripes would be incredible.
What advice do you have for girls starting out mountain biking?
To enjoy it. That's the most important thing. Make sure you're having fun, whether that's messing around on your bike in the woods with your mates or riding in some beautiful places or getting a good coffee and cake stop in. And also to just jump in and give things a go, there's loads of places to ride your bike in Sheffield and you'll definitely find somewhere where the trails suit what you want to do.