Cyclo-cross is currently enjoying an emergence of young talent that is making its way up through the youth ranks and creating very real competition at Elite level. We have a chat to one such rider, Great Britain’s Anna Kay (Experza Pro CX), who has had an impressive string of results this autumn.
“I wasn’t expecting this, I’ve achieved more than I thought I would,” Kay tells us as she reflects on a first part of the season that sees her best-ranked Women Under 23 rider and fourth woman overall in the 2019-2020 Telenet UCI Cyclo-cross World Cup. “It feels great.”
Anna Kay was born and raised in Gateshead, in the North East of England, and that’s where her love affair with cycling quickly began. “I’ve always lived there, and I’ve always ridden my bike,” she recalls. “It started with my dad, with my mountain bike, and I can’t remember not riding my bike. I love the outdoors, I enjoy being outside and just riding.”
At first, it was mountain biking, a thrilling gateway to cycling for young kids all around the world. “What I loved the most about it was going downhill. It was fast so it was fun.” MTB also led the young Anna to her first race, “six years ago”. She soon emerged as a multi-discipline talent, who also has some experience on the road but mostly shines in the woods: “I did cyclo-cross as a filler in the winter and for training. I did some races, I got my first podium in a National Trophy race and it spiralled from there…”
“The first time I was on the start-line with Sanne Cant…”
The spiral has shaped into a tornado that quickly stormed into the Elite class. This autumn, Anna Kay has turned into an ever-present figure at the biggest races. Her duel with the Dutch rising star Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado has been a thrilling attraction in the U23 Women UCI Cyclo-cross World Cup since the beginning of the season. She got her first podium – 3rd place – among the Elite riders in the Bern World Cup last month. And November has seen her take silver in the U23 European Cyclo-cross Championships before claiming another strong result in the 4th round of the UCI World Cup, last week in Tabor (7th).
“I like to ride with the Elites,” the youngster smiles. “It’s not so much pressure, because I’m still young, and I try to enjoy these opportunities. The first time I was on the start-line with Sanne Cant [3-time UCI Cyclo-cross World Champion]… I was scared! And thrilled. I feel like I can learn from them. Mostly, I look at the lines and risks they take to overtake rivals, how aggressive they are. I can also see how focused they are and how they approach the race.”
Anna Kay has settled into the unique life of an Elite rider and proved more than once she deserves her spot among the biggest stars of the discipline. But still, “I need to be more aggressive,” she admits. “Last season was harder for me. I was starting further back and I had to fight my way through to the front. Now it’s easier. Technique-wise, I’m good with my cyclo-cross skills, but I need to work on being more aggressive to defend my position.”
Next goals: the UCI World Cup, the Nationals and the Worlds
She now heads to Calpe, in Spain, for a two-week mid-season training camp, and is looking forward to her last challenges of the season: “It would be really cool to keep the leadership in the U23 World Cup, do good at the Nationals and get a podium in the Worlds.”
The Belgian fans will see her close up in December, with the Telenet UCI Cyclo-cross World Cup rounds in Namur (December 22) and Heusden-Zolder (December 26).