10 Minutes With… Anneke Prins

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Anneke0001Usually, 10 Minutes With… interviews only appear on Neutral Service during the off-season when there isn’t a great deal going on to write about. However I recently met and had the pleasure of chatting with Welwyn Wheelers’ Anneke Prins, and it was clear that in addition to having a lot of racing potential (which dovetails rather well with my belief that teams are missing out on a whole lot of talent by concentrating on riders in their early twenties, when there are many very good riders in their thirties and beyond) she has a very big brain. So I thought she might give us some interesting answers.

When and how did you first get into cycling?

I only properly got into cycling in 2008/9 when my friend (then later boyfriend, and now husband) invited me to do the British Heart Foundation’s London to Brighton ride with him and a group of other people. They planned to ride there and back – my first event was also my first century! I still have the bike I used (a hybrid) and it has served me well on a few cycle tours.

What do you love most about the sport?

The diversity in disciplines! I thought I could ride a bike, and then I tried some mountain biking and discovered that there was still a lot I could learn. Ditto when I tried a few novice track cycling sessions last year. There’s always a little bit more to learn.

What would you like to have achieved by this time next year?

This is a tricky question. I only started racing last year, at the age of 36. Perhaps because I started so late in life, I’m much more interested in doing many different things rather than pursuing the climb up the rider category ladder. I’m interested in trying out track racing, racing abroad (particularly in the USA), pursuing a discipline-specific coaching qualification and in cycle-touring through Italy. Hopefully by this time next year I will have done (or started) at least one of those things!

Anneke0009What does the future hold for women’s cycling? Are you optimistic or pessimistic?

Hopefully, we’ll reach a place where men and women’s cycling are considered equally important. In the past year the level of talent in local racing has increased immensely! As long as we keep on encouraging women to take part, and organisers to consider giving women their own races, the sport will just continue to grow and improve. I’m very optimistic, but I’m also aware that change won’t happen on its own, and that we need to maintain a concerted effort to keep women’s cycling a priority for development.

Which rider most inspires you?

Not just in cycling, but generally in her attitude towards life, my friend Ottilie Quince (World and European transplant cycling champion) is always a source of immense positivity. I met her through cycling and find her ability to go for what she believes in, while encouraging others along the way, a great source of inspiration. With respect to professional riders, I have great respect for anyone who “lifts as they climb” – people who encourage and help others while they, themselves, attain success.

Which is your favourite race, either one you enjoy riding or love to watch? Why?

My highlight race of last year as a spectator was by far the Women’s Tour here in the UK. As I set out my little chair on a street corner in Welwyn Garden City, I was able to share so much detail of the race and the riders with other people who came out to view the race (and who didn’t know much about it!). This all due to the magic of Twitter and the wonderful organisation and promotional activities of the SweetSpot team.

Here are the keys for the Neutral Service time machine – you can use it to meet anyone in cycling history. Who’s it gonna be?

Alfonsina Strada, the only woman to ever ride in the Giro d’Italia. She ignored a lot of criticism and outright hostility to ride in the 1924 Giro. Short in stature and stubborn – sounds like my kind of person!

Anneke0008There are still some people out there who think women’s racing isn’t as interesting or competitive as men’s racing. What would you say to convince them otherwise?

I’m not the first person to point this out but, because women’s races are often shorter than men’s, they tend to have much more of a tactical element to them. Attacks come a lot earlier in a woman’s race – perhaps men’s races are too long…. With respect to tactics, you really only need to watch some of the professional races to dispel that myth.

What should the UCI and British Cycling be doing for women’s cycling?

British Cycling is spending quite a lot of money on promoting women’s cycling, which I think is great. I, myself, have benefited from a number of British Cycling Women-specific training days. I hope this continues! With respect to the UCI, they should really start enforcing their own rules with respect to registered teams (I’m saying this in light of the Estado de Mexico fiasco of last year*). The fact that riders can be bullied and not paid, and have no support from the governing body is incredible.

[*For the best possible account of that, read The Road Far From Rio by Matrix Pro Cycling’s Lucy Martin – ed.]

When you retire from competition, would you like to stay involved with cycling in some capacity, perhaps as a National Federation official?

I’ve just completed my British Cycling Level 2 Coaching qualification, so would like to pursue some more coaching! I’m also a keen volunteer at my club – I hope to carry on with this as long as I can.

I think we’re all agreed that 2014 was an incredible year in women’s cycling, especially here in the UK. What was the highlight of the racing season for you?

As mentioned above, the Women’s Tour. Just having “famous people” racing down my local roads was quite a thrill!

If you could give a junior rider some advice the day before her first race, what would it be? Or, if you’re new to racing, what do you wish you knew before your first race?

As a new racer: warm up properly and claim your spot on the starting line!