Olympics: Annie Last finding her legs, Rwandan aiming for top 20

John Stevenson John Stevenson

With just under two weeks to go to the Olympic mountain bike races at Hadleigh farm over the weekend of August 11 and 12, Britain’s best hope of a medal looks to be Annie Last.

Derbyshire’s Annie Last is a medal chance in the Olympic cross-country after two years of relentless hard work to qualify GB for a place.

The 21-year-old from Bakewell, Derbyshire finished third at the final round of the cross-country World Cup in Val d’Isere at the weekend.

In an article on British Cycling’s website, Olympic mountain bike coach Phil Dixon said: “I think she’s really pleased and happy with her consistency, she’s finding her legs.”

Last is the first British woman to qualify for the Olympics since Caroline Alexander and Louise Robinson in 2000.

According to Dixon, it was a bit of a slog. “The qualification process that Annie went through was horrendous really,” he said.

Despite her youth, Last has raced in the Elite women’s World Cup category for two years in order to have a chance at an Olympic berth, rather than the under-23 category.

And where other countries had several women racing qualifying events, Last has been out on her own.

“Instead of being able to pick some races that I want to train for, I’ve had to just race lots,” she told the BBC.

Phil Dixon said: “She was still a development rider and had the pressure of qualifying an Olympic place which she dealt with really well and along the way she got two world championship medals.”

“I think she has shown great character and she is really excited for the Games and is looking forward to getting out there.”

Last took second place in the under-23 category at the last two world championships. Coming to peak fitness for the year’s biggest race has been a standard part of her season cycle.

“Part of the plan in the last couple of years is a June build, it has always shown in August and September in world championship results. It’s really coming through now and it’s exciting in this Olympic Games to see what she can achieve.”

Rwandan aiming for top 20

If Annie Last showed great character to qualify both Great Britain and herself for the Olympics, what can you say about Rwanda’s opening ceremony flag-bearer Adrien Niyonshuti?

Eighteen years ago, the young Niyonshuti had to hide in holes in the ground to escape the genocide that killed six of his brothers.

Now 25, he hopes that his taking part in the Olympics will make people think of more than that tragedy when they think of Rwanda, even though he admits he is only hoping to finish “in the top 20.″

“I would like — as a result of these Olympic Games – that people think of my country in terms of sport and cycling in particular, even as simply a great nation,” Niyonshuti told AFP.

“The first thing people think of at the moment is the genocide, but that was 18 years ago. I want people to concentrate on the positive aspects of my country.”

The Olympics, he said is “great for me and for my country because it’s the first time we qualified for mountain biking.”

Afterwards he intends to follow in the footsteps of former mountain bikers like cadel Evans and Ryder Hesjedel and conquer the road.

He told Reuters: “I will focus more on training and getting strong because then the real focus will be on being the first African team to compete in the Tour de France.

“After the Olympics I’m going to do more road bike and then I can pick up speed and the technical skills and work together with my team in South Africa and I hope that next year or the year after I will be going for the Tour de France.”

The women’s mountain bike race starts at 12:30 Saturday, August 11 at Hadleigh Farm, Essex.

The men’s mountain bike race starts at 13:30 Sunday, August 12 at Hadleigh Farm, Essex.

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