Sunday was proof that dreams come true.
If you truly believe, and you work with unwavering dedication, then a vision that has been many years in the making can pull into perfect focus.
Annie Last had the ride of her life on Sunday; an exemplary performance that married technical skill, power, fitness, and tactical nouse. It was the culmination of over ten years of training, racing and fine-tuning every aspect of her life as an athlete to deliver the ultimate result.
Gridded on the second row, Annie got a fantastic start, slotting into sixth place up the first climb and thus avoiding the ensuing carnage in the first technical single track section. Annie quickly settled into the race and was, as in training, riding with obvious strength and efficiency on the unique Lenzerheide course. Overnight rain had made the abundant roots and off-camber, natural tracks treacherous. From lap one, Annie made the decision to run some sections, rather than slip and slide to an unceremonious dismount, something which paid dividends as the race progressed.
Soon, seventh place had dropped back and Annie was beginning to edge closer to a podium position. By the end of lap two she was up to fifth place and did not look like slowing down. Indeed, Jolanda Neff and Maja Wlosczowska riding together in 3rd and 4th, were soon just ahead of her. With the course so slippy, it would have been easy for Annie to overcook it as she pressed on to close the gap, but it was in fact Neff who dropped back and then Wloscszowska who made an untimely mistake which let Annie pass into 3rd.
The team radio crackled with nervous excitement and the relaying of time gaps and the race situation. A podium position was the goal, and now, with two laps to go, Annie was knocking on the door of her first World Cup win.
World Cup leader, Yana Belomoina, and MTB legend, Gunn Rita Dahle Flesjaa, were duelling it out at the front of the race, but they were about to get an unexpected visitor! First there was a small crash for Belomoina, and then a slip from Dahle Flesjaa, and now, on the final lap, Annie Last was leading the World Cup. Momentum was with her, and now the belief and the adrenaline kicked in as well.
We held our breath. We paced and shook with nerves and excitement. Could this really be about to happen? And then it did.
Annie rode a brilliant final half lap to establish just enough of a lead to eliminate the need for a sprint finish. She exited the final single track section and rolled up and over the bridge onto the finish straight. This was it. The crowd roared with appreciation of a magnificent performance and a new World Cup victor. Annie took one final look behind her and then raised her hands to cross the line and make her, and our, dream come true.
It is difficult to put into words what this means to us, so more of that in a later story. In this moment we just smiled, cried and hugged a lot! We are all so incredibly proud.
Of course, it takes a team of people to bring about a result like this, and two very important team members also raced on Sunday. As always, they encapsulated the ethos of our team and left us smiling.
Isla Short, following on from her brilliant eighth place finish last week in Andorra, was full of confidence. Confidence is what you would expect following a career-best result, but not what you would imagine from a young lady who broke her back on this course two years ago! Isla has come such a long way since then, physically but also mentally. Her approach to racing and how she deals with the mental challenges that brings has matured immeasurably and that alone makes us really proud. However, she added another layer of awesome on Sunday with a classy ride to 12th place. Isla had a monster crash on lap one which left her winded and wobbling. However, she got up, got going and got on with her race remarkably. She’s a fighter, and she’s going places!
Martin Gluth had the tough job of following on from Annie’s race. He interrupted his warm up to give Annie a big congratulatory hug and share in the moment, but then it was time to find his focus and get race-ready. He had a great start but unfortunately, like last week in Vallnord, he just couldn’t find his power and struggled throughout the race. Technically he rode really well but it wasn’t enough to hold onto the kind of result he is looking for. A 63rd place left him with many more questions than answers. However, Martin quickly turned around his disappointment and put the team’s success above his own race. It was humbling to see his selflessness and support of Annie and Team Manager, Paul. Thanks Martin!
Now we are all back home and trying to let this extraordinary weekend sink in.
Thank you to everyone for your support, belief and messages of congratulations. It means a great deal to this small team from England!