Speaking to Anna Henderson about her journey so far, one gets the immediate sense of a patchwork of supporting forces, who have all helped steer the British 22-year-old on her path to becoming a professional bike racer, riding on a team that will – all things being equal – go WorldTour next season.
There was her first amateur team, Lovelo Cinelli, run out of a bike shop in Berkhamsted who still help her fix her bike today, despite the fact she is now racing on one of the best-funded, professional women’s cycling teams in the world.
Then there was Team OnForm, with whom she won the Tour Series in 2018; that was followed by a stagiaire stint on Team Tibco-Silicon Valley Bank that saw her thrown into the top level of bike racing on one of the sport’s longest-running teams (on either side of the gender divide).
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She then spent the year lost to Covid-19 on the books of Team Sunweb with just 10 days of racing in the season, before finally making the move to newly-formed Jumbo-Visma.
Alongside racing, Henderson is also studying for an undergraduate degree at the University of Birmingham, and they too have provided her with much-needed support as she has established a career.
What is it like, after all that, to ride out on a Tour of Flanders recon ride for the first time as a teammate of the undisputed GOAT, Marianne Vos?
“She's just super calm, just super collected, and it's really inspiring racing with her because you know she has so much experience and you just know that she will always be there," Henderson told Eurosport.
"I’m looking forward to learning so much more off her, to be honest. You can see there’s just such a wealth of knowledge there and it’s like, ‘Wow, I hope to have that in ten years' time’.”
Marianne Vos and Anna Henderson | GP Oetingen
Image credit: Getty Images
Jumbo-Visma, which only formed its women’s team this season, is a great place for Henderson to be at this point in her career, she says.
“They’re always working with the athlete, how they can better the athlete, and how you can work together to grow yourself and the team. And I think that’s a really good balance because cycling is a team sport but also individuals in there have to grow as well.
"I’m really enjoying learning more about myself and really having good communication with the team, I feel like I’m growing a lot already.”
And she will be in the Jumbo yellow and black for at least two seasons, having signed a contract through 2022. Based on her early experiences, however, she says it’s a place she’d happily stay much longer than that.
Henderson was not always a road cyclist. She wasn’t even always a cyclist, having been a junior British champion in the ski slalom before injuries ruled her out of pursuing it further. The bike was something she picked up as part of her rehab.
When asked if she is already tired of questions about similarities between her and her men’s Jumbo Visma ‘teammate’ Primož Roglič, Henderson quickly and pithily explained the difference between slalom and ski jumping.
“We're from completely different sports. He jumped off the most insane ski jumps and I just kind of stayed on the ground most of the time and stayed on the snow.
"In my opinion, I think you need a screw loose to do ski jumping, it's one of the most insane sports I've ever seen. It's like comparing downhill mountain biking to a road rider – same sport but different. Very different.”
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After skiing, Henderson applied to British Cycling’s track sprinting programme, but didn’t get very far – and this turned her attention fully to road cycling.
“I tried to get on the sprint programme, I think, before I started properly getting into cycling and they rejected me, [which was] very much a ‘silver lining’. I have so much respect for the sprinters but for me I'm glad I didn't become a sprinter.”
From there, she found her way onto Team OnForm.
“I just developed from there under Simon Howes, who now runs CAMS-Tifosi the UCI women's team. We went from just a club team riding Women's Tour Series, Women's National Series and now he's running a UCI team – so it's really cool for that team and for Simon. He really made me the rider I am today, along with Mark Dolan from EPiC Coaching.”
Henderson spent two years with Onform, and was invited to race as a stagiare for Tibco-Silicon Valley Bank at the end of the 2019 season.
Her stint with Tibco exposed Henderson to the very top level of competition, and the experience she had at the Women’s Tour of Norway and Boels Ladies Tour confirmed her desire to be a racer.
“I owe a big thanks to Rachel [Hedderman] at Tibco for giving me the opportunity. I rode the Women’s Tour of Norway, Boels Ladies Tour and it really opened my eyes to the women’s professional peloton. It was just such an epic four days over in Norway and really set in stone what I wanted to be in this world and try and win these races.
“That was a real good stepping stone onto the women’s professional scene and I’m forever grateful for Tibco for allowing me to have that. It was really epic and just confirmed what I wanted in life.”
Gratitude is an idea that comes up time and again when speaking to Henderson.
“I will never ever not be grateful for those people that have helped me get here because it’s amazing to be in this team.”
But there is far more than just the kindness, belief and support of others that has propelled Henderson to this point. She is one of the brightest emerging British talents in women’s cycling, and she has achieved some impressive results in her brief career.
A second place in the road race at nationals behind Alice Barnes (Canyon SRAM) stands as evidence to Henderson’s talent, as does her impressive run of results so far in 2021. She has finished top 20 in all but one of her races this year, and that exception was a DNF in Nokere Koerse. She snagged eighth at Le Samyn, took fourth on the opening stage of the Healthy Ageing Tour, and secured a tenth overall in the GC there.
All this while riding in a team that, understandably, has been built around Vos. In GP Oetingen, Henderson managed 17th place, but she was also vital in guiding Vos to the podium.
She sounded a cautiously optimistic note on the team’s chances of delivering a result at the weekend in Gent-Wevelgem. She is, she agrees, perfectly suited to this style of race.
“I really enjoy the classics in general, that's why I've chosen to base myself right in the heart of Flanders, I just really want to embrace the classics culture and grow and become really good in the classics. I think a race like Gent Wevelgem or Nieuwsblad, things like that, Flanders one day I hope, is everybody's dream, isn't it?
“I think just in general the classics and some punchier climbs, not too hilly, but some smaller hills is good for me. I hope the team can do a really good job at the weekend and I think we're quite strong coming into it.”
While she is pragmatic about the likely race plan for Sunday and Vos being the expected rider to lead the team, Henderson is convinced that as an organisation, Jumbo-Visma are about more than one marquee name.
“It's not just a one-woman show, I think it's going to be a good team effort season and I hope that we can all grow and race for each other."
Anna Henderson will be in action for Jumbo Visma at Gent-Wevelgem on Sunday. Watch the race live on Eurosport 1, watch live and ad-free on the Eurosport app and eurosport.co.uk. Coverage begins from 15:45
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