Meet Anna Yamauchi, off-road’s rising star
Ahead of her first Life Time Grand Prix, the 22-year-old feels calm, confident, and stoked.
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If you’ve been following the pro gravel season this year, you may have seen her name. If you ride gravel or MTB around San Luis Obispo or Truckee, California, you already know her name.
And if neither applies, don’t worry, you’ll be hearing about Anna Yamauchi soon.
Read also: 10 years of adventure and irreverence at the Rock Cobbler
Yamauchi, 22, is a rising new talent in American off-road cycling, and she’s quickly shown she’s one to watch this year. In February, she won the Rock Cobbler, with an impressive 16th place overall. Then, she was second at BWR Arizona, in front of veteran racers like Alexis Skarda and Whitney Allison. In January, she nearly beat Kate Courtney at the Low Gap ‘Hopper, but a wrong turn took her out of contention.
Who is Anna Yamauchi? When did she start riding? What makes her tick — on and off the bike? We caught up over over the phone after BWR and before the Cactus Cup, her next race of the season.
VeloNews: Tell me a little bit about yourself and your cycling background.
Anna Yamauchi: I grew up in Truckee, California from the age of 12. I grew up competitively ski racing, and then I swapped to big mountain my junior year of high school. I played a bunch of other random sports, but that’s mainly what I focused on. I graduated in 2018 and went to college at Cal Poly. I’m still there, it’s my fifth year so I’m doing a little victory lap, studying architectural engineering. I graduate in June.
VN: OK, but you didn’t answer the cycling part!
AY: I guess the bike has kinda always been a part of my life in a little way. My parents always rode mountain and road bikes when I was growing up. When I was young, maybe nine or 10, I got a little drop bar bike and we’d go on weekend rides to get lunch somewhere. I’d mountain bike every once in a while with them in the summers, casually. My junior year of high school, they were like, ‘we’ll get you a nice bike if you race with the team.’ It was the first season of NICA in Nevada, and my mom wanted to coach. I was was running cross country, as well. So I did that my junior year, and I was pretty good at it, but it never stuck. Senior year I went back to running XC. I enjoyed it [riding], but never went back to it. I was all about descending fast and not climbing.
Maybe at that point there just wasn’t a very established community. There were just two other girls on my team. So I focused on running and skiing — at that point riding was just this extra thing.
VN: So, something must have happened to bring you back to the bike.
AY: Yep, I shattered my femur skiing senior year. The bike became a recovery tool, and I enjoyed it.
But then I went to college, put the bike away, and invested all this time into surfing. Then Covid came around and I picked the bike back up. School went online, and I went home. I couldn’t hang out with friends, but I had this great backyard and could ride all day.
Actually on the way home from school, I bought a gravel bike off Craigslist. That was the start. I started doing that more. I planned a trip with a friend in the summer of 2020. We bikepacked from Seattle down the coast to San Francisco.
VN: Did you know there was a ‘sport’ of gravel at that time?
AY: No, I had no clue. I met Christopher [Blevins, Yamauchi’s partner] in 2021, I had no clue who he was. I had no clue that we had this Olympic biker at our school, which is hilarious. I didn’t really know much about cross-country as a sport. Even in NICA, I didn’t know there was a path to get to this elite level.
VN: So, when did you realize that a) it was a sport and b) you might be interested in it?
AY: I hung out with Christopher for a year before I was like, ‘maybe I should do this racing thing, but do it my way.’ I was riding a ton and really enjoying it and stumbled into speed and fitness. Summer of 2021 I signed up for the Tahoe 100 [MTB race], and I did well and had a lot of fun. That was the first race and I said, ‘ok I think I want to do something like that.’
That fall, I did collegiate mountain bike nationals, and it was like, ‘ok I want to start training for real and get ready for next season and do it for real.’
VN: I think when you have a couple where both partners are racing at a high level, people are curious how much a part of the relationship it is. How does Christopher influence — or not — your racing career?
AY: If you look at where I am now, it speaks for itself in terms of his relationship with the bike and what I’ve learned form him. Most importantly he’s given me space to make it what I want and never push me, but he’s always been there as a tool. I’ve been able to draw from his approach but also do it my way. I think it’s why it took me a year to decide I wanted to do it because I wanted to make sure it was my thing and something separate from our relationship.
VN: You have a packed calendar this season, including the Life Time Grand Prix. Are you an obsessive planner, studier? Do you watch what other riders are doing? Or are you more of a ‘the less you know,’ type of person?
AY: I definitely have a ‘the less you know,’ beginner mindset in a way. I want to come in and be confident that I know how to pedal my bike and that I’m prepared for the day and that whatever unfolds during the race is out of my control, so why even think about it? I’ve realized I have a good instincts during the races so it’s not helpful to plan too far head in terms of what everyone else is doing. That takes the fun out of it for me.
VN: What are you most — and least — looking forward to within the Grand Prix?
AY: I’m most excited about the mountain bike races and testing my fitness, especially coming back to Sea Otter a year later to see how much I’ve grown in just a season.
I’m nervous about the length of the season. I really haven’t raced that much — even if you look at how many races I did last season it’s nothing compared to this year. I’m looking forward to figuring out how to take care of myself, manage my time, recover.
VN: Yeah, I’m always curious about that — how do you not burn out? Are you so singularly focused that riding and recovering is all that you do?
AY: I’ve always tried to have balance in my life, that may be in the form of doing other sports or filling my time with other things. I’m pretty creative too, so I like to do creative projects and sew and cook. I like to surf on rest days, go on a hike. Now, I’m considering doing Xterra nationals, so I think that speaks to not being singularly focused. Also having school too provides another outlet.
VN: Xterra nationals?! You clearly like competition.
AY: It’s funny, I don’t know if I’d consider myself that competitive externally, competing against other people. But I love competition to test myself. The flow state you get into is just so special.
VN: Do you have sponsor support this year?
AY: Actually, Katerina [Nash] is a privateer and I’m basically hopping into her program. She has contracts from last year, and they’re doing us a favor — basically I’m pulling from her budget and getting equipment.
It’s kinda funny, I didn’t really know her much at all until this summer. But being in Truckee I see her riding on Strava. From the start of biking, I looked at her as super impressive, a skier and biker with a really balanced approach. I’ve always looked up to her. We went on a hike this summer — she reached out and was like, ‘I have an idea, do you want to join me and form little team?’ So, the relationship is definitely newer but she’s great and I have so much to learn from her.
VN: Before our call, you had a job interview. What does an architectural engineer do, and what kind of jobs are you interested in?
AY: An architect will design a house or building, then pass it on to the engineer — you need to make this stand, make it hold up in earthquakes, build it to code.
I think I want to focus more on industrial and government contracts with cities and things, looking as sustainable projects or ways to do remodels and retrofits. The most sustainable building is the one that’s already there.
VN: What if you get an offer to be a pro bike racer?
AY: I don’t think so. I think I want the balance. I think that as long as I can have both and do it, I want to continue with a career because bike racing isn’t always gonna be a thing. In a perfect world, it would be part time work while pursuing my cycling career.