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Anna Henderson on learning from Marianne Vos, mixing racing with university

The British time trial champion flourished in her second season as a professional and took her first pro win.

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Anna Henderson has been able to learn from the best in 2021.

The rising star of British cycling has been learning her craft alongside Marianne Vos at the Jumbo-Visma squad after she was snapped up by the fledgling team over the winter.

It is just Henderson’s second season as a professional and riding for one of the best in the business has been a big learning experience for her.

“At the start, I was a little bit starstruck, but Marianne just great, really cool-headed, and so experienced,” Henderson told VeloNews. “You kind of slot in and the team keeps going. We really raced well as a team and Marianne is just there to finish off at the end. It’s been a really great environment to be in.

Also read: Marianne Vos: Growth of women’s cycling has been ‘incredible’

“It’s really nice to be with girls that have so much experience and they’ve really helped me through it. It’s been a bit of a roller coaster as well and you kind of realize at the end of the season, how tiring it’s been.”

Henderson might have had a moment of being starstruck, but it didn’t last long. She put in some impressive rides early in the season at the spring classics where she was working for Vos.

“I didn’t get away from the UK the whole winter because of COVID, and you’re kind of dancing around weather and the cold and darkness in England. So, I wasn’t sure my form was coming into the season,” she said.

“I kind of hit the ground running in Het Nieuwsblad. It was a pretty good race and I was like, “okay, we can build on this.” I felt quite overwhelmed at times because I didn’t expect to be where I’m at this year. It’s been a real surprise.”

Also read: Women’s WorldTour to grow to 14 in 2022, but it’s still behind target. Who can fill the final spot?

Henderson’s strong work in the early part of the season finally paid off in the summer when she took her first career victory on the opening stage of the Kreiz Beizh Elites stage race, and then took her second a day later before securing the overall title, too. She carried her form into the end of the season to take the British time trial title in October.

“It was almost the sense of relief, to be honest,” she said of taking her debut pro win. “It was really special to win and it was really great team performance so that made it even more special. It was a huge elation of the team did so well and I could finish it off. It was just a huge whirlwind of happiness.”

Henderson’s performances this year have impressed her team so much so that they added another three years to her contract so she will stay with the squad through 2024.

Mixing studies with racing

Henderson isn’t just learning the ropes as a professional cyclist. She’s mixing her racing with university studies and a sport and exercise degree. She started her degree before turning pro and was able to dedicate herself to full-time studying, but now she has to fit it in when she can.

One silver lining in the coronavirus pandemic for Henderson has been just how much stuff is now readily available online.

“It is tricky at times because a deadline or an exam will fall in the same timeframe as an important race. All credit to the people around me that have helped me manage that and make sure that I can do both of them to the best of my ability. It’s been rocky at times but I always say there are people that have it worse.

“My university has online resources anyway because it’s a modern university and they record everything. But with COVID, all the resources have stepped up and the exams are online as well, which is even better because I don’t have to go back to Birmingham to do an exam.”

Having remote learning not only helps Henderson when she’s away racing but when she is at home. Home for Henderson is now the Netherlands after she got Dutch residency earlier in the year, which allows her to live in a Jumbo-Visma team house.

It means being closer to the team, but it also reduces the challenge faced by many British riders since Brexit. Ordinarily, she would be restricted to the number of days she could spend in Europe without a visa.

“I’ve got Dutch residency so I’ve been able to stay the team house, which has reduced my traveling a lot, which has been a huge blessing,” Henderson said. “I’ve been so lucky with that and I’m so grateful for it. It’s been tricky for a lot of riders, but for me, it’s been as easy as possible thanks to the team.”

Living in the Netherlands, Henderson is trying to brush up on her language skills, but it can be hard when most people in the country can speak perfect English. Her teammates have been helping her with a few phrases, but it’s taking time to get to grips with it.

“I have these spurts of motivation right I’m going to sign up to babble or whatever. And then I’m like “Oh no, I need to study I need to train” and then you know, it never happens,” she said. “After all the studying is done, I think I’m going do it now. It’s a vicious circle. Hopefully, I will get to grips with a few lines as I go.

“I roll it to the cafe and I’m like, right. Go to order the drink in Dutch and then I’m speaking slowly and really bad and they see from a mile off, unfortunately, but I will keep persevering.”