Annie Last (Milka-Brentjens) has been pleased with her preparations thus far for the 2012 London Olympic Games. But before she can get too focussed on details for the big day in August, she has to qualify to be one of the 30 women selected to be on the start line.
"It is going really well," said Last. "We get the nations qualification in May. Hopefully we'll qualify a place, and I'll be able to get that. We're chipping away at scoring points. For me personally, my training and racing are going in the right direction." Just this weekend, she won round 2 of the British Cross Country Series at Dalby Forest.
Last is hoping she will help qualify Great Britain to send a rider to the Olympics and that she is the rider her federation selects to go to London.
The number of riders each nation gets to send will be determined after World Cup round 4 in La Bresse. Last expects to hear sometime in June whether or not she will race the Olympics if, in fact, Great Britain does get to send a female representative.
Thinking optimistically, Last has taken several chances to check out the 2012 London Olympic mountain bike course.
"All nations got to ride the course the other week and I had a look then," she said. "It's really good. I think that quite a lot of sections were widened with more options to overtake. The new rock garden is a good feature - it's quite a wide rock garden with a lot of lines - there is no one that's the fastest."
"It will be interesting to see us all going in different directions over it. People can take different lines and you might even pass people and make up time on that section."
While many riders have already announced their intentions to race 29ers on the course, Last is sticking with the more traditional, smaller wheels.
"I will ride a 26-inch bike hardtail Boardman bike. I like it and I think it's the bike I've always ridden and it suits me. I think it will be a good bike for the course."
Her team manager Bart Brentjens also got to see the course recently. The 1996 Olympic mountain bike champion offered his comments. "London is a really handmade course. The trails are built by design, especially the rock gardens. The descents are pretty technical and could be dangerous for some riders. You need good skills to ride well and fast. If you have the skills to ride well, you can go fast. If you know the course well, you'll be fast. The differences are in the descent - that's where it will be made."
World Cup success
Last opened round 1 of the UCI World Cup with a bang in South Africa. Near the beginning of the race, she led the elite women's field - impressive considering Last is one of just a few U23 riders who have chosen to race among the elites in the World Cup this season.
The time in the front was a real boost to Last's confidence. "That was the first time I'd been at the front of an elite World Cup race. It is so different being at the front of a world class bike races vs. being top 15 or 20. The riders around you are the best. if you're at the front, you have a clear run. It makes it easier. You don't have to fight for the singletrack. You can ride your own race. It was a great experience. Hopefully, I can get to the front again next time and then I'll know more what to expect."
"If you ride at the front, you see that you can do that. It means the next time you know you can do it and maybe for longer," she said.
In Houffalize, Belgium, at round 2 of the UCI World Cup, Last started in ninth - in the second row.
"I got a good start. I kind of settled into 10th place and then slipped back during the race. Overall, it went quite well." She finished 20th, just two days after she won the first-ever UCI Eliminator World Cup.
After two rounds, she is ranked in 11th in the World Cup standings.
A new year, a new team
In 2012, Last is racing for the Milka-Brentjens team, a special UCI-registered team created just for her. She was not included in the Milka-Superior team, also run by Bart Brentjens, because she had a long term relationship with Boardman Bikes and wanted to stay aboard the company's equipment.
"We were wanted to get Annie onto our team, but we had already signed the contract with Superior bikes," said Brentjens, explaining how the situation came to be. "It was a difficult situation. Our solution was to come up with a second team, Milka-Brentjens, so she could ride her own program and stay with national team and do her own preparation for the Olympics."
"She can get the benefits of our team in general, but she still can ride her preferred mountain bikes and work with her national team."
Read part 1 of the Annie Last interview.
The videos below include Last and Brentjens talking about the 2012 Olympics as well as some helmet cam footage of the course.