Mountain bike rider Annie Last laid down an early marker ahead of the London 2012 Olympics with an encouraging display at the opening World Cup race of the season.
The 21-year-old was hailed by British Cycling’s Olympic mountain bike coach, Phil Dixon, after finishing inside the top 10 at the event in South Africa on March 18.
The rider, from Bakewell in Derbyshire, held the lead for the first time in a World Cup race and looked at home at the front for the opening 30 minutes, before being caught by the chasing pack.
But despite slipping back to ninth, Dixon was full of praise for the maturity shown by the young starlet, and he told British Cycling: “The aim is to start well. It is critical to get a good start so you can ride your own rhythm, avoid getting held up in traffic or crashes and losing time in technical sections.
“Annie committed to the start and rode her own race. It was the first time she has led a World Cup and gained vital experience.
“The front is very different, even compared to riding in third or fifth position and it is encouraging to know Annie has proven ability to do that.”
Last had originally been thought of as a hot prospect for the future, with one eye on the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, but her performance in Pietermaritzburg has given the youngster hope of challenging for a podium spot at London 2012.
Already in her short career, Last has made the world sit up and take notice – especially when twice beating the Olympic champion Sabine Spitz.
Last, who deferred her place in medical school to join British Cycling’s Olympic Academy Programme in 2009, claimed silver at both the 2010 and 2011 World U23 Championships and also won her first national title while she was still a junior.
In 2011, she also claimed back-to-back top-10 finishes in the senior UCI World Cup and has now added to this with her fine start to the season ahead of London 2012