Peloton Watch
  Interview: The Emergence of Anna-Leeza Hull in 2014  
  November 11th 2014  
  The Australian National Road Series has produced some of Australia’s top talent over the years and helped develop juniors. Overall winners in the under 19 category include Amanda Spratt, Peta Mullens, Lauren Kitchen, who have all now turned professional. While the most recent winners in 2011 and 2012 Jess Mundy and Emily Roper have spent time with the Australian national team over the past two years.

One of the breakthrough riders of 2014 has been New South Wales’ Anna-Leeza Hull. The 17 year old, just a first year junior was consistently mixing it with the best riders domestically. Hull looked to be on track for a podium finish at the Mersey Valley Tour. A crash ended those hopes but just weeks later Hull was on the podium at Battle on the Border.

Outside the NRS Hull claimed bronze in the junior Oceania road race. In July Hull won the national junior time trial title ahead of Macey Stewart and Alex Manly, both noted time trialists. Bronze the following day in the road race, secured her a spot in the World Championship team.

Below the talented climber and time trialist talks NRS racing, World Championships, her development, riding in Belgium and where she hopes her career will go.

PelotonWatch: How did you first come in to the sport?

Anna-Leeza Hull: Growing up in the country it is the norm to learn to ride a bike very young. I was about three when I got my first bike from Santa but even before then I rode a tricycle. I always rode a mountain bike around the streets with my friends when I was growing up. I used to swim and run and decided that I wanted to do triathlons, which was when I got my first road bike. A shoulder injury prevented me from swimming and I soon started to ride more with my dad on weekends with the local social riders. I got into the North Coast Academy of Sport (NCAS) through application even though I had never done a bike race before, but from my results in running and swimming. Since being accepted in the program, I have been riding ever since.

PW: We saw you climbing with some of the best riders domestically at the Mersey Valley Tour. A crash on the final stage saw you abandon but how important was the experience?

ALH: This was one of the most rewarding and exciting experiences of mine ever. I was absolutely heart broken after crashing and it took me a few hours to settle and realise that what I had achieved in the final stage was still a great achievement. I've never had the experience of having to abandon a race before and this happening in a race that meant so much to me made it difficult, but I knew this was always going to happen to me at some point; that's bike racing. It taught me resilience and made me much more motivated to want to go back to do another NRS race to prove to myself and everyone else that I could do it again.

PW: Two weeks later you bounced back finishing third overall at the Battle on the Border. What did your first NRS overall podium mean to you?

ALH: To podium on the GC at Battle was extremely exciting and I couldn't have been happier with my achievement. Having come back from crashing at Mersey Valley made it even more rewarding as I knew how mentally and physically challenging it was to recover from an injury that I made seem to the public that wasn't as bad as it really was. To race against some of the best female riders in Australia is a rewarding and exciting experience in itself and to come away with third against people who I look up to made it even more rewarding. I couldn't believe that I came away with third. It took a few days for me to realise what I had achieved. I don't go out chasing results, I only want to do my best and learn as much as I can from each experience. I still get excited thinking back to Battle, it was really a dream come true.

PW: You then went on to claim the under 19 Australian time trial title and bronze in the road race. What did it mean to win the TT as a first year?

ALH: I really hoped to do well at nationals against the riders my age. It was shocking for me in the time trial because of the margin I won by and I definitely didn't expect to. I went into the TT with the headspace of 'every second counts'. My performance that day and my lead up to the event allowed me to come away with a win and from my internal perspective, my best time trial performance to date. It's even more exciting to know that next year I will be able to go back and defend my title as a much stronger and experienced second year.

PW: You were named in the national team for Junior World Championships. How did you feel when you were told the news?

ALH: It was a dream come true to be selected in the national team. It was something that I hadn't thought about during the season when I was racing but rather a reward for all my hard work during the season. It's a unique feeling of honour to represent your country and it's something I wish to experience again in the future.

PW: Ahead of the World Championships you spent time in Belgium racing. What did you learn from the experience?

ALH: Racing in Belgium is completely different to anything I have experienced in Australia. The skills of the riders are exceptional and I had to learn fast how to ride in a huge, tight bunch and manoeuvre around for positioning. Riding in close proximity was my major weakness as it was something I had never experienced before coming from a rural area. It made for some uncomfortable and stressful racing while learning how to do something that most riders take for granted and it hasn't been until I have returned home that I have been able to refine these skills and realise how much I really did learn while I was over there.

PW: Donna Rae-Szalinski has a strong record of taking riders to Europe and leading them to medals at the World Championships. What was it like working with 'supercoach' Donna?

ALH: Donna's extensive tactical knowledge was a huge help while in Belgium, but also now a skill that the other riders and myself will carry into the future. After every race we went over where we could improve and some strong points from the race. Her external feedback has helped so much in noticing areas that need improving or pointing out strengths that I wouldn't notice on my own.

PW: After some strong results in kermesse in Belgium what were you hoping for ahead of the time trial?

ALH: I was very excited and extremely nervous coming into the time trial that on the morning of, I didn't really know what to expect. I knew in the past Australia had had some strong results in the time trial and I hoped that I could achieve this as well.

PW: You claimed bronze in the time trial. How did you feel standing on the podium in the green and gold?

ALH: Excited, disbelief, very excited. Not only was it amazing to achieve bronze, but to be standing next to Macey [Stewart] who won and getting to sing the national anthem in my first world championship race made it such an honourable experience. To have Macey, Alex and I to finish in the top 4 is a remarkable achievement by all of us.

PW: It was a pretty wet and rainy day in the time trial. How much of an impact did the conditions have?

ALH: The rainy conditions on the day made a huge difference on the overall result. The first 3km of the time trial consisted of 9 roundabouts and in the wet conditions and some negative experiences cornering in the rain meant that I was extremely cautious going around them. I made up most of my time in the second half of the time trial because of the climb, but also because I am much more suited to the longer distance time trials. Reflecting back on the time trial, the 11 seconds between winning and bronze for me were lost in the technical beginning of the time trial. It has given me something to really work for since I have been home and further reinforced how crucial skills are racing.

PW: How did the road race go and what did you learn from it?

ALH: By the road race I was absolutely exhausted. I was battling some challenging personal experiences leading up to worlds and by the time the road race came around I wasn't able to deal with some circumstances as easily I usually would. I learnt a lot about myself during those couple of hours. It really made my weaknesses and strengths stand out to me and it has given me plenty of things to work on coming into next season.

PW: Coming to the end of your first year as a junior has it made you even more motivated for 2015?

ALH: My determination coming into 2015 is stronger than it has even been before. Looking into the season with the opportunities that I have been provided and the support of so many people is going to make my season very enjoyable. It's very exciting to say the least to be racing for Specialized Securitor with some amazing teammates and sponsors. Not only would I like to target the NRS but also going into the U19 races. It's amazing each race to see how far I've come since my previous race.

PW: If we were to look further ahead where do you hope your cycling career will take you?

ALH: Ultimately I would love to become a professional cyclist and win a world title in the road race or time trial; even both! Currently the dream is to race for Orica-AIS. I'm just chasing my dreams and hope to some day live them. It's going to be a lot of work, but since I have started cycling, every year has been a new journey with new challenges. Looking into each season so far has been very exciting and as long as the excitement continues, I will be riding for a very long time.
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