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Road Culture

Meet Anna Shackley, Scottish star in the making

The 20-year-old chats about her sharp rise to the WorldTour with SD Worx, learning from Anna van der Breggen, and going to the Olympic Games.

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Anna Shackley appeared to come out of nowhere when she signed with SD Worx for 2021. The then-18-year-old had mostly been focusing on the track with the British national programme where she won multiple Scottish junior national titles before taking the elite British points race and team pursuit titles in 2020.  

Aged 20 now, Shackley’s beginnings in the sport are still relatively recent history. “I was pretty shit when I was younger but I really enjoyed it and I always loved to go into the races,” she tells me over Zoom from her home in Scotland. “And when you went to the cyclocross races they gave you bobble hats, which I loved. So that’s probably what kept me in the sport.” 

Having been lured in by bobble hats and a good time, Shackley started to show promise. “As a junior, I improved a little bit and I got on the Scotland programme, which was the first time I had a coach and that helped a lot,” she recalls. “And then the year after I got on the British programme and then from there everything started going quite well and I managed to get on the team that I am on now.”

If that sounds like an impressive rise it’s because Shackley’s trajectory from junior to WorldTour is almost a vertical line. Despite her success in the velodrome, “I always always wanted to become a professional road rider rather than on the track,” she says. Which is why, during the lockdown in 2020, her coach from British Cycling, Emma Trott, reached out to SD Worx manager, Danny Stam. 

“It was just quite a mad experience for me,” Shackley recalls. “He was looking at my training and maybe a few of my races as junior, and like my power files, then he was just talking like ‘oh, yeah, we’d like to offer you a contract.’” 

At first, she didn’t believe that she was being offered a spot on one of the world’s best teams. “I was like, ‘ah, yeah, this isn’t happening.’ He kept saying, ‘oh, yeah, I’ll send it through’ and I was like ‘no he won’t send it through’ … I didn’t really tell anyone at all until I properly signed the contract. It just happened so quick like ‘oh, yeah, I’m going to be a professional rider.’” 

How did she find going from racing with the national squad to becoming teammates with the likes of Anna van der Breggen? “I’ve never really found it that intimidating on the team,” Shackley says. “Everyone’s so easy to approach and it’s a very respectful environment in a way. I don’t feel so much younger than my teammates. Because there’s quite a few of us at varied ages it just feels like we’re all the same age in most cases so I’ve never felt too intimidated.

“Everyone’s always really eager to give you advice if you need it and any help, and especially Anna I find is really approachable as well so it will be quite nice to see her in a DS role.”

Age might not be a factor within the team but Shackley found herself gravitating towards the next-youngest member of the squad, Kiwi rider Niamh Fisher Black – with whom she is often seen at the front of the peloton working for SD Worx’s leaders. 

“We quite often room together,” Shackley says. “And I don’t know about Niamh but I always really enjoy rooming with her and I think we also have quite a similar sense of humour so I always quite like it. I feel like it’s also quite nice to just have someone who is basically the same age as you because you can talk about stuff and you have more stuff in common outside of cycling.

“It is quite nice being one of the younger ones in the team, because you don’t have as much pressure and you have a lot more room to mess up as well.”

She might not be subjected to too much pressure on her trade team, but last year, Shackley found herself heading to the Tokyo Olympic Games as the only support rider for Lizzie Deignan, something she describes as: “a very mad experience that I never thought would happen.” 

“It was also very strange with COVID because it was pretty strict rules and I don’t think we really got the full Olympic experience because we did just sit in a hotel room for two weeks other than riding,” she recalls. “But I still get to say that I went to the Olympics so I can’t really complain. And yeah, it was really good racing for Lizzie as well.” 

How did she find the dynamics of a race that has now gone down as one of the most tactically unorthodox in history? “It was one of the weirdest races I’ve ever done,” she says. “And it’s also a very strange race and the fact that half the peloton isn’t there because it’s such a small bunch – there was only I think 60 of us. So it was quite weird in that a lot of the really good riders weren’t there and the teams are really small.

“Also I think the heat affected everyone a lot because people would attack and it wouldn’t be such a big punch as it normally would. And I will admit I do not like riding in that heat so it was not the best experience. I think I’d take the rain and the wind any day over that.” 

Rain and wind is exactly what Shackley found herself racing in at the British National Championships later that season, where she claimed the U23 time trial title. “That was quite good actually, I did enjoy that,” she says, characteristically understated. “I think it’s made me really want to also focus a bit more on time trials next year and see how that goes. Because with Olympics we managed to do quite a lot of testing and get quite a good position for me on the bike. So I’d quite like to see if I can maybe become quite a good time trialist.”

If Shackley can hone her time trial skills then she is well on her way to performing in stage races, a style of racing that isn’t her favourite, but which she enjoys. “They’re always a bit more exciting and they’re just a little bit of a different race because you always have to think about like the bigger picture in every stage, which I quite like,” she says. “But I think I probably do still prefer one-day races because they’re a bit more of a just hit out as fast as you can.” 

When we speak, Shackley has just returned from her first SD Worx training camp of the season. “It was really nice being on team camp and I kind of didn’t realise that I quite missed a lot of my teammates so it was nice seeing them all,” she says. “And team camp is so easy as well; it makes you realise how good a job you have. You get to go to a warm place in the sun, cycle all day, come back and Shara [Marche – ex-pro rider and the team’s nutritionist] has made all this amazing food and you just get to fill yourself up — it’s quite a good life.” 

Back at home after a week in the sun with her team, Shackley has the 2022 season on her mind but is modest about her goals. “I think they’re pretty similar to this year [2021], just seeing how things go,” she says. “And Danny and Anna are always very much like, if I get a break, or if any of us get in a break, you always trust yourself and you try go for yourself if you can. So they always talk about good opportunities for yourself. And so yeah maybe I might have one of those and maybe get good results. But I always quite like working for my team anyway.”

She may not have too many personal results on her mind this season, but being surrounded by some of the world’s best riders is guaranteed to invoke inspiration and Shackley is ambitious for her future. “I think this is quite a few years down the line, but winning one of the Ardennes Classics would be pretty amazing thing to be able to do,” she says. “Or even a stage in the Giro — I’d love to do that.”

If her career trajectory continues to rise as it has, it won’t be long before Shackley is ticking off those goals — with something a bit more prestigious than a free bobble hat to show for it.

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