We first saw Anna Lang race in the Manhattan Beach Grand Prix last summer. She placed fifth behind a talented sprinting field. A few days later we caught up with Lang at the Women's Road Criterium race during the Infineon Cougar Mountain Classic where she crushed the field in a hard sprint finish. Lang was a solo rider battling multi-rider teams from Webcor Builders, PROMAN/Paradigm and Cheerwine, which made her victory even more impressive. Although fairly new to the professional women's road schedule, Anna Lang has impressed many.

Anna Lang
Lang began her cycling career as an undergrad at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. "I was always athletic. It took collegiate racing to get into riding," Lang stated. "My sophomore year, I wanted the discipline and the team atmosphere, I heard about the triathlon club. They had a coach and regular practice times. I did triathlons and it was just okay. It was pretty straight forward and actually kind of boring. Through the triathlon club I heard about the cycling club. They were just bad asses…very good. As a club team I was simply able to join. I did a mountain bike championship in San Diego. I did the B category downhill and won. I got down and thought, 'This is so cool!' I fell in love with it. A couple of months later the road season started. I got a road bike. I remember telling my friend that for the first time I can see doing this until the day I die.There was a love there immediately."

After graduation, Anna began a new job and didn't train or race very much. "I hadn't really jumped the ranks from collegiate and was planning on driving around to race and then September 11th happened and I ended up staying home and got a great engineering job."

She worked for two years as a structural design consultant at a leading engineering firm designing multi-million-dollar homes in the San Francisco Bay area. However, a trip to Mexico motivated her to go back to school to get an advanced degree. "On the engineering side…it wasn't really fulfilling," Lang commented. "I wanted to make a bigger contribution."

"When I made the decision to go to grad school I found out that they had a track. People had always told me that I would be good at track. I tried it. First year of grad school was ridiculous so I rode twice a month on my road bike and did a handful of collegiate races. The track team was pretty solid. I finished school on June 16th and I was at the track the next day. I trained and I loved it. At first I was training for pursuit. I was really good at time trialing at Cal Poly. Though I liked training for the pursuit my 500m time was dropping. I switched coach and have been training for sprints for three years now. He put me in the crit scene last year. He told me that he wanted to make me a better athlete first and then to make me a better racer. He wanted me to enter every and all races to get the experience. That's why we did crits last year. It was a secondary thing to my track. It was done only to supplement my track racing. At my first crit….I got out there and thought I am either not going to finish the race or I am going to win….there really was no in between. If I am able to get to the line I will out sprint everyone in the field. Sure enough I jumped and sprinted."

Lang further commented about her coach. "I'm well aware of Mark's (Whitehead) controversial reputation, but that is simply not the person I know and worked closely with for two years. He is a deeply dedicated, talented, and passionate coach and individual. I have the utmost respect for his coaching ability and for what he accomplished as a racer in the 70's and 80's. Frankly, I wouldn't be where I am without him. Mark saw my ability to sprint and to ride crits, and he fostered those talents. I believe it takes a unique personality to coach female athletes, particularly at the elite level, and he possesses that. Mark simply knows what it takes to make someone the best possible racer. An athlete sacrifices so much to achieve results; they put their heart and soul into it. You must trust your coach in order to reach your god-determined potential; that's a heavy burden! But I wouldn't invest that trust with anyone else in the U.S.; he is the best."

Lang has continued to combine her track racing passion with her new road career. "I have seen a huge improvement by combining the two. A lot of track sprinters do not like the speed of the peloton. I think because I started road racing in college, I knew how to ride crits plus I am getting the speed training from track. Combining the two has been awesome. My coach has even been considering the points race now too. The level of fitness that I had last year was the best I ever had. I was still able to maintain my sprint and my 200m time was dropping. It was not taking away from sprints. There is often a black and white training mentality. I am somewhere in the middle and my coach has done a fantastic job of identifying the talent I have and nourishing it. I am somewhere in the middle and really do not want to be pigeon holed. Road has taken more of a forefront now. I'll race a handful of track races in the summer but I will be getting into my road schedule. I am still training on the track. Track remains an integral part of my road racing and my sprint."

With her road and track successes in 2007, Lang decided to test the waters of possibly joining a professional women's road team. "I did send my resume to a lot of teams. I knew what I wanted and I knew I did not want to be pigeon holed. I know I have to pay my dues and I know I have a lot to earn but I also know that I can win races. I wanted to be at a place where I could be myself and where I was wanted I was so enchanted with the idea of going pro. I just knew what I wanted…I knew what I could do…I knew what I could do alone out on the peloton and I knew I could do it again and better. So it was not like I had to be on a team in order to make it. I wasn't sold on that idea. I also wanted to maintain school and my schedule. I wanted to be with a team that work with me and my schedule."

With a suggestion by a colleague, Lang decided to contact Aaron's Professional Women's Cycling Team. "Carmen (D'Aluisio) called me back. She said she had been looking for ways to contact me. She had her eye on me. We had a long talk and what convinced me was that she would allow me to be who I am. She was looking for a true sprinter. When Laura Van Gilder or Tina Pic is in the race, the peloton immediately starts racing for second place. I don't have that problem. I am going to jump in and attack. I just see them as another competitor that I want to beat. I am ready now. The engineering side of me looks at it and I have seen these girls, I've seen their 500 and 200 times and I am a lot faster. If I can get to the line, deductively I should be able to beat them….that's what I saw in my head. Maybe that's been my source of confidence."

As for her goals for 2008, Lang stated, "Number one….I am new to the team dynamic. There is lot I have to learn. I want a better understanding of how I am going to fit in but I really want to win races. I don't want to step on toes but I do want to win races. There is so much firepower on this team. I think there are a lot of different ways we'll be able to win races. What ever group I am in…I want to win."

However, Lang's passion for track is never far behind. "I had some good success on the track last summer. I beat Jenny Reed a couple of times and showing some good strength and speed. I had bad luck at the Track Nationals. I crashed pretty bad on the keirin. It shook me up. I went down hard and hit my head. I got back up and did the scratch race…which is the best thing I could have done. 2012 track in the Olympics is definitely something I am targeting."

Anna riding with the A-Team

All photos copyright Stephanie Gutowski