During her cycling career, Hannah Walker achieved four National Championship titles at a young age, including three-times National Derny Champion and National Madison Champion. Now she's on the other side of the tracks as a commentator and presenter and 2022 has seen her take things up a gear, reporting from every major European race and bringing her own unique personality and humour to every broadcast.
We spoke to her as she reflects on a fantastic season, doing her prep and why she hasn't missed a Champions of CycleSport Dinner since 2012...
Tell us about your year – it looks like you’ve been extremely busy!
It has been really busy, it has been unbelievable; when I look back on the events I’ve been fortunate enough to work on and be a part of and, from a sporting perspective, all the achievements that riders have tasted, it’s been incredible.
I did my first Giro d’Italia as the first grand tour of the year then going on to see the Tour de France men’s race, that was the first time I’d worked on the men’s tour on site, then getting to see the inaugural women’s Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift was equally just incredible. Every day was different and there wasn’t really much time for any rest as I went straight from the men’s tour into the women’s Tour de France, then the minute I landed home I went straight to Birmingham for the Commonwealth Games! And then I had around a week before heading to the Vuelta for the men’s final grand tour of the season.
Looking back at where the season started in the Spring Classics, being on site there and getting to do the Paris-Roubaix, Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège, both men’s and women’s races… it has been an incredible year and a lot of fun, I have got to meet a lot of nice people and really nice colleagues but also from a sporting aspect, doing something a little bit different for me. For example, on the Giro and the Tour, I was reporting with Eurosport-Discovery and getting to interview sports directors or members of staff as well as the riders; when I’m doing commentary, you sometimes don’t get to do that and be so close to the sport, so that’s been really nice. Especially after two years of Covid, where if you were on site at a race, it was really difficult to be close to the teams or riders, so it was good to be in the same space.
It has been really good fun: rounding out the final race of the year, the CRO race in Croatia, where I was the only commentator for the men’s race, I was covering the international broadcast. It was a nice challenge; it was a real sense of achievement to be holding the fort for the six days of racing. So yes, a beautiful year, wonderful!
Do you get nervous before taking to the mic?
For me, I always want to make sure I have given my absolute best and done everything possible to carry out my job to the highest standard I possibly can. So that’s a pressure that I put on myself; you have to go into any event well prepared. The pressure’s there but it puts you at ease knowing you’ve done all the preparation beforehand, knowing that if something goes wrong now or the broadcast has been brought forward and you have to go live straight away – if you know you’re ready to go at that point, then you’ve done the preparation and you’re ready. The pressure comes because I always want to make sure that I’ve done my best.
You’ve been getting a lot of great feedback from viewers about your approach…
Cycling or any sport is entertainment for people to watch. They’re taking time out of their day, maybe they’ve just finished work, or they’ve had a bad day, and what they want to watch is something that is entertaining, uplifting, informative and enjoyable to watch. I’m just myself. It makes me smile if I know people have enjoyed it: whether they have watched for the last 10km or the whole 6 hours that we’ve been on air and they’ve enjoyed it and it’s put a smile on their face, then that gives me a sense of satisfaction.
What's next for you?
A couple of weeks off! I’m going to interview seven riders from a men’s team which will be out next year, and then some downtime. Be in my own bed, go on some walks, spend some time with the family after spending so much time away and on the road. I want some time to reflect on a nice season and things going back to what felt like more normal after the past two years with Covid. I was lucky enough to be able to go away, even during the pandemic, and still travel to the races then because it was so restricted, but it feels more normal now.
Do you still get out riding?
When I’m home I do but I want to try to be more consistent going into the winter. I have started running actually because when you’re away, you only need to take a pair of trainers, a pair of shorts and a t-shirt and it’s lightweight in your bag. Last year at the Vuelta I borrowed a bike from Orbea which was kind of them and I thought ‘I’ve got loads of time to ride because we’re not on air until 2pm so I can ride in the morning, even if it’s only an hour or so’. But when you factor in the transfers, and all the transfers after a stage, plus on some of the rest days we had long transfers too, in the end I think I rode four times in 23 days. So it was fantastic to be lent a bike, from Orbea and Euskaltel–Euskadi, but when I gave it back to them I was thinking ‘this has been brilliant but it’s not really working!’
This year at the Vuelta, me and my co-commentator Anthony just got out, we didn’t put a distance on it, we just said we’ll run 10 minutes out and 10 minutes back and build it up slowly. So I’ll try and do that when I’m at the races and then when I’m home, I’ll be back on the bike and do something a bit more consistently. Especially as we’re heading into winter; I’ll do some Zwift and keep myself active. It’s nice to get back on the bike even if it’s a couple of hours – no more than three hours, but never say never! If there’s a nice coffee stop as well, it’s a good way to socialise and catch up with everybody.
You’ve been a long-term supporter of our Champions of CycleSport Dinner… are you looking forward to this year’s event?
I first went to the Action Medical Research dinner in 2012, when the team I was racing for at the time (Matrix Fitness) were supporting the event. Jon Johnston got in touch the day before the event to invite me and Jon [Mould], and it was a brilliant event. Hearing all these stories, it’s so touching when you understand the reason they’re trying to raise all that money. Then I went back the next year, and I’ve been back with Jon every year since 2012, I’ve never missed a dinner.
Every year there is a story of a family which might have been a success story for them with their little one, or there have been times when families have spoken about their little ones who have died, and it shows there is so much more that still needs to be done.
Events like this where people can play their part to help raise those vital funds are so important. My brother passed away when he was 23 so when you have felt that loss, and you know there is so much left to do, if people can help knowing that the more research that is carried out can save children’s lives, it is exceptional.
My brother Tom died of AML (acute myeloid leukemia) and aplastic anaemia, a really rare bone marrow disorder; only 100 people in the UK will get this disorder. He had three bone marrow transplants so when you hear these stories from families who are going through what they’re going through with their little ones, sometimes having to live in the hospital for weeks or months, hours from home, that makes it even more important for me to support. Not everyone has that success story with their little one and it puts everything into perspective…
If companies can buy a table and invite their employees or clients, it is not just about supporting the charity; it is also an occasion for everyone to come together. Like the Garmin ride that Action put on in August, there are so many different events that are bringing people together for a greater cause.
It’s been an honour to have been to the dinners over the last 10 years, to be there and hear the families’ stories and the work that has been done throughout the year. And that’s just a snapshot of what has been done; there will be so many more stories, so it is really important to support that.
Whenever I’m asked, I’m 100% in because I know how important it is to support this charity. The work that they do, it is not just important in the next year, it’s the long term, for 10, 20, 30, 40 years’ time where the impact will continue to be seen.