Anna Newkirk is Putting the U.S. Back into Women’s DH World Cup Racing

Utah native Anna Newkirk has consistently been climbing toward the World Cup podium, where American women have been missing.
Photos: Mike Thomas, courtesy of Anna Newkirk

If you follow World Cup Downhill racing, you may have noticed an absence of female racers representing America near the top. In fact, an American woman hasn’t taken the top spot for quite a while. You have to look back to 1997 when Missy Giove won the overall for the second year in a row.

Giove had a 2nd place run for a few years after that, with her final runner-up year being 2001. Actually, 2001 was the last year America had a racer on the podium in the women’s event, with Giove nabbing silver at Arai Mountain in Japan.

Over 20 years have passed since, and America still struggles to have consistent female race results in downhill racing. Perhaps until now. Enter Anna Newkirk. 

The 22-year-old downhiller has easily put herself in the top 20 of the world’s best and is consistently knocking at the door of top 10 finishes. This year, Newkirk had three top-ten results and just missed the podium in Les Gets where she placed 6th. And she took gold in USAC National Champs in North Carolina. We sat down with Newkirk to find out how she climbed closer to the podium in a field dominated by Europeans.  

From Four-Cross to Downhill

Newkirk was born and lived in Salt Lake City, Utah as a child. Growing up, Newkirk and her siblings rode and raced BMX, which served as her introduction to life on a bicycle.

In 2009, when Newkirk was nearly 8-years-old, her family left the States for Switzerland to pursue a job opportunity. BMX then took a back seat in Newkirk’s life. 

“There was a bit of a hiatus when we moved where I didn’t ride that much,” said Newkirk. “I rode a little bit of BMX but it wasn’t easy to find a track or people who rode. Then there was a time I didn’t ride at all.”

Newkirk started mountain biking when her older brother got into the sport. Initially, she was racing four-cross but jumped at the opportunity to race downhill as soon as she was old enough. 

“I did my first race in 2012, so I was ten, turning eleven.” 

Newkirk found herself in a fairly large “Under-13” category at that first race. Despite being one of the only girls in the mixed category, Newkirk took third place overall at that race. Looking back, this was one moment where Newkirk saw that she might be a little different on the bike than others.

Four-cross stayed in Newkirk’s life for a handful of years. “Four-cross was kind of the thing I did on the side and downhill was the main show,” Newkirk told us. Her last four-cross race was in 2019 in Val di Sole. In the years following, Newkirk shifted her focus solely on downhill.

World Cup racing always seemed to be in the stars for Newkirk and her Swiss team, Team Project. At the age of 16, Newkirk came onto the World Cup race stage as a junior. 

“My first World Cup was in Croatia, in Losinj, the one year they had that race. It was a sick venue and a sick track, and I think it’s a shame it’s not on the circuit anymore,” said Newkirk. 

Newkirk’s first season as a junior was full of frustration. At Losinj, she qualified second, but a mechanical plagued her during her race run. Crashes and mechanicals seemed to be a theme during that first year.

Despite what Newkirk calls a “chaotic” first year, she finished second overall.

Turning 19, Newkirk jumped from “juniors” to the “elite” category. Aside from her teammate, Abby Hogie, Newkirk saw very little American representation on the race circuit. 

Newkirk’s team: Beyond Racing

Newkirk met her now teammate, and Beyond Racing’s co-founder Abby Hogie, in 2017 on the race circuit. Over the next few years, Newkirk and Hogie became close friends, traveling and riding together as much as possible despite being on different race teams.

In 2019, Newkirk and Hogie entertained the idea of starting a team. It seemed nearly in jest at first, however. 

“I was on SRAM Young Guns and [Hogie] was on a Pivot team, Pivot Devo I think,” said Newkirk “The idea for a team started as kind of a joke, an idea, but we weren’t actually going to do it.”

Fast forward to 2021, Newkirk is now racing the World Cup circuit as a privateer. She made things work but recognized her situation needed to change. Hogie, at the same time, was unhappy in her team situation. Heading to Val di Sole, the two women discussed this “joke” once again, and wondered about the viability.

“We were on our way to Worlds, in the car together, and said, ‘Okay, what if we actually started this team?’ That day, we got to our hotel and started writing up a portfolio, chatting with sponsors, brainstorming names…”

A week or so later, at Snowshoe, the pair told Elliot Jackson, Newkirk’s friend and “unofficial” mentor about the idea. Jackson loved the idea and wanted to help Newkirk and Hogie get the ball rolling. Jackson helped connect the women with sponsors, logo designers, trainers, and industry people.

“Elliot is a great guy. We’re very grateful for him,’ said Newkirk, referencing all Jackson contributed to the origins of Beyond Racing.

In 2022, Beyond Racing officially made its way onto the world stage. The team rides Contra Bikes, steel frames hand-built by Evan Turpen, a World Cup qualifier and U.S. Nationals racer. 

“The bikes are absolutely insane. I’ve never felt so comfortable on a bike so fast,” she said.

Steel isn’t something that we’re used to seeing on the World Cup circuit. Newkirk doesn’t think she feels an incredible difference comparing Contra to alloy or carbon fiber but there may be more of a mental edge. The durability of steel and Turpen’s quality craftsmanship has Newkirk’s attention off of the frame and on the trail.

Beyond Racing’s sponsors include Giro for apparel and helmets, Maxxis and DT Swiss for tires and wheels, SR Suntour for suspension, and Burgtec and Fidlock for other components. 

Far, far away

The question remains, however, as to why we find so few American women racing World Cup downhill?

Some might call  World Cup downhill racing a European series. While it may be true that a good portion of the races are on the European Continent, that didn’t stop Aaron Gwin from his downhill reign a handful of years ago, and Neko Mulally, Dakotah Norton, Luca Shaw, and others helped round out the category.

And, to be honest, Newkirk does recognize that growing up and living in Switzerland has its advantages. 

“It is a lot easier for me to get to World Cups than other Americans,” said Newkirk.

There are eight World Cup downhill races this year. Six are in Europe and two are in North America. Flights, accommodations, fees—it all starts adding up, especially if the athlete isn’t backed by a team. Plus, the race schedule isn’t racing one weekend after another. Racers often have several weeks before their next destination and next race. That leaves them with the choice of spending more money on a flight back to the States or spending more money on accommodations for two additional weeks in Europe. Just ask Andrew Driscoll.

“Racing World Cups is a lot more accessible for me,” said Newkirk. “I’m at a huge advantage because it’s easy for me to get there, it doesn’t cost me an arm and a leg.”

With getting to the actual World Cup races being substantially easier for Newkirk, it also allows her to sharpen her skills perhaps more than others. World Cups are where the best racers are. This is the competition that Newkirk has the opportunity to go up against weekend after weekend. 

But it isn’t just that Newkirk races against the top riders, or that she lives in Europe, that has her sitting near the top. Newkirk believes in always pushing to improve her skills, and doing so by being stretched outside of her comfort zone.

“Ride with other people,” she said. “Ride with people who are faster than you, ride with people who are good at jumps, good at tech–-learn from those people.” 

Newkirk doesn’t accept mastery of a skill, despite being one of the best in her field. She always knows there is room to grow and improve. “Don’t stop learning,” she added. 

But, to the specific question of why there aren’t many other American women near the top with Newkirk, she said she didn’t know. But, Newkirk points out that some junior women are putting up some good numbers for America and may be on their way to the elite category too. 

Taylor Ostgaard and Abigail Ronca both found a top 10 at Val di Sole. At Lenzerheide, Ostgaard again found a top 10 spot along with another American, Riley Miller. Juniors, yes, but so was Newkirk just a handful of years ago.

So, perhaps Newkirk finds herself in a pioneer position, laying the framework for what will be the United State’s re-entry into women’s World Cup downhill racing. What does Newkirk think about that?

“I don’t know if I’d call myself a pioneer.” 

Newkirk left the title of “pioneer” for women such as Leigh Donovan and Missy Giove.