'I thought I was having a heart attack on the start line': Mechanical engineer, mother of two, making Pakistani history

Alongside Asma Jan, Kanza Malik made history as the first Pakistani women to race internationally

Kanza Malik
(Image credit: Getty)

Like with Chris Symonds in the men's time trial, the results sheet of a bike race shows the order of the fastest to slowest competitors who took to the start line. Turn it upside down, however, and often the most impressive efforts rise to the top.

That was certainly the case again in the women's time trial at the Flanders World Championships, as Pakistan's Kanza Malik and Asma Jan filled the final two places in 48th and 49th place.

The fact they finished 15 minutes in arrears to Dutch winner Ellen van Dijk, and more than five minutes behind the 47th placed Rwandan Diane Ingabire, didn't matter, Malik and Jan had made history as the first two Pakistani women to compete internationally. They don't give gold medals out for that, but maybe they should.

Kanza Malik

(Image credit: Getty)

"At the start line I thought I was going to have a heart attack," Malik said after the finish, overjoyed at her first taste of World Championship racing. 

"I think the atmosphere of the World Championships is just awesome, you always want to give it more than you can."

Malik is a mechanical engineer and a mother of two, she started cycling to get fitter, the trappings of a 9-5 corporate job not giving her the active lifestyle she desired.

She started with training rides at 5am before her family woke up and soon was on the radar of the local cycling community, eventually making it to races in her area before territory-wide races and then onto national competition.

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"It took me three years to get to the national level," Malik explained. "And then finally I'm now at the World Championships. So it took time. But again, we're very new at this. This is the 100th anniversary [of the Worlds] but it's our first year. So for that, I'm happy wherever we land [in the results].

"Because in Pakistan we have potential but we don't have women actually cycling. It's not normal for women to go out there on the roads yet. So, fortunately, it's gonna change, I'm gonna make sure of that.

"I think maybe five years down the road, we will be up challenging everybody."

Cycling News spoke to Malik's team-mate Jan, a 45-year-old mother of three who only took up cycling a year ago during the coronavirus pandemic but has already become Pakistan's national champion. There is pedigree in her family, her grandfather selected for the 1940 Olympics before it's cancellation due to World War Two.

Malik speaks with passion when asked about the future of women's cycling in Pakistan, and has recently given up her corporate job to start her own business. "Kids and family is non-negotiable" she says of her commitments, but working for herself should hopefully allow more time to dedicate to training. 

"I started post-30 for fun. And over the years I'm here [at the Worlds], so imagine if we actually, like everyone else here, started at the right age, recruited at the right age, and came here with at least a decade of experience. It's gonna be a game-changer."

Malik already has her focus set on next year's Worlds in Wollongong, but also has aspirations for home races in Pakistan's high mountains.

"We're looking at the Australian World Championship next year, we're looking at some Asian championships. We're also looking at internal mountain races, like we have the Pir Panjal and it's 4,000 feet above sea level. So we're even asking the UCI to look into it because it's absolutely beautiful. The roads, the infrastructure, everything is there."

Malik was thankful she set off the next slot after Ellen van Dijk rather than before to avoid being overtaken, but was still "extremely honoured to see the legends of cycling" in the flesh.

"I actually did not," she answered as to whether she'd had a chance to chat to any of the big names. "They come in very professionally," she laughed, "but I got a picture with Remco [Evenepoel] so I was happy about that."

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Hi. I'm Cycling Weekly's Weekend Editor. I like writing offbeat features and eating too much bread when working out on the road at bike races.

Before joining Cycling Weekly I worked at The Tab and I've also written for Vice, Time Out, and worked freelance for The Telegraph (I know, but I needed the money at the time so let me live).

I also worked for ITV Cycling between 2011-2018 on their Tour de France and Vuelta a España coverage. Sometimes I'd be helping the producers make the programme and other times I'd be getting the lunches. Just in case you were wondering - Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen had the same ham sandwich every day, it was great.