Elle recently traveled down to Southern California in the Strava sprinter van for the next stop on the U.S. cyclocross circuit. The race, CXLA – Long Beach Edition, took place at El Dorado park with temperatures reaching 80 degrees and a dry and fast course. In this piece, Elle takes us along for the day, describing how she prepares for the races.

Wake up, it’s race day. A mixture of nervous thoughts and excitement course through my mind. My preparation begins with managing the right mindset. Short but intense, cyclocross is equal parts demanding on the mind, body and equipment. It’s all the little details like hitting my rituals that help me stay calm, confident and focused on the start line.

It’s four hours before my start as we pull up to the venue. There’s that familiar, excited energy in the air, the smell of competition, as I begin the routine.

Bikes out of the van, check the brakes, shifting and tire pressure.

Check shoes, change out spikes if necessary.

Set up the stationary trainer, trainer wheel, headphones and hydration.
Pick up numbers.

Pin numbers, my favorite part of the race-day ritual. My fingers work the safety pins through the paper numbers and my mind shifts to focus on the event ahead, blocking out the background noise. It’s ten minutes of quiet mindfulness before the rest of the preparations resume.

It’s three hours until the start, time to eat and hydrate. I’m usually too nervous to feel hungry for my go-to couscous and chicken dish, but I know it’s important to get a hearty final meal in me.

Back to managing equipment, I preset my clothing and run through the mental checklist: Skinsuit with numbers, check. Garmin, gloves, socks, glasses, helmet. Warm-up pants and jacket, check. For my finish bag, I pack my podium hat, clean socks, shorts, jersey, spare shoes, recovery mix and water bottle. A clean hand towel is always a welcome amenity at the finish line to wipe off the mud, dust and sweat.

It’s two hours before the start and I head out to preview the course in the 15 minutes between amateur races. Waiting just past the finish line with the other riders, we strike up a conversation waiting for the winner to cross the line before we are clear to jump on course. One lap easy, looking ahead and scoping out the challenging aspects of the course, one lap near race pace to test the corners at speed and find the fastest lines.

One hour to go and I get on the trainer already dressed in my skinsuit and put on my headphones. In the 40 minutes of warming up I get myself in the zone. As my legs spin and I push my heart rate up to anticipate the race effort, I challenge my mind to visualize the race, to remember my plan and to psyche myself up for the max effort.

Twenty minutes out and I pull on the sleeves of my skinsuit, adjust helmet and glasses. First call to staging comes over the speakers. My name is called, my tire width measured and my number checked. I find my place in the grid, adjust my starting gear and hand off my warm-clothes. The seconds tick by slowly, intensely waiting until the whistle blows. In a rush of motion we’re off.

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Photos by Jake Orness.