After a big Belgian cyclocross campaign during the 2014-15 season, American pro and Strava employee Elle Anderson heads to the races with more experience and wisdom this fall.
Part of her new approach is the SRAM/Strava team created expressly to support her racing program. Throughout the season, Elle will provide insider tips on cyclocross training and racing along with her reflections on tackling the biggest races in the sport in both the US and Belgium. In this first installment, Elle gives an overview of the trials and tribulations of her challenging 2014-15 season and a look at what’s ahead.
Elle Anderson: It was mid-December 2013 when I arrived “on set” to my first European cyclocross race. It didn’t look like any venue or race I’d been to before, and the scene was so surreal it felt like a fantastic movie set or a page from a book of fairytales. The Citadel of Namur hosts this World Cup event, and the race course weaves around the ancient fortress in southern Belgium. I could barely breathe when seeing the deep, technical mud, the off-camber ruts, the scary drops and grinding climbs. My vision was clouded by thousands and thousands of spectators lining every inch of the course, beer and fries in hand. I could almost feel an electric charge in the air of excitement and anticipation for the event.
This was an entirely new breed of cyclocross and little did I know, I was instantly addicted.
A year later, I was back at the Namur World Cup but it felt more like the set of a scary movie under overcast skies. I was halfway through five months living in Europe after signing with a Belgian program. In the race, I slid out on a gravel corner and gashed open my knee, requiring five stitches and 10 days off the bike. I didn’t finish the race.
Regardless of the stitches, my body and mind were already hurting. Just 10 weeks into the experience and I felt very far away from everything that was familiar. I felt lonely and isolated in a strange land, so far from home and and a support network of people I had previously built.
By the end of that season in Europe, I was crumbling at the edges.
The cold, damp northern air had reached my core. Mentally exhausted from the everyday intensity of life in the epicenter of cyclocross, my fitness drained, I was going through the motions. When I returned to San Francisco this past March, my bike had become a negatively charged object that I wanted to lock away for some undetermined amount of time. Summoning patience, I realized that time was the best remedy to recover and rebuild.
Those five months that I lived and raced in Europe knocked me on my heels. Eventually, however, I began to see the value of that experience. The first few months back on U.S. soil were enough to gain perspective and get seriously nostalgic about those historic and epic places where I lived and raced last season.
There is a buzz of energy that goes through my veins thinking about my favorite courses, the fans, the culture, and the mud.
The excitement I get when I think of going back to Europe and re-conquering those iconic races is unmistakable. After taking the necessary time to recover this summer, I couldn’t be more excited to start racing again and to plan my return to Europe.
This season I’ve created my own cyclocross program. The flexibility this allows me is important so that I can give myself the space to ease back into the full swing of things. Some of the emotions are still a little raw from a difficult and trying season in Europe, but by building a great support network around me, with amazing sponsors, I’ll be well prepared for this next adventure.
For the 2015-16 cyclocross season, I plan to ramp up slowly so I can target the races in the latter half of the season. I’ll start racing locally in the Bay Area in October while also focusing on training. In November, I’ll join the U.S. calendar hitting the UCI races in Ohio, Kentucky, Washington and Southern California. It will surely feel great to be back racing in the U.S. after a full season abroad. There’s nothing like the sense of family and camaraderie at the races here to welcome me back. December will mark my first of two European campaigns. Christmas time in Belgium is not to be missed as it seems like the entire country comes out to the jam-packed race schedule. After U.S. National Championships in early January, there are two more World Cups in Europe, finishing with World Championships which are hosted in Belgium this year.
I’m thrilled to be able to share my stories with Strava, especially seeing what a big role the company plays in my racing and life outside of racing. Stay tuned for tales from the road, tips on race prep and training, and follow my Strava activity as it criss-crosses North America and Europe this season. I’m ready to get back to work and enjoy every moment.
Photos courtesy of: 1-2. Tom Prenen, 3. Kristof Ramon, 4. Jason Perry.