BOULDER, Colo. (VN) — Elle Anderson (Cal Giant-Specialized) is excited to be back from Belgium, and even more excited to toe the line at the USA Cycling Cyclocross National Championship on Sunday in Boulder.
She learned a lot at her first EuroCrossCamp. It was, in fact, her first trip to Europe to race her bike, and she finished the hectic holiday block of races, known as the Kerstperiode, with the second strongest result among all Americans (after Katie Compton’s dominating World Cup performances) with a third place at the Superprestige round in Diegem behind Belgian champ Sanne Cant (Enertherm-BKCP) and Italian champ Eva Lechner (Colnago Suditrol).
But she missed the sunshine.
“It’s just the sunshine. I got back to San Francisco and went on my first ride after I got off the plane and it was just this sunny, warm California day. It was incredible; I just didn’t know how much I missed the sun,” she said.
Reinvigorated by the radiant light, she turns her energy and enthusiasm toward the race for the elite Stars-and-Stripes jersey; this year she comes into the race as a five-star favorite to take one of the spots on the podium. Maybe not the top step, but in her breakout season, she has confirmed that she is a force to be reckoned with.
Strong out of the gates
Coming into the 2013-14 season, no American had beaten nine-time national champion Compton since 2006. Anderson’s was a name that few people had heard, and suddenly she was beating a legend.
The 25-year-old Vermont native took the domestic cyclocross scene by storm in September, winning four consecutive races, including both days of the Trek Cyclocross Collective Cup, and two more at the Gran Prix of Gloucester, besting top riders such as Helen Wyman (Kona), Gabriella Durrin (Rapha-Focus), and Cal Giant teammate Meredith Miller.
Then came the Providence Cyclocross Festival. Compton was coming off lackluster fall training and illness. Katie wasn’t the old Katie, many were whispering. Katerina Nash (Luna) was also in town — the Czech native and Dutch phenom Marianne Vos were the only two racers to have beaten Compton on U.S. soil since 2006 — and took victory on both days. But it was Anderson who won the battle for best shock value, beating Compton in a sprint on day one. She was officially on fire, and had quickly established herself as the breakthrough rider of the season.
So, it’s only natural that people are expecting big things from Anderson, who works for Strava during the week, and crushes in ’cross on the weekends.
“This is only my third nationals — I’ve only focused on cyclocross for three years and made it this far in the season. I’m more excited for this year than the previous two years. I think, in large part, that’s because I’ve just come off the big block of racing in Europe. For the people that stay in the U.S. it can be pretty challenging because usually there’s not that many races going on,” she said. “It was dark and cold where I was, too, but I just skipped all the holidays and did a bunch of races and I’m so fired up after Belgium that nationals just gets me that much more excited.”
From Belgium to Boulder
While some racers come off the Kerstperiode depleted or suffering from illness, Anderson only got stronger.
“I came back feeling pretty strong. In the five races I did in Belgium, I really ramped up. The first race was the hardest, but by the last two I was feeling better than I had for the first three. So that was a cool position to be in,” she said.
After a period of adjustment — to the shift in time and culture — Anderson was able to absorb knowledge from head coach Geoff Proctor and world champion Sven Nys, who stopped by to talk to the camp participants for an hour. Anderson was one of two females, along with Bicycle Bluebook-Rock Lobster’s Courtenay McFadden, to be invited to EuroCrossCamp, and the first since the camp’s inaugural edition 10 years ago.
“I was on this accelerated learning curve, especially because I haven’t raced a lot of mud this year. So, by the last two races, I was saying to myself, ‘Yeah, most days I could do this. This is something that I’m already learning quick,’” she said.
Five hard races were well worth the lack of sunshine, according to Anderson.
“As long as I took a break after that block to absorb all that fitness, then I’d really be conditioned well for nationals. So, it’s pretty great timing and it does work out well,” she said.
Her last trip to Boulder did not go as planned. Suffering from a cold, it was her technical skills that seemed to let her down, more than her engine. In fact, at the Boulder Cup in October, at the same Valmont Bike Park that is hosting nationals (though the course is configured differently), she crashed hard early in the race, abandoning soon after. It was a disappointing weekend, but one she said was nearly forgotten.
“I’ve kind of forgotten about [the crash]; it was a long time ago. This will be my third time racing at Valmont; I also raced there in 2012. So, I’ve had some positive and not-so-positive experiences to draw from and it all kind of comes out in the wash,” she said.
Can she do it again?
Anderson beat Compton this season. But can she do it again?
“Having just finished racing against [Katie] in Europe, it was inspiring and humbling just racing at that level,” said Anderson. “But seeing Katie Compton be so dominant over there … I was so psyched for her wins because it’s really fun just to see that in person. It’s setting up for an exciting nationals. I really like when Katie comes back to race in the U.S. and everyone else brings their ‘A’ game to the nationals championships. It’s going to be a tough race; I don’t know how it will work out, but I’m really excited.”
If Compton races up to her potential — or even slightly below it — she will become a 10-time national champion. But the crop of contenders for the next two steps on the podium is healthy, including Anderson and Miller, Crystal Anthony (Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies), Kaitlin Antonneau (Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com), Arley Kemmerer (Twenty20), Nicole Duke (Marin-Spy), Maureen Bruno Roy (Bob’s Red Mill-Seven), and Georgia Gould (Luna).
“In my mind, when I visualize it, I really just want to stay at the front of the race. If that means that Katie Compton’s at the front of the race, I would love to be there, battling it out for the top spot on the podium. That’s really what racing is all about, and especially at a national championships,” said Anderson. “In my dreams, of course that top step is the one that I want to be on. That’s the best part of nationals: it’s such a coveted spot that it’s really fun just to show up on the start line and think of all the possibilities and just go for it.”
One of Anderson’s stated goals at the start of the season was a top-five finish at nationals. While she may have that tucked in the back of her mind, when she toes the line on Sunday, Anderson dreams of gold.