This may not be the year that Elle Anderson wins cyclocross nationals, but the thing is, it doesn’t need to be. While her competitors were squirreling away base miles in April or moonlighting on the pro road circuit through the summer, Anderson was in the midst of an extended hiatus from racing and training.
After a breakthrough 2013-14 season — she won six UCI races and took silver at nationals — she committed to a full-time European campaign. Her upward trajectory stalled that year, leading to burnout that precipitated the 2015 break.
Yet there’s no talk of finding a way to reprise the fall of 2013, no frustration over last season’s four-month grind in Europe.
“I almost see it as a really great challenge to try to cope with that pressure instead of trying to revert to some previous version,” the 27-year-old said. “To see it as a challenge. How do I cope with the now? How do I figure out how to perform with my mindset now? Because I believe it is the mindset for success.
“I don’t think I’d go back to the mindset I had in 2013. It’s one way to do things. I feel that there’s so much more motivation and determination that I have now to accomplish these goals.”
The drive is clearly there, despite an imperfect run-in to the season. Her one-woman ’cross team, sponsored by SRAM and Strava, didn’t materialize until September — the same time she started training for ’cross. “It’s always hard to show up to a race knowing that it’s part of your training block and you might have tired legs coming in,” she said. “It’s just this really compact season where the first half is really trying to catch up.”
With three top-10 finishes in Europe during the late-December flurry of ’cross, it looks like Anderson is indeed catching up. The U.S. women’s cyclocross field is as deep and competitive as ever, however, which makes her goal of a podium at nationals an ambitious one.
But this week’s nationals, in Asheville, North Carolina, aren’t the terminus of Anderson’s season, or her objectives. Her plan is to race through February in Europe, hopefully after a run at worlds. But in order to secure her spot on the American team, she’ll need a strong performance this Sunday. She admits she’s nervous.
The Vermont native, however, projects a serene confidence that is far from nervous. A lot hinges on nationals, but it doesn’t all come down to one day in January. Anderson has been looking farther down the road.
“I’ve always dreamed of getting on the World Cup podium. Don’t know if it’ll happen this year,” she said. “A top-10 at world championships would also be a dream.”
It might be unreasonable to expect her to dethrone Katie Compton this year. But when you hear Anderson talk about World Cup podiums, and when she says she thinks Belgian star Sanne Cant is beatable, you get the sense that her off-kilter 2015 is just the beginning of a new, lengthier chapter of her cyclocross career.