As we were pleased to announce yesterday, over the coming days we're going to be bringing you thoughts and reflections from each of the riders at this season's Cyclocross Development Camp in Sittard, Netherlands.
Today's installment comes from Elle Anderson (SRAM/Strava). Anderson is no stranger to racing or to sharing her experiences as an up-and-coming rider. She made her first big mark on the pro scene with back-to-back wins at Gloucester two season ago followed by a podium at nationals behind Katie Compton (Trek Factory Racing).
After a spell in Europe that was filled with highlights and lowlights related to being new to the life of a Belgium-based pro, Anderson told us in an exclusive interview that she hit the reset button and was gearing up for a late-season comeback. That comeback is well underway.
At the start of this season, Anderson announced a new program with the help of SRAM and Strava whom she is now racing for, along with USA Cycling in select European races. She raced to a podium spot at Derby City Cup and she made it into the top 10 at Jingle Cross this year.
Anderson is now about to embark on her second stint in Belgium, this time at the Cross Development Camp, and is scheduled to take the start at the Namur World Cup on Sunday. She shares her thoughts on her return to professional cyclocross racing in Europe in the diary entry below.
by Elle Anderson
Flying into the Brussels airport feels almost like home now. After all, Belgium was my home for five months last season. It’s hard to believe how quickly I fall back into the rhythm here in Europe, even after a long summer. It feels effortless for me to find comfort in the little cultural details, in the cyclist lifestyle and to find the old routines. I truly love being a cyclocross racer in Europe.
When I wake up in my narrow bed in the small dorm-like room at the USA Cycling house I instinctively look out the window for a visual on the weather, if there’s anything to see. The sun doesn’t rise until 8:30am at this northerly latitude. Typically it’s raining out, and thus the routine begins by planning for the day’s training, eating muesli, yogurt and bread, preparing bottles and dressing in layers for the damp air. My mind is a continuous mental checklist of preparation, recovery and planning.
Life in the heartland of cyclocross feels distinctly different to me than anywhere else. Whether I’m in Belgium as I was last season, or at the American home-base in The Netherlands as I am for this year’s Christmas camp, cyclocross pervades every corner and almost every thought. When I step foot in this scared radius that encircles the great cyclocross courses and legends, I can feel everything but ’cross slip to the peripherals of my mind. Like an old habit I become singularly focused on the task at hand.
Maybe it’s raining out, a light but steady drizzle. Knowing the weather here, it will likely get worse as the day goes on, so I should get out for my training soon. Rain jacket, neoprene gloves, fender, waterproof shoe covers (although I know my feet will get wet anyways). I don’t know why, but I like riding in the rain here. This kind of weather seems to fit seamlessly into my rhythm.
Maybe my rhythms here are built from previous experiences racing in Europe. Or, maybe it’s a result of the deeply-rooted cycling culture which creates the subtle but ubiquitous expectations of being a pro cyclocross racer in Europe. Instinctively, I try my best to fit that mold and play the part in order to be successful in this away game. In the end, whatever it is, it feels infectious.
After training, I clean the bike, clean my shoes, spray down sandy clothing and start the wash. Shower, food, newspaper in my shoes and then stack them on top of the radiator. Stretch and foam roll. It’s a simple lifestyle of focus and dedication to a goal and a dream. My version of European rhythms is comforting, protective yet at times suffocating.
My trusting and natural immersion into the cyclocross world can become suffocating and overwhelming if the balance is upset. It caught up to me last season and caused a white-knuckle grip on the bars and on my mind. The significance of the sport in this territory creates constant pressure and scrutiny under the cultural microscope. When surprises, mishaps or injuries happen, all the little things, the rhythms, routines and checklists become reminders of what is not going well. I started to become too hard on myself. The repeating bad days on the bike were torture. I look back at the incredible test of strength I put myself through last season, the trials that are European ’cross and to have survived this far makes me feel resilient.
This year I have new perspectives. I feel rebuilt with a renewed love for two wheels and a reborn passion for attaining the sharp edge that is professional racing. When the European rhythm starts to feel heavy with pressure and expectation, or when my back forces me to the sidelines of one of my favorite World Cup races, I will remember to keep perspective. I will revel in the present moment and appreciate this journey regardless of the detours. I’m already on my way to taking a second crack at this elusive game that is European cyclocross.
Stay tuned for other rider diaries each day from Cross Development Camp. And see more of Elle Anderson's photos in the gallery below.