On Saturday at World Cup Zeven, Ellen Noble (Aspire Racing) started fast and made the chase group with Katie Compton (KFC Racing p/b Trek/Knight Composites). Her podium pursuit was derailed by a lap two mechanical, but it was a sign she could compete with the top riders at the highest level.
For the young rider in her first year as an Elite racer, Saturday’s start was an omen of success to come. On Sunday at the IJsboerke Ladies Trofee Flandriencross, Noble made the lead selection and demonstrated a willingness to attack against Compton’s Stars-and-Stripes and Sanne Cant’s (Beobank-Corendon) rainbow stripes. With no mechanicals to derail her day, Noble took home a an impressive second-place finish.
Although she has achieved success both domestically and abroad—last year she won the U.S. U23 Nationals and finished second at U23 Worlds—Noble has not been shy about her nerves racing against legends such as Cant and Compton whom she has idolized for years.
In an interview with Cyclocross Magazine last December, she shared her feelings about racing against the top names in cyclocross.
“At the beginning of the season when we were doing these huge races like Trek, Vegas, Iowa both days. I’m racing and I’m literally thinking, excuse my language, ‘Holy shit, I am behind Katie Compton or Eva Lechner or Katerina Nash.’ Or ‘Oh, I am going into the final sprint at Vegas against Sanne Cant.’ It was so insane because I have idolized these women my entire life. I grew up watching them racing and it’s so crazy racing with them that I know for a fact I limited myself this year because of it. I lacked the confidence to really just kind of go for it. To flap my wings or whatever. My brain was like ‘Do not attack right now, do not attack them, absolutely not, do not pass them. Do not chop them.’ I was like ‘No, these people deserve a lot of respect, don’t be an idiot.’”
On Sunday at Flandriencross, Noble showed that she is getting more comfortable flapping her wings. Early in the second lap, she attacked Compton. In the last lap, she made a savvy move on Compton and attacked again. Then she surged down the finishing straight to take second in a sprint. Unintimidated, one could say.
Noble’s fist pump and smile at the finish line hinted at the emotions Noble was experiencing in that moment. Her season has had its high points—foremost among them a third-place finish at World Cup Waterloo—but there have also been frustrations for the young star. Putting together a complete race against two of the world’s best was a relief, and yeah, it was a triumph worth celebrating.
We reached out to Noble to ask her about the race. As always, she provided thoughtful, insightful answers that take readers into the Belgian mud.
Ellen Noble on Her Second-Place Finish at Flandriencross
Cyclocross Magazine: Did your good start on Saturday affect how you felt heading into Sunday’s race?
Ellen Noble: My good start on Saturday definitely played a role in how Sunday went. I was riding really far up in the World Cup and feeling super solid. My head was calm and collected, which is always a great feeling for me.
When I had a mechanical I was disappointed that I couldn’t finish my effort and see where I ended up. But I knew that the ability was there. On the ride home from the race, my mechanic and I had a long conversation about how things haven’t been going my way this season, and he told me to let go of the past and just start fresh. I did just that on Sunday and that conversation, coupled with the good start in Zeven, played a huge role in my race and mindset around it on Sunday.
CXM: What was it like to go toe-to-toe with Katie and Sanne at the front of a race?
EN: It was, honestly, crazy. That I kept a cool head is still astounding to me. I don’t say it lightly when I say I’m actually really impressed with how I stayed calm riding with them. It was such a fantastic learning experience to see first-hand how the race played out. Seeing how Katie paced herself and how Sanne paced her race differently but really effectively was huge for me.
Getting to test what I think are “good race tactics” out at the front of the race with women like that was also really unique for me. In the end, I had to work hard not to get intimidated by the women I was racing against—and sometimes attacking *laughs*.
I am so thankful for the experience and I think it’s going tohelp a lot for the rest of the trip. Also, racing with Katie was fantastic because she’s so supportive. Every time she would pass me and take a turn at the front she’d say something like “c’mon girl,” “let’s go” or “grab my wheel.”
It really helped me stay in it.
CXM: Did you go into the race planning to be aggressive? Did your strategy change at all?
EN: I went into the race planning to start well, which for me was inside the top ten, and pick people off as the race went on. I knew there was a slight chance I could get on the podium, there’s always a chance, right?
But the way that race played out was absolutely not what I had planned. I thought if anything I would be chasing through the field. It really couldn’t have played out differently than what I had envisioned in my head, but I just rolled with the punches and prepared to bleed out my eyeballs for whatever result I got.
CXM: What was it like to be involved in a final lap with several lead changes?
EN: It was awesome! For me, as a fan of the sport, it feels really cool to be a part of such exciting racing. The lead changes to me seem like a part of racing, and I don’t think they are as impactful to the riders as they are for the viewers. I expect that but it certainly makes for exciting racing!
It all seemed matchable until Sanne went to the front going by the lake. The moment we went around the 180 after the pit, I thought in my head “This is it. This is the race right here.”
I knew if I wanted a shot at the win, I would have to go with her, but I was gassed. It was hard to watch her ride away, but I just focused on staying composed to fight for second and be prepared in the event Sanne had a mishap.
I actually went down in one of the turns off camera, and Katie passed me. I was able to keep the pressure on and pass her on the start/finish in a sprint, but it was a close nail-biter until the very end!
CXM: Were you anticipating the chance to pass Katie at the bottom of the off-camber?
EN: Not really. I was really focused during this race because the course was so slick and technical and unpredictable that you couldn’t let your guard down for even a moment. I was somehow able to read that section especially well. I was slowing up just slightly going into that section to allow Katie to get a small gap and take a different line. I didn’t really want to take the lead then but I just went with it. I had some plan, mostly stick the wheel until the finish. Pretty complicated tactics right there. I never planned any of my attacks though.
CXM: Finally, what does taking second in an Elite Euro race mean to you right now?
EN: It means a lot. First, it’s been a tough season with a lot of ups and down. I have been questioning myself a lot lately, and it’s been a while since my last good race. Getting food poisoning in Denmark kicked off the trip on a bad note. So to race like this, on a different level than I’ve ever been before means so much to me.
Even more so, I’ve changed my mental prep a lot. I’ve begun meditating before races and I have a new “mantra” that really seems to work for me. It seems like it’s helped me reach a new level of zen.
To add to that, I’ve always wanted to race in Europe professionally. That’s the big dream. To get a result like this, for me, is a huge step in the right direction.
For more on the enthralling Women’s racing this past weekend, see our features on Helen Wyman’s second and Katie Compton’s third at World Cup Zeven.