Ellen Noble is a mainstay of American cyclocross. The 24-year-old bunnyhopping star was at the front of most races throughout 2018 and appeared to be on track to bigger things in Europe.
In 2019, however, Noble had a quiet year and finished a lackluster season without attending Nationals in Lakewood. Noble struggled in 2019 with health issues and finally got a diagnosis of the auto-immune Hashimoto’s disease, but was on a winning streak before the flu derailed her Nationals plans.
We caught up with her to see what the future holds.
Cyclocross Magazine: 2019 was comparatively quiet for you. What was on your agenda for 2020 before COVID 19?
Ellen Noble: 2019 was very quiet for me. Normally, I race 30+ times a year. Last year I think I raced 15 times between mountain bike and cyclocross. I was planning to come back in a big way for 2020 so to have this delay is heartbreaking but I know that it’s a minor inconvenience in the grand scheme of what’s going on.
However, with everything that happened last year it kind of feels like this COVID-19 situation has been my reality for a while. Which might be good, because I’m used to it. Or bad because I had a 12-month head start on the insanity of isolation. My goals for 2020 were to do a small but mighty domestic schedule of mountain bike events, doing some UCI races and Epic Rides.
Then for cyclocross, I was planning to do a lead up through the Trek World Cup and then target the European World Cups and Nationals for the latter half of the season. We’ll see what happens this fall. Whenever we get back to racing, I’ll be ready. And very hungry.
CXM: How are you dealing with the pandemic?
EN: I’m doing alright. As I said, I have been living pretty much like this for a while now. Last year I wasn’t actively worrying about the health of my family, friends and essential workers. It’s a very different time. But I am so thankful for my health and being in a good situation where I’m still able to train and be with my partner.
We’ve taken our response really seriously since the beginning and will continue to do so as much as possible in the future. I was finally getting into shape enough to do some group rides when everything was canceled. Living in Tucson and not being able to do the Shootout is blasphemous.
CXM: Last year, you missed Nationals due to the flu. How do you think your race would have gone if you were there?
EN: Yeah that was an emotional time for sure. I had just gotten back into training after a long time away and was starting to feel really good. Two weeks before, I won back to back races at Ruts N Guts so I was feeling really confident in my technical skills and really hungry for a good race.
I imagine the race would have gone well for me. I think the course would have suited me. But watching the precision that Clara [Honsinger] rode with during that race, I think I would have been battling for the podium—hopefully—but she had that win in the bag. It was incredible to watch.
CXM: How did you deal with having to miss something as important as Nationals? Any advice for others who have to back out of a goal event at the last minute?
EN: It was really hard! I had finally started to come back and then to have another major set back…it was heartbreaking. I was diagnosed with the flu 24 hours before I was supposed to fly to Tacoma. Admittedly, I had never had the flu before and didn’t know just how dangerous it can be. So when I called my coach and he said that there was no scenario where I should race, I was kind of shocked. But in truth, I think it was probably for the best that it was something as serious as the flu because it made the decision easy; I was going to stay home, I wasn’t going to race.
If I had had a terrible head cold or the like, I would have pushed myself to race and would not have gotten the result I wanted anyway. At that time I still thought I would bounce back from it in a few days and race at Christmas in Europe, so it was something that was a little easier to stomach. I told myself the sooner I rested, the sooner I would get back to racing. I also had to remind myself I had many years of nationals left to race.
My advice for anyone who has to miss a race at the last minute is to try and look at the big picture. You’re missing that event for a reason. I had to miss nationals because of my health and the risks that racing would have posed. If you’re missing for a family event, remember that those moments are hard to replace. If you’re missing it because you’re sick, it’s because your body needs a rest and there is no sense in fighting it.
CXM: On that subject, how is your health now? You’ve alluded to dealing with some problems that have been getting in your way. Have you figured things out? [Ed. note, Noble has now talked in-depth about her disease in a video below]
EN: I’m feeling much better now, thank you! I can’t say that I am back to 100%, but compared to last year I feel like a new person. I was diagnosed with an autoimmune condition, which is chronic, so I’ll never be “cured” but I have found a lot of ways to manage it and get back to training at a pretty normal rate. The only trouble is now … I was so out of shape. Coming back from that level of detraining is so brutal. I faced so many setbacks in 2019 that I never really did any solid, consistent training. Then I took all of December and January off. So when I got back to riding in February… wow. Just brutal. I would rather not do that again!
CXM: You announced a new program with Velocio recently. Could you give us some details on that and what we can expect from you when racing resumes?
EN: Yeah! I decided to spread my wings and start my own program this year. I am so excited, and adding Velocio, among others, to my incredible list of pre-existing partners was really the icing on the cake. The program is just me at the moment.
My goal with the team was to create a program that is community-focused and one that people can really get behind and support. I have seen first-hand how important it is for a team or program to engage with their fans and races and that was my goal. I want to be approachable, available and generate lots of fun and excitement at races. I planned to use the summer to let the program grow into itself, in terms of a look and operations, but sadly I won’t be able to do that anymore. I didn’t want to over-plan every detail before we began racing. I just want it to grow into its own role within the sport.
CXM: You’re racing on a program that includes cross-country mountain biking and cyclocross. How will you decide what events to attend this fall?
EN: I haven’t given it much thought, because there is still so much uncertainty at the moment. We don’t know which races will keep their spot as more and more overlap happens, and we don’t know what will happen with the virus come the fall. I have been trying to save some mental energy and stress regarding my fall plans until it gets a bit closer because we just truly don’t know what the status will be in August, September and so on. I can say, if a miracle happens and I’m forced to choose between a cyclocross and mountain bike race, I will choose cyclocross although it’s never an easy decision. And I will be ready to race, whenever it resumes.
CXM: You relocated to the Southwest. What made you choose that region? How has it been living in the desert as a Maine native? What do you miss about New England?
EN: My decision to relocate is never as exciting as an answer as people would probably like. My boyfriend lives in Tucson, long-distance is brutal, and I wanted to see how much training and health improved if I was somewhere with better weather and more sun. It was a pretty easy decision. It’s been a hard transition, my whole life was in New England, and I’ve lived there since I was born. But there are a lot of benefits to the southwest as well. I miss everything about New England…except riding the trainer nearly every day from November-April. Ha!
CXM: Thanks much for your time. Stay safe!
EN: Thank you!
Ellen Noble has also talked in-depth about her disease and battle with it in this heartfelt video on Instagram. We’d encourage you to watch all 14 minutes of it to learn what she’s been dealing with.
Featured photo: Patrick Means