Injury-free Elliott gears up for cyclo-cross nationals

Natasha Elliott, right, shares the podium in Rochester with winner Laura Van Gilder and runner-up Maureen Bruno Roy.

Natasha Elliott, right, shares the podium in Rochester with winner Laura Van Gilder and runner-up Maureen Bruno Roy.

Stevens Canada and The Cyclery-sponsored cyclo-cross specialist Natasha Elliott talks about her season so far, and what’s in store at the Canadian championships in Surrey, BC, later this month.

So I have been asked to give a Nationals preview for the Steven’s website.  Although, I’d love to talk about what expectations I have for it, I feel it is better to keep these secrets and goals to myself and just update everyone on the progress of the season to now.

This season (husband) Derrick St. John and I have been supported by Stevens Bikes Canada and The Cyclery, where Derrick has been riding under the road colours and for me; I have merged this team with a U.S. based grassroots program team called Rare Vos Racing.  Our team kits have a fox on them and it is very fitting with the new song out “What does the Fox say.”  I have added the song to my training play lists and it tends to get me fired up before races.

So the new team for me has been a great scenario as the support from both parties has really helped with all the extra little things that make a difference in cyclo-cross.  To have a mechanic and pit support at the major races is never taken for granted, thank you Bones!

Our season started fast with two of the most contested weekends of the season (Grand Prix of Gloucester and Providence Cyclo-cross Festival).  I can’t say either Derrick or I had the best of luck with a few flats and some mechanicals that left us both outside of the top-10 finishes we would have hoped for.   After this was a little break at home and some local racing and then off to the Rochester UCI races.  This weekend was the first time I had been on a UCI podium in three years and I was happy with my two thirds but definitely searching for more.

Today brings us to the last four weeks and what a month it has been for me.  The reason Rochester was my first UCI podium in three years is pretty simple: I was winning and at the top of my game in 2010, became very ill and had to take a year off, followed by a frustrating injury, another year off, rebound of illness and injury to this spring when I was riding on and off again.  Being an elite athlete since my childhood has taught me so many things, and I wasn’t ready to give of hope of my dreams and goals.  I have always had great support from my family, friends and of course my best friend and husband Derrick.  Finally things started turning around this spring with some help from many people on and off the bike and I decided I wanted one last shot at seeing what was the highest level I could reach in the sport of cyclo-cross.

I wasn’t even really riding too much again until July, but using the Gatineau park to never lose any fitness even though it wasn’t cyclo-cross specific.  Riding two days a week, but running on the other days as part of my injury rehab would only allow for this.  I was ready to accept though, that maybe I wouldn’t ever be able to ride pain free every day again.  Come August as I was able to increase the riding and things were getting progressively better, I decided I was ready to ask someone I had to wanted to ask to coach me for years.  This would be Adam Myerson from Cycle Smart Coaching and he did better than that, he took me on a sponsored athlete.

We started working together at the end of August and progressed from there.   I was able to ride with my injury 95% healed and just these last 10 days I have just completed a huge build for the rest of the season.  In seven days of an average of -2C weather I completed almost 19 hours of training.  To me this means more than to most people, I feel like I have accomplished more than just training.  I appreciated every minute of my training and enjoyed the process of it all.  All I have wanted for the last few years is train like everyone else and not have days were I was in too much pain to do it.  I didn’t care that on Tuesday I rode indoors for an hour or so, so when it was -5C, the warmest part of the day, I went to a CX course and did another two hours plus of training with threshold efforts. Derrick even took the extra time to motor pace me home from the car so I could get in the extra 30 minutes cool down I needed.  The next day I had to ride four hours in the cold with tempo pieces and although the fatigue was starting to set in, I still wanted to do every minute of it. Don’t get me wrong, it was hard, but from where I was a year ago to now is amazing and makes me believe anything is possible if you set your mind to it.

Each one of the last 10 days of my training I created folders in my brain for when things get tough in a race or even in life, I will remember these training days and what I have accomplished from where I began.  Each day the fire has built more and more inside and I have a need for greater success than before.  I was worried as when I started the season I wasn’t sure how much I still wanted it as I had been away from racing for so long, but I guess the closer I get to winning, the desire becomes greater.  And when you achieve one win, well you just want more.

Next up is the Ride with Rendall races here in Ottawa and then off to nationals in Surrey, B.C.   Then we have some more UCI races in Rhode Island, and maybe a trip to North Carolina and I think Derrick’s season will end there to prepare for the road season.  I hope to push my season a bit longer, funding depending, and have intentions to make the Worlds Team and go for a short trip to Europe in January to do Worlds and build on this season for next year.

I also have to give a quick shout out to the other team members racing Cyclocross internationally (Steve Proulx, Connor O’Brien, and Marc Boudreau).  Steve deserves some huge congratulations for some wins in the New England races against some of the best master Cyclocross racers in the World!