Last Saturday, 28th January, Ellen Noble won a silver medal at the Cyclocross World Championships. Competing in the women’s U23 category, the Rapha rider from the USA duelled with reigning champ Evie Richards (UK) and eventual winner Annemarie Worst (Netherlands) in one of the most thrilling cross races all season. Below, she takes us through her day at the ‘Battle of Bieles’ in Luxembourg, from scoffing breakfast to popping bottles, with a race to the podium in between.
Wake up, it’s race day!
I was up and wide awake before my alarm even went off – race day was finally here! I was relieved I’d had a solid night’s sleep but mostly I was excited, really, really excited. I received a funny text from my boyfriend saying he’d take me out dancing when I got home to the US, which put me in a good mood, and I went down for breakfast. On race days I have to eat super fast to trick my body before I start feeling nauseous with nerves. I managed to scarf down enough food though.
A moment of calm
Bag already packed and race numbers pinned on, I went for a quick lie down and meditated a little about the race. Everyone was predicting me as the fourth best rider but it was a good place to be because I felt that only positives could come out of the day. If I got a podium, I’d freak out.
Dialling the right line
I drove to the course with my mechanic Tom and hopped straight on my bike to practise riding the course, which had been changing a lot. When it goes from frozen to muddy like that, you have to make sure the lines you choose are super dialled. I decided to forgo part of my warm-up to ride the course again after the Junior Men. I knew it was kind of a risk, but on a changing course, being confident in your lines is far more important than a good warm-up.
Rap jams and world champs
I jumped on the turbo trainer and put my headphones in. I listen to Fetty Wap and Rae Sremmurd, who make really terrible rap music but it’s perfect for warm-up because it has such a good beat. Niels Albert [retired two-time men’s elite world champion] then came over to check what tire pressure I was on and what lines I’d be riding. That was a holy cr*p moment, even though he’s already helped me out a few times this season. It’s really kind of him. I had a quick ‘jam session’ with my manager and mechanic, where we bounced ideas for the race back and forth, and I got changed into my kit. Time to go.
Faces on the startline
I headed to the startline where my mom was waiting. She had worked overtime to make sure that her and my grandmother could come over to watch me and it was so special having them there. I didn’t see my biggest fan (gran) though – she gets too nervous to watch the start! Being the UCI World Cup winner, I was the first person called up to the line. It was such a crazy feeling to be first up in front of all those people. On the line I’m always trying to stay calm, talking to other riders and always smiling when the camera passes, but in my head on Saturday I was thinking: ‘I don’t care what the result is… come hell or high water I’m finishing this race with nothing left to give.’
The gun! Or not quite…
They don’t have a gun or a whistle at the start of Worlds, just one light that goes from red to green. I’m not used to it yet! Everyone was craning their necks to see it and suddenly we were off. I got a good start but Annemarie Worst, who ended up winning, threw out a Hail Mary and went off really, really hard early on, and that made me nervous. I knew I had to remain calm and race my own race – if I’d tried to follow her then, I would have blown up for sure.
The Battle of Bieles
The race was very dramatic with so many lead changes between the front four riders. I’m proud to have been part of a battle like that. Part of the reason I think I raced so well was because I just kept fighting, even when I got dropped. Making contact with Annemarie and Evie [Richards, eventual bronze medallist], a lap after they’d ridden away from me, was a very exciting moment: ‘Oh my god, I’m back in contention!’
That glasses throw
With one lap to go, the lenses on my glasses were super splattered with mud so I just threw them off. I was crossing the line at the time so maybe it looked a little dramatic, like a ‘gloves off’ moment, but it was only so that I could see properly, I promise. Amazingly, two fans who had just met my grandmother grabbed them off the floor and gave them back to her.
Last ditch on the last lap
I was in the lead on the last lap and willing to give it everything for the win. Annemarie was charging hard and when she caught me I knew I had to try something. When I took the risk to race down that drop off and ended up putting my foot down, it was just a last ditch effort that didn’t pay off. No regrets; Annemarie would have passed me anyway.
Sweet, sweet silver
I crossed the line cheering. It was such a great race for me, better than any I’ve ever had in terms of consistency from start to finish. As I approached the line, even though I’d been so close, I didn’t want to let it impact my original goal of a podium. People thought I might have been disappointed, but to not be happy would have been wrong. When they announced the U23 category at Worlds two years ago, I’d dreamed of standing on the podium.
All made up
After giving my mum a quick hug across the barriers, I was ushered into the podium room where Annemarie and Evie were frantically trying to get ready for the medals ceremony. We didn’t have much time so I just dunked my feet straight into the water bucket to get the mud off. Evie said to me in her beautiful English accent: “would you like to borrow my hairbrush?” and Annemarie said she wished she’d brought make-up… It was a fun, girly moment.
Glory without the glamour
Walking onto the podium in front of this wall of cheering fans was incredible. I was so proud that I smiled so much my jaw hurt! I wasn’t quite free yet though: we had an hour-long press conference and anti-doping tests to do, all while still wearing my soaking wet shoes. There’s no glamour in cyclocross, let me tell you.
Time to ‘jam’
Over dinner back at the hotel, I was offered to cut open a champagne bottle with a sword. So cool. The top part came clean off and I kept it as a souvenir. After that, I spent the rest of the night hanging out with the elite women who’d also been racing. To just ‘jam’ with all these women who I think are so amazing was really special. I’m going to remember that night for a really long time.