Ellen Noble on hopping the barriers

Rapha meets the American racer to talk about her pre-season concussions, the jump to elite racing, and taking on cyclocross' notorious barriers

Well into her first season at the elite level, Ellen Noble has notched a handful of victories and stood on a World Cup podium. In theory, that’s enough to make a young racer happy. But Noble is a three-time national champion (under 23) and a past Pan-American champ (also U23). And while even she wouldn’t expect to move up a level and pick up where she left off, there’s a little something in the American’s voice that says she expects more.

"My dad, who passed away a couple years ago, didn’t have any regrets when he passed. I think about his life and how he did everything he wanted to do to the fullest."

Tell us about your season thus far.

It’s been really up and down. There’s been some results I’m proud of, but there’s been some tough days. I’m still happy with it. I had to adjust my expectations after my injuries in the pre-season and to salvage any results from that makes me happy.

What sort of setbacks did you encounter?

I had a lot of dietary problems throughout the summer that impacted training, and I had two concussions. Both came from crashing while training. I crashed once on my cross bike, and then I crashed in training for the Mont-Sainte-Anne World Cup. I’m doing a lot better now that I don’t have residual concussion symptoms.

You’re young, talented, driven. Does the thought of further injury ever creep in and make you think about walking away?

It’s certainly something I think about, but I can’t say it’s given me pause in any certain way. I just do my best to try to mitigate risks. And the truth is, I don’t want to live a fearful life, where I’m always worried what’s coming around the corner. My dad, who passed away a couple years ago, didn’t have any regrets when he passed. I think about his life and how he did everything he wanted to do to the fullest, and I feel like if I didn’t allow myself to live the life of training and racing and doing other fun stuff, I’d be disappointed.

You’ve won your first elite race this season and contended for several others. What stands out to you as the high point?

The World Cup podium for me was the high point thus far. It happened at the Waterloo World Cup, which was the second round of the American World Cups. I was really nervous going into the week, because it had been a crazy one. The Iowa City World Cup went pretty well, we flew to Vegas midweek [for CrossVegas] and flew back. I didn’t feel great. I didn’t feel like the course was made for me. But I learned from my mistakes in Iowa, where I went out too hard and exploded. I raced as calm as I could. I just settled in. I was able to ride the stairs and barriers. And that helped me close gaps. So even if I got dropped, I was able to chase back on.

You’ve been hopping the barriers this season, which isn’t commonplace in any race. How did you get comfortable with that?

I started practicing in 2015. I’ve been practicing ever since, and this year I decided there was no reason for me not to. I put in a bit of work, and I committed to doing it. Finally, one day, I said to hell with it. I was nervous about it first time, and I ended up crashing before the barriers. I got back on my bike and it had taken the pressure off. I’ve been blown away by how positive and kind people have been about it. That’s my favourite thing that’s come from it — a newfound confidence in women trying to hop. I’ve seen a lot of other women trying it since. I wanted to show people we could do it.

What’s the learning curve been from U-23 to elite?

It’s been challenging, in truth. I didn’t think it would be quite as challenging. Lining up the other day, I thought: “I have to have my best race, and then some, to come out with a title, and I have to fight off a lot of people to do it.”

Have you come to terms with the notion of belonging at this level?

I’ve struggled with this a lot. To this day, I struggle with the question of, “do I belong here?” I’ve idolized these women, yet I’m racing against them. I think they’re godly, and I’m racing against them. So there’s this ‘holy shit’ aspect to it. I’m getting there.

Ellen Noble races for Aspire Racing along with Jeremy Powers and Spencer Petrov. The team is based in the United States.