November 4, 2009 – We thought we’d catch up with two of Canada’s top cyclocrossers who hail from this fine province of Ontario. Natasha Elliott and Derrick St. John’s cyclocross campaign is in full swing as they prepare to depart for the continent the other one, that is, across the pond. We posed several questions via email to the duo to get their insight on their season thus far and further expectations leading up to the World Championships next year. It’s a great read: an excellent primer on the sport of cyclocross, steps to take for success and some random thoughts. Enjoy!
What is the highlight of your season thus far?
Natasha Elliott: Definitely the back to back wins at Gloucester the week before Nationals. There was a lot of competition there and a test to my skills and abilities with different strengths of riders as well as on two completely different courses due to the weather conditions. The first day was mud and a lot of running and all about not giving in if someone had a few seconds leading the race. It was one of my hardest days on the bike and on Sunday I was whipped for day 2. But day 2 became more of a tactical race as the course was dryer and faster and required me to out ride a sprinter in the race. The two wins were definitely a bonus leading into nationals the next weekend and I would never of gave up the opportunity to win double days of Gloucester even if it might of left me a bit tired for nationals.
Derrick St. John: Hmmm…the best is yet to come. But so far I would have to say throwing it down in Toronto and attacking the Cannondale boys and going for the gusto at Toronto INTL. I think there are a lot of people who would have been on the train and just “tried to hang on” or fought for table scraps. But when I saw the opportunity, I hit them with everything I had. I’m sure if I would have been more cautious I could have came second that day but I don’t think my goals ever revolve around coming second. For me, that captures the true essence of racing. If you want to win you better be prepared to make yourself hurt more than anyone that day; that’s it. I love learning that it never gets easier; you just learn to make yourself hurt more.
How would you rate this cross season in terms of success compared to last season?
NE: A lot better than last year. We spend a lot (I stress a lot) of time travelling to races, training hard in the week and sometimes we are a little tired. There are a lot of 16 hour road trips to all the new england races and it is just the two of us. Even at my worst racing days this year when I’m training through the weekend or travelling a lot, I am still able to lead the race and get on the podium. So that is a step up from last year. It is hard though still to take the bad days with the good days and train through races, but all in all I know it will pay off later into the season.
DSJ: Last year was a 3 out of 5, this year is a 4 out of 5.
Describe your National Championship race – how did you feel; how was your performance; what did you learn?
NE (bronze medal): Nationals has yet to be good for me. This year was my third crack at it and I knew it wasn’t going to be easy with Alison Sydor going for the win as well. I didn’t have my “A” game in Edmonton for whatever reasons. Sometimes flying to the west doesn’t go well with me and I tried two different approaches the last 2 years. One was to fly in early and the other a little later. It’s something that I still have to work on and maybe not race the weekend before Nationals if it requires flying. Even though I did give it my all, Sydor definitely had a lot of strengths over me on the course. I couldn’t find anything that I could do better on the course than her, so I’m not sure if even on a good day it would of been possible to beat her. The good news is that next year, Nationals is a lot closer to home in Toronto. So hopefully all the hard work will pay off and I will finally get the title. Cross is about diversity and different abilities and being able to adapt to different conditions. Everyone has their specialty in this sport and that is what makes it’s so exciting. The winners of the races can change from week to week and the more conditions and race experiences you have the better you become at the sport.
DSJ (silver medal): Well I’m still not sure about how I feel about Cross Nationals in August…woops I mean October. It just didn’t feel right. In some ways I was as well prepared as I could have been as far as technique and condition. I was going ok but there was just something that wasn’t in place. There are certain variables that you don’t have control over so you prepare the best you can, but it was just a little bittersweet. It’s a shame that I didn’t really get to enjoy a silver medal at Nationals, after all it is still a great accomplishment, but it’s kind of like being a groomsman when you want to be the best man; good but not great. I learned that I still had a bit of work to do to deserve to wear a National Champion jersey in this discipline. After all it isn’t just about getting the jersey, there is a certain responsibility once you have the jersey to do something with it and I don’t just mean hanging it up!
What are the three main components of the Natasha and Derrick team success?
NE and DSJ:
1. Louis Garneau and all his employees and staff that help us out. People think that it’s all about the bikes in ‘cross; well it’s just a small part. You need so much gear to train and race in the variable conditions. Being properly prepared for the elements in North America might means that you have 6 different pairs of socks, a few different base layers, a few pairs of shoes, 4 pairs of gloves etc…you just gotta roll with so much gear. Having a sponsor behind us that supplies us with all the appropriate gear and support is a huge part of our success.
2. Coach Dan Proulx.
3. Each other, our families, fans and supporters.
4. Yeah we know, 3 only, but this one is big to both of us – lots of coffee, shwarma and red bull.
Many cyclists have blogs. How many people read your blog?
NE and DSJ: That’s our little secret, but I would have to say 25,879 and counting…haha. Wait, 25,880.
(ed: check out the site – here)
What are your plans for Europe? Will you be racing World’s ?
NE and DSJ: At first we just planned on going for the Christmas blitz of racing for 2 weeks and now we have decided to leave a bit earlier (nothing is booked yet). We plan to hit a couple World Cups including one in Belgium at the end of November and maybe just staying until Worlds at the end of January. It all depends: if things are still going well at the end of December and we are racing well, we will end up staying. If not we will pack our bags up and head home and take a month off before preparing for the road season of 2010.
What is the biggest challenge you face? What is your strategy for overcoming it?
NE: Training too much sometimes. I’ve come a long way over the last few years but still could improve this. Dan Proulx (our coach who has been guiding us since February this year) has really helped on this. From past coaches I was always stuck on following things to a “T” on a program and not changing things if I was tired or feeling sick. My training was very proactive, not reactive. Now with Dan, if something isn’t working or things change the program isn’t set in stone. If the racing was super hard on the weekend then it is okay to change things the following week and not do exactly what was on the schedule. It’s still hard though as once it is written I feel that I am letting myself down if I don’t follow it, I just have to relax a little more and trust to follow how I feel.
DSJ: Honestly there is a lot of work that goes into what we do. We have a really great set up with LG, but we weren’t able to get a mechanic/soigneur for this season and it is the only thing missing to let us take it, well me especially, to the next step. When the conditions are bad, there is so much work that can go into prepping the bikes, I end up running around a lot before the race and it cuts into my warm up time or I am a little distracted during my warm up and don’t feel like I’m into the first minute of the race, which is actually the most important minute. Luckily we have had the help of Alex Sanna. When he has been around, I have been on the podium. Actually now that I think of it, every time he has helped us this year I have been on the podium. Does anyone have his phone number? I better make sure he is in New Jersey! Another challenge I face is constantly finding good music to listen to while I work on the bikes. I’ll whip out the techno, but sometimes if I’m listening to Tiesto or something I’ll get distracted and just start dancing up a storm…I have crazy feet, they just start moving so fast like someone with restless legs. Then it’s dark and the bikes are still a mess and I just have beats in my head. Lately I’ve been into Deadmau5 (that’s the proper spelling) and the new Tiesto album. I thought the new Tiesto was really lame at first cause I wanted something hard hitting like Parade of the Athletes, it’s a lot softer, but once you get into it it’s definitely great for driving or fixing the bikes…it’s no Parade of the Athletes…but hey that’s the best Trance album of all time. I used to listen to Ben Harper a lot but then he got all crazy religious and it just doesn’t work for me.
How long do you see yourselves racing?
NE: At least until I win the National Title! Seriously, for a good few more years. I still to have a lot of focus on the road and would like to be part of Canada’s success at the 2012 Olympics in London. As the Olympics gets closer, I might have to sit out on the 2011/2012 cross season or just not race as long that season.
DSJ: Well in ‘cross I usually try to get the race over as quickly as possible and sometimes that means coming first. This way I have more time to do a proper cool down. Seriously, I would have to say I will race as long as I keep on getting better…whatever that means.
“Thanks again to all our supporters, family and friends. We hope to make you all proud in our second half of our season.”