Arriving from New Zealand to Belgium last week, Ella Harris is ready to start her 2021 season, and pinning the number on will come as soon as tomorrow in UCI 1.1 Dwars Door Vlaanderen. The CANYON//SRAM Racing rider starts her third professional season searching for a year of consistency and without injury. We asked Ella a few questions!
How would you describe your pre-season preparation so far?
Ella: My pre-season preparation has been really good, despite the fact it started a little later than anticipated. I had a reasonable base of fitness come January, but due to various factors my training had not been smooth, productive or quality. Once I crashed and injured my pelvis in January, I used the enforced rest to start afresh and make some positive changes, and since then my training has been going really well. I stayed in New Zealand longer than intended but wanted to finish off a solid training block before I left, so I could use the travel as recovery time and kick straight into race preparation once I arrived.
Does it feel like you’re in your third year as a professional cyclist?
Ella: Aha no, most definitely not. It feels like I am in exactly the same position as I was this time last year, as I wouldn’t say I had a season in 2020. Because of this, my goals for this year remain largely unchanged from the previous, and I basically feel as if I am releasing the pause button to resume what I had hoped to do last year.
How are you feeling on the eve of your first race of the season?
Ella: I’m really excited to be back in Europe and I’m definitely ready to race again, but also quite nervous. I haven’t been in a large race for quite some time, especially where positioning and ‘fighting’ will be imperative. I’m not quite as fearless and confident with my bike handling as I used to be, so I hope that getting my first race out of the way will improve these aspects. My last race was the Madrid Challenge, but I’m not sure if that really counts because I certainly wasn’t ‘racing’ there as it was my first race after breaking my femur.
Is there an advantage training in Belgium ahead of these spring races?
Ella: Yes it’s really cool to be able to fly straight into Belgium to be in the team environment, as it has been great for motivation and to help switch myself back into race mode. I haven’t ridden much in Belgium at all previously, so it’s been valuable to ride certain courses and have a feel as to what I’m getting myself in for. It’s also nice to be able to fully focus on training and preparation, as everything else is taken care of. Being able to finally ride my team bike was also very exciting but has taken a while to get used to, just because it’s so fast and responsive.
How different is the racing in Belgium?
Ella: This is one area where I am really lacking experience, and I had planned for 2020 to be the year where I familiarised myself with Belgian and Dutch racing. The most striking difference for me is that you can’t afford to be too complacent or relaxed when it comes to positioning within the bunch – you have to really fight to be within striking distance of the front otherwise you’re just riding to make up numbers. This is largely due to the parcours, the width of the roads and the weather, and although in countries like Spain the conditions can also be similar, generally mistakes are not as critical and can be rectified more easily. I’m excited to get started and to experience it in order to learn and improve.
Do you have your sights set on particular races in 2021 or is it about consistency and avoiding injury?
Ella: I don’t know if it’s too much to ask, but I’d really like to have a smooth season without too many negative impacts on my own physical health – I’m not sure how many times I can keep crashing and get back up if I’m perfectly honest. I haven’t set my sights on any particular races at this stage, but I know that I really want to be in good form come the Ardennes and the stage racing in May. My fitness right now is good and I’m pleased with where I’m at, but I’m taking things one step at a time. Getting to a decent level again after all the setbacks was the first and now starting to race again is the second. With a few races and my race fitness starting to develop, I’ll then start to hopefully get a better idea of what I can aim for.
First races will most likely be?
Ella: I will be starting at Dwars Van Vlaanderen, followed by Scheldeprijs and Brabantse Pijl. Let’s go!