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Last week, 2018 Zwift Academy winner Ella Harris chatted about her pro training schedule and the highs and lows of her transition to life as a pro rider within leading women’s pro cycling team, CANYON//SRAM. This week, we’re back to chat about Ella’s racing experience with the team, a typical day in her life, and the races she’s looking forward to this year.
N.B Ella answered my questions in early February before much of the world went into lockdown.
*You can read part one of Ella’s interview here*
Earlier this year, you became the first Zwift Academy winner to take victory in a pro race (the Herald Sun Tour) – congratulations! How do you feeling about your riding strengths right now?
I’m feeling really positive about how my training and racing has been tracking. I think I’ve been able to make some big strides forward, even in the past couple of months, so I’m looking forward to seeing how this transfers through to the European season this year.
I’ve been chipping away solidly for a while, throughout 2019 in particular, whether it be training hard or constantly learning, so it’s really nice for me to start seeing rewards for the work I’ve put in, and also to see myself getting closer to the level of rider that ultimately I want to be. I’m starting to get a better idea of where my strengths lie in the sport of cycling and also the type of racing that I enjoy the most, so I’m feeling really motivated to keep plugging away and to continue improving.
Talk me through a typical day in your life as a pro cyclist?
My routine differs quite a lot when I’m in New Zealand versus when I’m in Spain and also depending on my training load at the time and whether I have university work to attend to. I tend to be a bit more of an early bird in New Zealand as everyone is out and about from 7am onwards, whereas mornings are a little bit of a slower affair in Spanish culture.
I normally aim to get out of the house and onto the bike between 8-9am (on the earlier side of that bracket in NZ), with some quick muscle activation work beforehand and a spot of stretching afterwards. I don’t tend to rush my breakfast as I like to make something quality and really enjoy it slowly while tending to emails and ‘life admin’. I’m normally having lunch between 1pm-3pm depending on how long I train for, but the rest of the afternoon is normally spent studying or catching up on university work. I also like going for the odd walk, taking care of the grocery shopping or heading to a cafe for a coffee and cake while aiming to be productive from a study/admin point of view.
My afternoons are where I like to fit in any jobs or work I need to get done, but it’s surprising how much time eating, training, body maintenance and maybe a cheeky nap can take up. It’s normally a respectable 10pm bedtime unless there’s some university assignment that’s completely escaped my brain!
In the last year, you’ve had to overcome two collarbone injuries and surgeries. Was this a difficult time?
At the time of the first collarbone break, I was initially quite disappointed as training had been going well and I was starting to come into some reasonable form. My biggest concern was that I wouldn’t be able to race Tour de Yorkshire, an event I’d been looking forward to for quite some time. I remember doing numerous calendar calculations to work out when I needed to be back on the road in order to be in reasonable shape for Yorkshire, and I stalked other cyclists whilst doing extensive Google ‘collarbone recovery’ research to see what a realistic time frame would be.
I had it in my mind that [pro cyclist] Jolien D’Hoore returned to racing earlier that month only three weeks after a collarbone break, and with Yorkshire being four weeks away, I knew it wouldn’t be an unreasonable target.
Were you able to remain positive during your recovery?
Because I had this goal on the horizon and knowing that I could potentially recover pretty quickly, it was easy to maintain a positive mindset and keep the motivation strong. I’d consider myself to be quite stubborn and determined, to the point where it verges on stupidity sometimes – which was evident when I jumped back on Zwift the day after the surgery.
Aside from the race I crashed in and couldn’t continue, and a few uncomfortable days waiting for surgery, I didn’t consider it to be a really difficult time as I was still able to race in Yorkshire 3.5 weeks later. I’ve never been one to dwell on injuries or misfortune for too long, as I know there are cyclists who’ve had life-changing accidents and never been able to return fully to the sport. When I put it into perspective, both collarbone injuries have just been an unanticipated but easily overcome hurdle.
Tell me about riding in big races – do you feel under pressure or get nervous?
I don’t really get too nervous before events at the moment, but I think that’s because the team hasn’t placed too much pressure or expectation on me yet. I also haven’t targeted any specific races with CANYON//SRAM; I go into the year with a mixture of races I’ll be doing, but it’s not like I set particular performance-based goals at key events prior to the season commencing.
Obviously, there are always events that you know will suit you and for races such as the Colorado Classic, Tour Down Under and Cadels, I knew that I could potentially ride to good results, but I’m at the stage in my cycling where I still just want to learn and gain experience so I don’t get caught up on getting a result at a particular race. It’s always just a nice bonus if the race unfolds in a way that means I get a chance, but the team have made it all quite relaxed for me so far and currently, I concentrate more on just aiming to fulfil the team role I’m set to meet; that still makes me a little apprehensive and tense beforehand though!
How were your nerves when you represented NZ in your first World Championships last year?
I did get very nervous before the World Championships last year as, even though I wasn’t going to win and there were no expectations on me whatsoever, it was the biggest race of the year where the crowds were huge and all cycling enthusiasts tune in. So naturally, I wanted to do everyone at home in NZ proud, not have a shocker, and basically justify my selection.
The NZ Nationals also played at the back of my mind for quite a while, mainly because I knew I had the opportunity and capabilities to do well, so naturally, the nerves crept up!
Similar, but different to nerves, I do find myself having issues with self-confidence and doubting myself more than anything. It’s more just being anxious and insecure about my own abilities and whether I’m actually capable of what I want to achieve in the race.
You’re now New Zealand’s U23 National Time Trial Champion, which must be a confidence boost?
The time trial at Nationals was a combination of two styles of event that make me nervous, so I was especially worked up beforehand. I was actually really proud of how I conducted myself in the lead-up, directly beforehand, and then with the execution. I’ve always been such an over-thinker when it comes to TTs and I’m rather scared of them if I’m honest, but I decided to get out of my comfort zone (big time) as I had fabulous equipment from the team and zero excuses not to race.
To actually enter a championship level TT race with limited specific TT training and successfully complete the event was a huge boost in confidence and a really satisfying feeling.
Do you have any pre-race routines or rituals?
I don’t have any specific pre-race routines as such, but I know that to race well and feel calm going into an event, I like to be as organised as I possibly can be. I always have my gear laid out and bags completely packed, even prior to dinner the night before, but like to pin on my numbers in the car on the way to the start to both concentrate on the race and distract myself from anything unnecessary. As long as my pre-race meal is some form of porridge and includes a hearty dollop of peanut butter, then I’ll be happy and relaxed!
Are you looking forward to any races in particular this year?
I was really looking forward to Tour Down Under and Cadel Evans, but now that they’re out of the way, my attention has turned to Europe. I’m not completely suited to the typical flat and windy Dutch style, but I don’t like to count myself out before I’ve even raced in those conditions this year!
I definitely enjoy both one-day and stage racing with a few more climbs and attritional characteristics. I’m not sure whether I’ll be able to make it happen this year, but one day I’d really like to race the Giro Rosa and British Women’s Tour as the nature of both events appeals a lot to me.
Fingers crossed I’ll be on the start line for a couple of the Ardennes classics this year, hopefully, Liege and Fleche, as they’d be really exciting to be a part of and anything with hills gets me interested. Oh, I nearly forgot the Colorado Classic, I had such a great trip to the US last year for this event so would love to return again for not only the tour but also for the Steamboat Gravel Race! It was my first time on a gravel bike as well as my first gravel race, and it was simply awesome.
What are your favourite items of kit for racing and training?
Obviously being on a team means that I have sponsor obligations and all my gear supplied, so there’s a limit to how much personal choice comes into it. In saying that, however, I absolutely love all the sponsors that the teamwork with and if I were to choose gear myself, I would most likely select from those brands regardless. Rapha kit is just so stylish and such great quality, and Giro helmets are the comfiest I’ve ever worn.
I do enjoy being able to add my own personal flair or mix things up a little bit from ride to ride, so because of this I’m quite the Oakley enthusiast and like to rotate through my collection on a regular basis. My favourites would have to be the Oakley Sutros in my favourite colour, navy, although a crisp white pair of Jawbreakers come in a close second! I have a little thing for snoods/neck warmers as well, always a nice addition to jazz up an outfit and I struggle to go without one on cooler days.
Lastly, what’s your favourite session on Zwift?
I’m the sort of person who gets bored quite easily and enjoys variety in everything and anything I do, so my favourite sort of Zwift session would entail a mixture of intervals with different durations and intensities. As long as I have erg mode switched on, then I like getting some solid efforts done where all I have to focus on is keeping up with the cadence and making sure the pedals are still turning around.
My coach, Kevin, is a big proponent of training on Zwift and I think he secretly liked it when I broke my collarbone so that he could give me more Zwift sessions to do. He always gives me really tough interval sessions, but that’s the type of Zwift riding I like best as the time flies by, there is nowhere to hide and the training is always bound to be quality.
You can follow Ella’s racing and training via her social media channels: www.instagram.com/elllaharrris
To find out more about the Zwift Academy visit www.zwift.com/academy.