Ask Natasha Elliott how she feels and she’ll smile and reply with a strong “Awesome”. That wasn’t the case for at least six months out of the past twelve when sickness took her off her bike.
The 32-year old Canadian returned to training in July after finally getting the answer to what was wrong with her, a “parasitic infection”. She, along with her Louis Garneau-Club Chaussures-Ogilvy teammate, and significant other, Derrick St. John are racing cross once again with an eye on Canadian National Championships.
“The goal is to have a National jersey in the household. That’s the goal of the team so whatever that means. We just go with the flow, have fun, do some big races, some hard races.” St. John said.
Elliott is also looking to two years from now. “The end goal is Kentucky and win the Worlds here, but for the next two years I would like to go to Worlds and get my little taste of it and be ready when it’s in North America.”
Getting sick. “I don’t really know when I got sick or how. Gloucester were probably my best two days together and then the week after that everything started to go downhill. My heart rate was low, I couldn’t get myself to go hard in the race, I tried to take my redbull, take gels but my energy levels were really bad and my legs, my arms were swelling, I had numbness in one leg. I just tried to keep on racing the season, I thought it was maybe over training, over racing and then in November, in Southampton I basically didn’t ride my bike the whole week to finish the NACT series and win it. After that I took some time off to see if it was just over training and things got worse and it hit my stomach.” Elliott explained two weeks ago. She did win the overall at NACT but then had to stop.
For five months starting in December, Elliott was off her bike. “I was completely out, I tried to train but the bike was so uncomfortable to me. I tried to go to the gym and do weights and tried to run and stuff but I had no energy. Basically if I trained one day then I didn’t do anything for three days.”
Finally in May, the diagnosis came in but not before she “came pretty close to” chucking it all in. “In May I decided that I would probably never race my bike again. And then, the next week was when I got the answer of what was going on, it was something that I could treat with antibiotics. I still have some stomach issues now that need to repair themselves, it will take a year but it’s not anything like people have to go through with chronic diseases.”
She recovered and in August raced the Tour of the Catskills. “I did the Catskill road race which is a pretty awesome race because there’s a climb in there that takes about 20 minutes to get up and it’s got pitches of 21% – Devil’s Kitchen – and I made it almost second up the climb”. Elliott finished 5th on the stage and overall. “There was a pretty good class of girls riding in the race so I was happy to come off of three weeks of training and be right back at it.”
And now? “Awesome.” Elliott smiled when asked how she was feeling right now. “I’m kind of racing the opposite of what I did last year. I used to lead the race in pretty much every race situation in the first lap and then ease off and get weaker and weaker throughout the race and then this year, I don’t have as great of starts, maybe it’s because I haven’t raced much but the middle and the end of the race is like unbelievable.”
The was demonstrated on the Saturday race of the Great Brewers Gran Prix of Gloucester. “I crashed twice, I rolled a tubular, I was in 20th with two laps in and somehow made my way to third.”
Elliott just won her first cross race of the year, the second day of the Toronto Cyclocross International weekend.
Bulldog. St. John’s cross goal is to simply kick it up a notch. “I’d like to take it a level higher than it was last year and then we take it from there, we see what happens, what the plan is with the road season last year and then if there’s an aggressive calendar then I’ll back off cross, if the calendar doesn’t start til later maybe we go til February.”
He has to meter his efforts with a full road season behind and ahead of him with the Garneau squad. “Yeah, I get tired sometimes.” laughed St. John. “I have a really good coach and he listens to me so when I tell him I’m tired, he makes me back off a little bit.”
One result of note this year for the 33-year old St. John was his second on the very tough Mt Megantic stage at the Tour de Beauce. After working in the break for around 100 kilometers, he dropped his breakmates on the final assault of the climb and looked poised to take his best victory, until he was passed by the eventual stage winner with 200 meters to go.
“Megantic was a heart-breaker, almost winning that. It’s the same old story, almost doesn’t count.” he said. After I reminded him that he was mobbed by the press that day, he added. “It was a really nice day, that’s the reason we do this, for days like that.”
Does that make him a climber now? “I don’t know about a climber, I’m just more like a bull-dog.” he added with a laugh, “I just go hard.”
Worlds. Last year, before the illness brought her to standstill Elliott had decided to focus on cross and not do a full road season. Now that she is recovering her health, the focus is back on and her goal this year is to “win Nationals and be stronger than I started off.”
And then, the 2013 Worlds. “It’s pretty much the goal, the long-term goal. It’s crazy because in May, I was like ‘that’s it. I’m never going to ride my bike again’. I didn’t think it was possible.”
One thing she learned this year is that she can take time off her bike for a few months every year and still be okay., and she’s planning on using her rest periods for the build-up to 2013.
“I think that that little rest period that I had is an important period that everyone needs to take during cross especially if you try to do mountain bike and the road, it’s a lot of racing, it’s a lot of traveling. Then, if I have a couple of months off in March, April then after that I train hard and then I have four extra months of what I didn’t have this year, just keep on building and riding my cross bike all the time.” laughed Elliott.
What are her strengths and weaknesses on the bike? “Definitely I do like dry courses but I’m not terrible at mud, I don’t really have a weakness but I don’t really have a super strength.” she replied. “I don’t even think my engine is that good this year, I haven’t trained enough yet. I do corner well on soft stuff but sometimes early in the race I tend to be a little bit more of a panicked rider and I try to pass people where I shouldn’t and I just need to relax a little bit at the start and know that eventually I can get up there and I can get around them on a safer spot of the course.”
On their schedule this season are the Derby City Cup weekend in Louisville, part of the Greenware Gran Prix of Cyclocross, followed by Canadian National Championships in Toronto and the NACT weekend in Southampton. They will probably also race the last two Verge NECCS weekends in New England.
“I have a few scheduled weekends off in there just to make sure that I’m totally sure how my body is going to respond after not training for awhile and I have Derrick too, we keep an eye on each other to make sure we’re not over doing it.” she said about their race schedule.
When asked if she was confident about the 2013 Worlds, Elliott smiled and said “yeah.”