A winter spent racing cyclo-cross in Belgium has paid dividends for Zoe Backstedt as she became the British national ‘cross champion.
The EF Education-TIBCO-SVB rider has moved to Belgium this winter to improve her ‘cross skills while also preparing for the Spring Classics and is set to make her World Tour debut next month.
In her first cyclocross season riding in elite races, the 18-year-old finished fourth in the World Cup at Gavere and fifth at the under-23 European Championships as well as several other top-five results.
At the British national championships in Cumbria, the youngster faced similar muddy conditions to Gavere showing her power and running speed to devastating effect.
Leading away from the line, Backstedt was in firm control from the outset eventually finishing over three minutes clear of mountain bike specialist Annie Last in second while Ella Maclean-Howell finished third.
In the absence of British rival Anna Kay, the youngster handled her pre-race nerves as a favourite to put on an impressive show in the slippery conditions.
“I knew I could do well and I knew I could win it, so I was a bit nervous this morning sat in the camper,” said Backstedt.
“I rode how I would ride in a Belgium race and it seemed to pay off. It’s given me a lot of confidence and the World Cup at Gavere was quite similar to today with running up and down. I’m just grateful to have been out there racing (in Belgium) and getting some experience.
“The start of my season wasn’t the best but the Christmas period was when I really found my legs again and it’s been good.”
Backstedt won the world cyclo-cross championships last year in the junior category and will make her debut as an under-23 at next month’s championship.
Who will be on the start-line in the category next month is still unclear with Dutch national champion Puck Pieterse and European elite champion Fem Van Emple riding up out of the category in the senior event.
Shirin Van Anrooij could also ride in the elite ranks after a successful season which has seen the Dutch woman win three World Cup rounds.
Backstedt finished fifth at the under-23 European Championships and was beaten by both Pieterse and Van Anrooij – both of whom could ride in the elite ranks at Hoogerheide next month.
“Hopefully a podium is possible,” added Backstedt talking about her world championship chances.
“We’ll see what happens with who rides up and who rides under-23. It’s been nice to see so many youngsters dominate the top of elite sport at the moment.
“Hopefully one day I’ll be there. It will be good to race the world championships at under-23 anyway, if there’s no one there and they’ve all moved up to elites then it gives people a chance.
“If they are there then rightfully, they are there as well to race so will go for what they can. I’ve had a couple of (under-23) World Cup podiums, but it’s quite hard to get second or first in the category when the best ones are winning the overall as well.
“It’s been really fun racing with them, even doing course practice looking how they ride and different things.”
Multi-discipline rider Backstedt won the world road race and time trial championship titles last year as a junior.
The EF Education-TIBCO-SVB rider is preparing to make her World Tour debut at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad on February 25 before taking on a full Spring Classics campaign.
“I will finish ‘cross after worlds, that’s my plan depending on how the worlds go and then be ready for the Classics basically,” the British rider added.
“We did a training camp at the start of December in California and since I’ve come back I’ve been training with Clara (Honsinger), just having a good time doing some ‘cross and road training and riding out in Belgium.
“I’m looking forward to the start of this year (on the road). I want to just find myself in the team and in the peloton. Hopefully, I can help the team out for some good results and just have fun out there.”
With Honsinger winning the American national championships last month and now Backstedt the British title neither rider will be wearing their pink EF Education-TIBCO-SVB kit.
Backstedt added that having both national titles within the team will ‘mean a lot’ to the team’s sponsors.
“It’s going to mean a lot to the team to have an American national champion (Honsinger) and British national champion in ‘cross kit,” Backstedt added.
“It’s a shame we won’t be in our nice pink kit now but going onto the road it will be good to race in it.
“For me, it means a lot, for the team it means a lot and for Rapha Condor it also means a lot, I can’t wait to get racing in it.”
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