Ella Connolly has had a rollercoaster of a season so far in 2022. Winning the opening round on home soil, getting the podium again in the second round and breaking his elbow in the third round, it has been a wild ride.
We caught up with the Cannondale rider ahead of EWS Whistler to reflect on her year so far, her recovery from injury, and her plans to return to racing.
EWS: Let’s turn the clocks back to the beginning of the season. How were you feeling moving to EWS Tweed Valley?
Ella: Before Tweed Valley, I was having a great time on my bike, which is always a good sign for me. At the start of the season, it’s hard to know how well prepared you are compared to your competitors and the pace at which you are progressing. However, I think I knew in myself that I was riding more confidently than ever.
EWS: Can you lay your finger on what contributed to that feeling of confidence?
Ella: Before the 2022 season, I found a better balance between training and life than before. I had times when I just rode and times when I would train. I think the balance really helped.
EWS: How was race day for you? Did you know you were in the winning race?
Ella: My second place on Saturday’s pro stage was amazing. My run felt smooth, but not particularly fast, so I was a bit shocked when I finished second just behind Isabeau Courdurier.
I didn’t check the time at all on Sundays, but people kept saying things to me that made me feel like I was doing well. Despite this, I wanted to focus on my ride rather than the result.
EWS: With the arrival of Isabeau Courdurier crossing the line in first place, did you believe you tried hard enough to secure the win?
Ella: OK, I heard mention that it was between Bex Barouna and me, so when I came down and went faster than that, I couldn’t believe it. The idea came – maybe I’ll win my first EWS!?!
EWS: Starting the season with a win on home soil, the opening round could not have been better. How did this prepare you to come to Petzen-Jamanica? Was there extra pressure on your shoulders?
Ella: I don’t think the win has changed much. I thought it would either put a lot of pressure on me to win again or take all the pressure off as I finally won EWS. To be honest, it did neither. I tried taking the Petzen-Jamanica as just another race and enjoyed riding my bike.
EWS: Petzen-Jamanica gave rise to some big, physical stages in the sweltering heat. Do you think the podium was on the cards?
Ella: In short, I didn’t think I’d podium there – I crashed three times in the first leg of practice. Maybe I came into it with a little more confidence than usual, but it was so slippery and I kept washing up in corners. I had also crashed in the first leg of the race, so I was really surprised to finish the day in third.
I think it’s important to remember that everyone is in the same situation. If you’re finding it difficult, maybe everyone else is like that and it taught me to push, even if you think it’s not going your way.
EWS: Things took an unexpected turn during practice in the next round at Val di Fasa Trentino. What happened?
Ella: There was one corner along the entrance to the boardwalk and then another with a basic step in the exit. You could have come to the first corner fairly quickly as the boardwalk took you to the roots, but the next corner was really rooted.
The trail was really wet and I wasn’t sure whether to risk it in practice because it would be dry by race day, but I decided to give it a fair try. I came in and my front wheel slammed into the other corner, throwing me down an inertial step over the bars. It was a huge drop and I spread my arms. I knew right away that my elbow would break.
EWS: You have had to deal with an elbow injury before. Do you feel that past experience helped or hindered your mental outlook during the recovery process?
Ella: Yes, I broke a second elbow a few years ago and I feel that the past experience negatively affected my mental outlook. I didn’t have much of a support network at the time, and I was really struggling to come back from that injury. I guess I just couldn’t believe it was possible to get back on the bike so quickly because the last time it took so long.
EWS: After such a great start to the season, has it become tough to keep patience and find the time needed to recover properly?
Ella: It was really stomping because I finally felt like I was where I needed to be – at the pointy end of EWS territory. I went through the recovery process with the goal of getting back on the bike in time for Whistler, but the thought of pushing my elbows too soon and doing more damage was terrifying. To be honest, the hardest thing is to be patient now that I am back on the bike.
EWS: Have you put yourself under any pressure to return to racing? What goes into deciding the race?
Ella: First things first, I’ll need to feel strong enough to ride safely on all stages. During practice I will get a very good idea of where I am in terms of strength. If my strength is fine, it will depend on how fast I feel. I’m not really interested in risking further losses for an average result, so I’d rather give it another week than run for a result I wouldn’t be proud of.
EWS: We are here in Whistler for EWS Round Four. What is your goal for the week?
Ella: My ultimate goal is to just try and get back to the point that I was at the start of the season, feeling happy and confident and having fun on my bike. Whether or not I reach that point in race time doesn’t matter much. If I’m feeling like this for the rest of the season after this round, this is a pretty good place to start.
EWS: Lastly, what’s the most important lesson you’ve learned from the season so far?
Ella: I think I have realized the importance of having some self-confidence. I didn’t expect to win at Tweed Valley, I didn’t expect to finish third in Petzen-Jamanica and I didn’t expect to ride so quickly after breaking my elbow. Maybe it would have helped if I had a little more faith in myself.