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EuroCrossAcademy: Striking the balance between studies and racing

Elsa Westenfelder on the balancing act between racing in Europe and planning her collegiate future.

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During the next few weeks, riders from the EuroCrossAcademy will be writing exclusive blog posts for VeloNews as they race the ‘kerstperiode’ in Europe.

ECA VN Journal 4
Rider: Elsa Westenfelder
Hometown: Missoula, MT

I gripped my bars as the announcer called: “One minute.”

I pulled off my long sleeve jersey and handed it to Robbe, one of EuroCrossAcademy’s soigneurs. I bent down over my bike and adjusted my pedal to give me the best chance at a good start from the second row.

I was lined up in the same position on the grid as last year’s race. The announcer called: “30 seconds”, and I tensed, gripping my bars.

Something wasn’t right.

The sky was too clear; my pink-tinted glasses were still on my helmet. I quickly put them on and refocused, craning my neck to watch the red lights that would dictate our start. The lights went green, and a cacophony of cleats smashing into pedals echoed off the hard asphalt of the start straight. We were off.

This is my third block of racing in Europe with EuroCrossAcademy (ECA). The courses are now familiar to me, and the rhythm of each day is comforting. I know what to expect when I line up for a European cyclocross race in terms of speed, aggression, and racing style.

I felt very confident coming into this season. After the high of making the 2022 world championships team and a solid kerstperiode last season, I set big goals for this year.

As a high school senior, balancing a busy race schedule with challenging classes and college applications has been difficult. It’s been stressful and ultimately led to my overtraining, and consequently a decline in my race performance and overall fitness.

It’s hard to accept where I am right now, but I’m working through it. I’m focusing on the fun of the process and of racing in Europe. Being surrounded by the supportive ECA staff and my peers has helped.

Riding the same race — Baal — two years in a row has made me reflect on how much I’ve grown. I have known failure this year. I know what it’s like to set big goals and fall short. I know how it feels to work hard and not succeed. I also know that that’s cyclocross, and sport in general. Sometimes you win, and sometimes you learn.

This season has given me a new appreciation for those who support me, whether that’s my parents, my friends, Team Stampede, ECA, or USA Cycling.

I am grateful for their support when I’m at my highest, but, more importantly, when I’m at my lowest.

I have new motivation for future seasons, but first I’m excited to finish out this block and enjoy the rest of my time here in Europe.

Striking the balance between racing and studies is never an exact science for young athletes. (Photo: Wouter Toelen)