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Zoe Bäckstedt enjoying her freedom as she leaves home and moves to Belgium

The 18-year-old is stepping up into the elite ranks of road and cyclocross after blitzing the juniors.

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The 2022 season has been a big one for Zoe Bäckstedt for a number of reasons.

It was a year that saw her romp to four world titles and make her first steps toward a professional career with EF Education-TIBCO-SVB.

She turned 18 during the world championships and soon after she moved out of her family home and planted new roots in Belgium. Her father, former Paris-Roubaix winner Magnus Bäckstedt, helped her make the move.

“My dad brought over the motorhome with my bikes in it and whatever else I needed that was too big to fit in my car,” Bäckstedt told VeloNews. “Then we basically packed my car full of clothes — normal clothes, cycling clothes — anything that I would basically need from home. Whatever the contents of my room were, we put them into bags, put them into the car, put them into the camper, and basically went go.

“My dad came over to Belgium and that was that. He helped me move in and was here for a few days and then I was on my own for a little bit. He was just easing me into the process of living alone, rather than just going bye.”

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Bäckstedt hasn’t been completely left to her own devices and her father is in Belgium for another visit the week before Christmas. He is moving around the flat during the call and accidentally plunges his daughter into darkness for a few moments as he tries to figure out the lighting in the new apartment.

When the season ramps up, those moments may become fewer and far between but Bäckstedt is enjoying her new freedom. Her mom taught her to cook long before she left the family home so she doesn’t have to rely on takeout to survive.

“It’s been good. If I’m honest, I quite like to have the freedom to be by myself a little bit,” she said. “I’ll just put some music on and just have a little dance party while I’m cooking and things like that. Obviously, there are days I feel a bit lonely where I’ll be like, I wish my dad was here, or my sister or someone like that. But it’s all stuff that I have to do to be in the sport.”

While Bäckstedt may be following in the footsteps of her parents, her mother Megan was also a professional racer, she is also close behind her elder sister in her chosen career path. Elynor Bäckstedt, who is almost three years older than Zoe, turned pro in 2020 with Trek-Segafredo.

Elynor was in a similar situation to Zoe when she joined the WorldTour right out of the junior ranks and she has been a great source of information as the 18-year-old jumps into the elite peloton.

“I speak to her a fair bit about how the peloton is, riders, everything like this, what happens doing X, Y, or Z. Whenever I need to ask questions, she’s always there to answer them,” Bäckstedt said. “Especially coming into August when I went to the Tour of the Pyrenees, she was preparing me for how it is compared to the juniors. Because in my head, it’s no different. It’s just more riders racing, blah, blah, blah. But she’s like, no, there is a difference.”

Despite growing up in the same sport, the age gap means that the Bäckstedt sisters have rarely raced either with or against each other. With Zoe turning professional next season, they’re going to be competing on the road on opposing teams for the first time.

“We’ve raced with each other a couple of times, probably twice, I believe. But only once against each other [on the track], and that was about it, the younger Bäckstedt said. “Obviously, we’re on different teams. We might be fighting for the same corner, and it’ll be like, who’s going to give in first? I’m not doing it.”

Cyclocross focus

Bäckstedt has not yet made any firm plans for her debut season as a fully-fledged WorldTour road rider and her primary focus is rounding out her cyclocross season with some solid results. She has been mixing it with the elites for much of the season, wrapping up a few top-10 results and fifth place against some tough competition at Hoogstraten.

She also took fifth in the U23 category at the European championships after crashing early in the race and suffering mechanical issues, too.

Bäckstedt has not raced since Kortrijk in the final week of November, but she’s got a busy program planned after Christmas with visits to Mol, Gavere, Diegem, Koksijde, Gullegem, and Zondhoven, as she builds up to the national championships and then the world championships.

“I’ve been out of cyclocross for a couple of weeks just doing some training. But yeah, I mean, in my head, I’d love to go for a podium,” she said of her season’s hopes. “Whether that’s realistic, I have no idea, but I always like to see what I can do. Europeans this year was pretty good, I was fifth.

“I kind of went into that race not really knowing how I was going to do. I had not had an amazing start to the season. So Europeans were really my first race where I went, I can have a bit of fun here. Especially after my crash on the first lap and then a double puncture and having to chase back. I was having to basically like max out everything that I could do.

“Still coming fifth and in my first European champs, I was over the moon. It’ll be the same at Worlds. If I can top five, then that’ll be great. If I can, if I can podium then even better. I’d be really happy to be there in the first place.”

Having dominated the junior scene in recent seasons, Bäckstedt has had to adjust her expectations as she races against the elites far more. She has been enjoying making new goals for herself and targeting personal victories during the races.

“I was just like setting myself goals in each race to try and chase down this rider or chase down that rider and try and do this section as hard as I can then take a recovery here and just changing the way that I raced to suit how the race was going,” she explained. “If I was having a bad day, and I was 25th, then I was just trying to nail the technical sections, or try to nail some sand or go full gas up a climb and doing it all the way out of the saddle or things like that.”

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