Gearing up for cyclocross
Zoe Bäckstedt and Clara Honsinger look ahead to the ‘cross season
With the days getting shorter and the temperatures dropping, that means it’s almost time to put our road bikes away and get ready for cyclocross. Zoe Bäckstedt, the junior world champion, and Clara Honsinger, the American national champion, will fly the flag for EF Education-TIBCO-SVB in what promises to be an exciting ‘cross season.
Clara officially kicks off her cyclocross season in Wisconsin this weekend with the Trek Cup and Waterloo World Cup and she can’t wait to get back at it.
“I’m really excited for the cyclocross season,” she said. “I had kind of forgotten just how much fun it is to ride a cyclocross bike at that speed. Road racing is wonderful in its own dimension but cyclocross is so engaging. When you get on the field, there’s just nothing quite as satisfying.”
While she will spend the majority of her cyclocross season racing in Europe, Clara appreciates the opportunity to race on home soil, particularly as she is the national champion.
“I’m always excited to start in the United States just because it’s special to be wearing the stars and stripes and race here. It’s a strong home-country connection. There’s something special being back in the US and seeing folks that you’ve known and seen for years coming to these races. It’s very fun to race in the United States,” Clara said.
Clara seeks to have a strong season racing across two continents. She won the Koppenberg Cross last season and would be thrilled to repeat but says her key race will be the US national championships where she will look to retain her champion’s jersey for a third consecutive season.
“I put a strong focus on nationals,” Clara said. “It’s an important race for me because I feel that the jersey holds a lot of sentiment throughout the years. There’s been a cohort of extremely strong American women and I want to represent that. Having that jersey is important to me. There's a lot of pressure around defending it. I feel that there’s honestly more pressure on that race than on any race in the season except for the Worlds maybe. But it’s important to me.”
Zoe’s opening cyclocross race follows shortly after Clara’s with Cyclocross Ardooie in Belgium on October 20th. She moves up to the under-23 category this season but doesn’t expect that to change how she approaches racing and training.
“I’m still racing the exact same people as last year so the start of the season will just be about finding my cyclocross legs and brain and then looking for results as the season goes by.”
Last season, Zoe won ten races including the junior world championship, and podiumed at two more. In recent years, with so many races canceled due to Covid, Zoe opted to race every chance she could get. This year, her racing calendar is more strategic as she finds the balance between peak racing form for both cyclocross and the road, as well as time off the bike.
The 2022-2023 cyclocross season marks EF Education-TIBCO-SVB’s first year with a cyclocross program. Zoe and Clara have already raced together on the road at Tour Féminin International des Pyrénées and the pair are eager to continue supporting one another in cyclocross.
“It’s going to be great racing with Clara,” Zoe said. “I’m really looking forward to being with her at the races. For me, having someone so experienced in cyclocross as a teammate will be really insightful and hopefully she can help me out in training with things like picking lines.”
“I’m just so impressed with Zoe’s maturity, flexibility, and of course strength and focus towards racing,” Clara said. “She’s at a level that’s definitely beyond her years. I’m really excited to have a teammate that will challenge and push myself and to train together with. We’ll both be staying in Oudenaarde while we’re in Belgium so we can train together and also simply having the company around a race to take the edge off the big focus of the race, to have someone to talk with and just have some company. I’m really excited for it.”