Ella Connolly has had a season-long skater season so far in 2022. Winning the inaugural round on home soil, climbing to the podium again in the second round and breaking her elbow in the third, it was a wild ride.
We caught up with the Cannondale rider before 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 start of the season. How did it feel to drive into the EWS Tweed Valley?
Ella: Before Canyon Tweed I was having a really good time on my bike, which is always a good sign for me. At the beginning of the season, it is difficult to know how well you are prepared and what kind of speed you are going compared to your competitors. However, I think I knew in myself that I was driving with more confidence than I had before.
EWS: Can you put 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 I had before. There were times I was riding and times I was training. I think that balance really helped.
EWS: How was race day for you? Did you know you were about to win?
Ella: My second place in the Pro Stage on Saturday was a surprise. It felt like running smooth, but not particularly fast, so when I finished second behind Isabeau Cordurier, it came as a shock.
I didn’t check the times at all on Sundays, but people kept telling me things that made it seem like I was fine. Despite this, I wanted to stay focused on my driving rather than the outcome.
EWS: Crossing the streak to number one, with only Isabeau Courdurier going, do you think you did enough to take the win?
Ella: Well, I heard it was close between me and the Peaks Barona, so when I got off and went faster than her, I couldn’t believe it. The idea happened – maybe you just won your first EWS!?!
EWS: Starting the season off with a home win, the opening round couldn’t have gone any better. How did that make you come to Bitzen Jamnica? Was there extra pressure on your shoulders?
Ella: I don’t think the win changed much. I thought it would put a lot of pressure on me to win again or remove all the pressure because I finally won an EWS award. Frankly, neither of them did. I tried to consider Petzen-Jamnica just another race and enjoy riding my bike.
EWS: Petzen-Jamnica delivered some phenomenal physical phases in intense heat. Did you think the podium was on the cards?
Ella: In short, I didn’t think I’d be the podium there – I crashed three times in the first phase of training. I may have come to it with a little more confidence than usual, but it was very slippery and I kept washing into the corners. I also crashed in the first stage 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 find it difficult, everyone else probably is and has taught me to keep pushing even if I feel like it’s not going your way.
EWS: Things took an unexpected turn while training for the next round at Val Di Fassa Trentino. what happened?
Ella: There was a corner with a boardwalk entrance and then another corner with a drastic step into the exit. You can get around the first corner really fast because the trail took you over the roots, but the next corner was really drastic.
The trail was really damp and I wasn’t sure if I would risk it in practice because it would probably dry out by race day, but I decided to make it fit. I got in and slid the front wheel into the second corner, throwing me over the bars down a drastic step. It was a very big drop and lifted my arm. I knew right away that I broke my elbow.
EWS: You’ve had to deal with an elbow injury before. Do you think previous experience helped or hindered your mental outlook during the recovery process?
Ella: Yes, I broke the other elbow a few years ago and I believe that past experience negatively affected my mental outlook. I didn’t have much of a support network at the time, and I really struggled to come back from that injury. I guess I couldn’t believe it was possible to get back on a bike so fast because the last time it took so long.
EWS: After such a great start to the season, has it been hard to be patient and take the time to heal properly?
Ella: It really hurt because I finally felt like I was where I needed to be – at the pointed end of the EWS domain. I went into recovery with the goal of getting back on the bike in time for Whistler, but the thought of pushing my elbow too early and doing more damage was horrible. Honestly, the hardest thing is to be patient now that I’m back on the bike.
EWS: Did you put yourself under any pressure to get back into the race? What goes into making a racing decision?
Ella: First things first, I will need to feel strong enough to ride all stages safely. I will get a good idea of my place in strength during training. If my strength is good, it will depend a little on how fast I feel. I’m not really interested in risking more damage for a mediocre result, so I’d rather give it another week than race for a result that I won’t be proud of.
EWS: We’re here at Whistler for EWS Round Four. What is your goal for this week?
Ella: My ultimate goal is to just try to get back to that point where I was at the start of the season, feeling happy, confident and having fun on my bike. Whether I get to that point in time to race or not doesn’t matter much. If I’ve been feeling that way for the rest of the season after this tour, this is a very good place.
EWS: Finally, what’s the most important learning you’ve learned from the season so far?
Ella: I think I realized the importance of having some self-confidence. I wasn’t expecting to win in Tweed Valley, I wasn’t expecting to take third at Petzen Jamnica and I wasn’t expecting to be back riding so soon after I broke my elbow. Maybe if I believed in myself a little more it would help.