Scottish rider Ella Conolly has been a household name on the EWS circuit since she first tried enduro in 2017. Not only did Ella dominate the U21 category and become a podium threat in her first elite season, but she also had to overcome heavy setbacks and find the fine line between work and fun. We caught up with the Cannondale rider to talk about her journey so far and her plans for the upcoming racing season.
EWS: Rewinding to the beginning of 2019, you were about to start your first season in the Elite after winning the Under-21 Championship last year. How did you feel about the step up?
Her: In the races in the U21 category, of course, I compared my times with the elite. However, the elite categories race at a completely different time of day, making it difficult to know exactly where you are. Coming into my first elite season in 2019, I had no expectations. I wasn’t sure where to stand.
I also wasn’t sure how it would feel if I won every race in the under-21 category to maybe end up in the midfield of the elite. Was I just having a great time because I won? There was a lot to find out.
EWS: The 2019 season kicked off in Rotorua, New Zealand and Derby, Tasmania. How did those races go and what did you take away from them?
Her: I placed 12th in lap one. I think I finished the race quite disappointed with my driving style. At the next race in Tasmania I was 11th and again I was a bit disappointed with the result. However, those two races really motivated me to train, push my riding and prove I can do well in the elite field.
On the way home from Tasmania I sat down with my friend Mops at the airport and she wrote me a basic six week training program before the next round in Madeira. I went home and did some proper interval sessions for the first time – I was determined to put the work into it and see where it would take me.
EWS: The third race of the season took us to Madeira. The tracks were rough and dusty. how did you progress
Her: I was honestly a bit sketched out by the conditions. During practice, I felt like I was riding so clumsily. The trails were very dusty – something I didn’t have much experience with before. I spent the day of practice figuring out how to go fast in these dry and loose conditions.
EWS: By the time the races started you were obviously well on your way to serious speed. Talk through the first day of the race. How did it go?
Her: In Tasmania, Sven Martin (my photographer) pulled me aside after the last lap and said: “Ella, you drive so smooth and calculated, but just let go of the brakes! The other women are actually pushing and you’re just driving.” I really had his words in my head all day. It was the first time that I really pushed in a race. At the end of the day I saw the results and couldn’t believe my eyes. I sat in second place!
EWS: That must have been a pleasant surprise. How did you hold it together on day two of racing?
I kept pushing on day two until I dropped my chain and ended up balling my chain around my mech for most of a stage and riding my cranks vertically… Realizing I could only do my best and see, what would happen. There’s not much more you can do, really. I was able to assert myself and finished the race in third place. it was crazy
EWS: You secured third place in Madeira with a sixth at the next round in Val Di Fassa. Were you satisfied with how the race went?
Her: Val di Fassa was when I started to feel the pressure. When you know you can be a podium rider, you put yourself under pressure. you want to do it again For me, the pressure opened up a whole new psychological game that made me drive quite carefully. If someone had told me earlier this year that I would be sixth at an EWS, I would have been thrilled. But after standing on the podium, I wanted more.
EWS: Unfortunately your season ended suddenly and unexpectedly at the fifth round in Les Orres (France) when you broke your elbow in training. How did you deal with the injury and setbacks?
Her: The first thing I thought after hitting the ground was how fast can I race again? Can I race the rest of the season? Luckily I didn’t have to have an operation – just a lot of physio. However, I struggled to find someone who really knew what to do. It was a long waiting game.
EWS: The 2019-2020 off-season was long and full of uncertainties and cancellations. How was the off-season for you? How did you get back to racing at your best?
Her: As much as I struggled with uncertainty at the start of 2020, the long offseason gave me time to recover from my injury. In May, June and July we had great weather here in Scotland and I spent a lot of time riding with friends. However, with no races in the immediate vicinity, I wasn’t on a mission to do massive training rides. Instead, we spent our time riding trails, hitting sections again and again to see how fast we could go.
I also managed to find the balance between training as much as possible and being fresh enough to hit the trails at race pace. When I’m tired from training, I don’t often drive at the limit. When I feel fresh, I want to try new jumps, push more through the corners and my body likes that too.
EWS: Do you obviously attach great importance to maintaining your driving and training fun? Do you sometimes have problems with motivation?
Her: I always make sure to swing more on the fun side than the performance side. I think to have a long career you have to have fun. If I feel a lack of motivation for a certain aspect of training, I try to change it and keep it fresh.
EWS: You’ve said before that you try to measure your performance based on how you drive, not your results. In a world where results are published instantly on the web, how do you manage to stay on track?
Her: It’s hard when results are often the only thing other people see – It’s hard not to feel judged by your results. At the end of the day you have to focus on what you can control and all you can really control is your own driving. So if I’m disappointed with a result or the same if I’m doing well, I’ll try to look back and assess how my riding was.
If I’m not doing very well on paper but then look back and realize I was happy with my ride then I don’t think there’s any reason to be disappointed – I did everything I could personally do. In the same way, you can still be unhappy with your driving even if you’re winning.
EWS: As the 2022 season begins, you have more support than ever and two teammates behind you. Walk us through the Cannondale Enduro Team setup.
Her: I’m really looking forward to the season. We just had a team camp in the US, set up the bikes and met my teammates Mitch Ropelato and Kera Linn. It feels like a real family and we will have pit space and mechanics this year which is a first for me.
One thing I really like about the facility is that I still have my own personal sponsors. I like being able to choose which parts I ride and having those individual relationships with the brands I ride for is really nice. I think it’s a good way to do it. I had offers from full factory teams but they just didn’t feel like me.
EWS: Any final thoughts?
Her: Cycling is fun! Make sure it stays that way!