Ella Harris leaves the month of May with her head most certainly held high.  Victory in the young rider classification at the Vuelta a Burgos Feminas and second in the same classification at the WWT Emakumeen XXXII.Bira has been a leap forward in the 20 year old’s first year at the highest level of the sport; and we got to catch up with her about it.

The month of May has been virtually all about stage racing for Ella Harris, one of 2019’s new Kiwi additions to the World Tour.  Harris came to the World Tour on the back of winning the Zwift Academy competition with Canyon-SRAM towards the end of 2018 and got stuck into action with the team with a series of one-day races that ranged from Trofeo Alfredo Binda and Ronde van Drenthe at World Tour level, to UCI 1.1 and 1.2 races in Spain, Netherlands and Belgium.

Harris’ early experiences so far of the baptism of fire that she has very much been thrown into have been positive, showing every indication of a rider simply loving doing what she’s doing.  “It’s been really, really good, everything I’ve ever wanted and more!  The whole set up is amazing and I’ve learnt so much from all the other riders and staff,” Harris said. 

“It’s a little weird as initially it can be very daunting lining up against some of the world’s best, but it’s almost become a new normal so now I don’t feel nearly as intimidated. I’ve come to accept the new level that I’m racing at and I think that physically I’ve adapted to it well, so the step up hasn’t been too bad for me personally. I feel like I actually belong and can compete now at this level, so it’s really nice and rewarding.”

It hasn’t all been plain sailing for Harris thus far with the Healthy Ageing Tour seeing the Kiwi make an early exit and spend almost a month away from racing.  “I had a small setback with a broken collarbone due to a crash during a tour in the Netherlands, but apart from that the first part of the year has gone really smoothly for me,” Harris said.

The build back up to race fitness appears to have absolutely paid off for Ella, who got back to racing at the ASDA Tour de Yorkshire.  There in the UK Ella was part of a team that supported Hannah Barnes to 8th overall, but it was the following race at the Vuelta a Burgos in Spain where Harris got her big break of the year, taking the young rider classification with a solid defensive display on the final stage that had her under pressure but not denied the win.

“It was a really big relief [getting the win] as the final stage ended up being very tough and hectic. I’d always thought that I would have a good chance at going for an U23 jersey, but I have never really had an opportunity to do it before now. To be honest, I didn’t really have that much time to enjoy the moment as the race was so full on and I could never be relaxed, even in the final 1km.  It ended up being far tighter than I had thought (2 seconds), as they decided to split the front bunch and not give everyone the same time,” Harris said.

Canyon-SRAM headed to Spain with multiple options, with Harris able to stretch her legs and enjoy a chance at taking opportunities for herself.  After breaking into the race in stage 1, 8th place in stage 2 was the catalyst to Harris being prompted to pursuing the young rider jersey.  With no time gaps among the broken up peloton in stage 2, if Harris was to take chance it had to be on the penultimate day of racing to Alto de Rosales.

“I knew I wasn’t climbing too badly so thought I may have a chance to take the young rider’s jersey on stage 3. It wasn’t the main aim however, as the final climb suited my teammate quite well so it was more focussed towards me being there at the finish to try set her up. I didn’t actually have any idea that I’d ridden myself into the jersey, so ended up riding all the way back down the finishing climb towards the camper before having to hitchhike back up to make the presentation on time!”

Harris’ 8 second advantage at the end of stage 3 all but evaporated in a frantic finale, but credit to the Kiwi who dug deep in a very high-pressure final stage to keep the jersey and claim her first classification victory on the continent.  That form continued in Spain at the WWT Emakumeen XXXII.Bira.  The race, drawing the creme of the crop in women’s cycling, saw Harris push Évita Muzic of FDJ Nouvelle Aquitane Futuroscope for the young rider’s jersey; eventually seeing Harris take second in the classification by 47 seconds as Harris finished 19th overall as Elisa Longo Borghini of Trek-Segafredo took the win.

As Harris draws near the end of the first half of the season we wanted to know how her unconventional entrance into the World Tour ranks had affected her in terms of feeling at home in the professional ranks.  Had it left her feeling a little as though she had a point to prove against riders who had reached the highest level via rather more conventional means?  “I felt a little bit like an outsider to the pro peloton initially, but with each race that I do I gain confidence and experience. Now, it just feels like normal racing, except just a little faster than what I used to do!” Harris responded.

“Being in the position that I’m in now where I’m really comfortable in the team and with the racing I’ve been doing, I just feel really grateful to have been given the opportunity and that it’s actually worked out really well. It wasn’t easy being completely new to Europe and to a team full of experienced riders, but if you race well then you’ll be respected and welcomed. I don’t really feel like the ‘Zwifty’ anymore, as I’ve been accepted into the team really nicely and am not treated any differently to riders who have results to their names. It definitely feels like a family away from home, which is very important.”

Photo: Marion Wright / RoadCycling.co.nz

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