New England cyclocross has produced some strong women’s cyclocross racers in recent years with Emma White and Ellen Noble coming up through the ranks of NECX and Rebecca Fahringer adopting the region as her home for a spell.
Carrying on that legacy is Lizzy Gunsalus (Cannondale p/b CyclocrossWorld Devo). The Gunsalus family is a mainstay in Massachusetts cyclocross and now-racing-age-17 Lizzy has turned heads with results against the Elite women and even the Cat 3 men of the region.
This year, Gunsalus graduated to her first year of UCI racing as a Junior Women 17-18 racer. She raced the Jingle Cross World Cup in September and then finished second in the first-ever Junior Women’s race at the Pan-American Championships in November.
Gunsalus saved some of her best racing for the races she grew up participating in. She finished second both days of the NBX Gran Prix of Cyclocross behind Vittoria Series winner Fahringer.
Despite being a name many of us have known for years, when Gunsalus was selected to travel to Europe with the USA Cycling MudFund Development program, it was her first trip abroad to race. The experience was overwhelming at first, but it did not take long for the multi-time MontanaCrossCamp alum to feel comfortable on the incredibly challenging course at World Cup Namur.
“I’m not going to lie, at first, it seemed all very intimidating—new culture, new races, new courses,” Gunsalus said. “It took a little time to adjust to the scene and to convince myself that I truly belonged in such high-caliber races but sure enough once I did I was feeling comfortable in no time.”
After her baptism by fire at Namur, Gunsalus and her Junior Women peers got the chance to race their peers at the Helen100 race at Azencross Loenhout. Gunsalus put in a big attack out of a group of four that included Madigan Munro (Boulder Junior Cycling) at the start of the last lap and held the gap to take the win.
“Winning on that day was surreal, especially as a first-year,” she said. “I was emotionally overwhelmed when I crossed the finish line mostly because all the hard work I had put in over the years had finally paid off.”
We caught up with Gunsalus about her win and how her first Euro racing experience has been going thus far. You can read what she had to say below.
Cyclocross Magazine: Congrats on your win in the Helen100 race at Loenhout! What was that experience of racing your peers and winning like for you?
Lizzy Gunsalus: As you probably know, this was my first ever trip over the pond. I’m not going to lie, at first, it seemed all very intimidating—new culture, new races, new courses. It took a little time to adjust to the scene and to convince myself that I truly belonged in such high-caliber races but sure enough once I did I was feeling comfortable in no time.
On the day of Loenhout, I knew I had a shot of winning but honestly thought it was slightly out of reach. Winning on that day was surreal, especially as a first-year. I was emotionally overwhelmed when I crossed the finish line mostly because all the hard work I had put in over the years had finally paid off.
Cyclocross Magazine: You’ve been racing a lot of UCI races against women much older than you this season, how did your approach change for Loenhout knowing you had a shot at winning?
Lizzy Gunsalus: I think this season racing with the UCI Elite women has definitely prepared me well for European racing. For Loenhout, I prepared just the same as I would any other race, even though I knew I had a shot to take home the win. All I needed was a calm, controlled mindset and the inner confidence to convince myself I had the fight.
Cyclocross Magazine: What were some of the keys for you in getting the win?
Lizzy Gunsalus: Loenhout is usually a muddy technical race and luckily the day I got to race it, it was. I knew that if I was able to control the race, my technical abilities could eventually lead me to victory. I was not going to win this bike race if I was racing anyone else’s race.
Cyclocross Magazine: It looks like it came down to the last lap. How did you get the win down the stretch?
Lizzy Gunsalus: Throughout the race, I was planning my attack if necessary. I knew it was risky, but I decided to attack at the beginning of the last lap into the first flyover, although I knew I would have to hold it for almost 10 minutes, it was worth it to me to go up in flames trying to win than to take the race to a 4-up sprint against some insanely strong girls.
Cyclocross Magazine: The photo your dad had of you with Helen Wyman was pretty awesome. Do you remember meeting her back then? What did it mean to win in front of Helen at the race she helped sponsor?
Lizzy Gunsalus: Funny you ask this. Right after I won Loenhout I remembered that day in Vermont and getting one of Helen’s rider cards and wondered if anyone had a photo of it. Lucky enough my dad did!
Winning in front of Helen is such an honor and I am beyond grateful for what she has and is doing for young women in this sport and it’s only the beginning.
Cyclocross Magazine: You’ve gone to MontanaCrossCamp a few times now. How have the skills you learned there helped prepare you for this Euro racing block?
Lizzy Gunsalus: During MontanaCrossCamp I learned a lot, mostly in the classroom. Listening to Becca, Ali and Katie talk about their experiences definitely made for less of a culture shock. Once I got to my first race, it almost felt as though I had done this before thanks to everything those women were able to share with me.
Cyclocross Magazine: What was Namur like? Have you ever done a race that challenging with conditions that bad?
Lizzy Gunsalus: Namur, believe it or not, was my first European race ever, and boy, was it memorable. Not only did I experience the larger-than-life crowds for the first time, I was racing a course that was beyond anything I’ve ever seen in the States.
Luckily for me, I excel on technical courses and all I needed to remind myself to focus and stay calm on the bike. After reminding myself of the essentials, no feature on that course was too much to handle and I was able to race and clean racing and finish mid-pack of a 90-rider field!
Cyclocross Magazine: What have the highlights of racing in Europe been so far?
Lizzy Gunsalus: Racing in Europe has been amazing but what I think sticks out the most is being to race and even pre-ride with the best in the world. It reminds me that my dream of becoming a pro athlete is not so far out of reach and with a lot of hard work and determination, I can not only get there but be the best.
Cyclocross Magazine: What are the biggest things you have learned racing with Team USA in Europe the last few weeks?
Lizzy Gunsalus: With Team USA, over the last few weeks, I’ve learned that you need to trust the process, be able to go with the flow, stay organized physically and mentally and most importantly, how to act as a team and proudly represent our country.
Cyclocross Magazine: I know you’ve had the first Junior Women’s Worlds as a goal for a while now. How have you been managing that anticipation with enjoying the experience along the way?
Lizzy Gunsalus: For the past few years I’ve known that the first-ever Junior Women’s world championship is coming. But now that the actual race is only a few weeks away, it feels very surreal. For the past few months, I’ve been very anxious to race my bike in Europe to see what it’s all about. Now that I have done just that I believe that I am well prepared and ready to give it my all in Switzerland in just under a month.
Cyclocross Magazine: Any fun or interesting Euro experiences stick out as memorable so far?
Lizzy Gunsalus: The most memorable experience has to be the pre-ride of Namur. This was my first glimpse of Europe on the racing side of things and I was nervous very nervous. I was in my head wondering if the course was gonna be too hard if I was gonna crash in front of hundreds of people and whether or not I truly belonged here.
But as soon as I hopped on the course with all of my team, I felt right at home, no more nerves and knew that this is where I am meant to be and that no European course would be too much to handle.
Cyclocross Magazine: Thanks for your time. Looking forward to seeing you race at Worlds.
Lizzy Gunsalus: Thank you! Looking forward to it.