Maghalie Rochette dedicated her winter to racing in Europe. That block is coming to an end with the UCI Cyclocross World Championships in Bogense, Denmark on Sunday. Rochette has been based in Belgium since her departure from Canada in mid-November to pursue nearly three months of uninterrupted European ‘cross racing with short training camps in Lanzarote in the Canary Islands and Malaga in Spain.

Photo courtesy of: Luke Batten

The ‘cross season got off to an amazing start for Rochette while in North America with wins at the Pan Am Cyclocross Championships in Midland, Ont. followed a week later at the Canadian Cyclocross Championships in Peterborough, Ont. The realities of living and racing for three months in Europe have provided fertile for learning what does and doesn’t work for the 25-year-old from Saint-Jérôme, Que.

A long euro campaign

In Europe, Rochette has faced adversity, ups and downs, and just hasn’t quite gotten into the groove. Her European season highlight was sixth at the World Cup in Bern before Pan Am’s and nationals.

“One of the things is that it’s just difficult to train a lot when you are here. We knew there would be challenges, so we tried to play with it. I respond really well to training mentally and physically. It gives me a lot of confidence when I train a lot. But where we have been staying, it’s difficult to find trails,” Rochette said. “You are playing with the limit of going out and training in bad weather with the risk of getting sick.

Rochette didn’t finish the World Cup in Hoogerheide because of illness and was far back a week earlier in Pont-Château when the sickness was coming on. She had some solid races in early December in Belgium and was 13th at the Tabor World Cup which was Rochette’s first race after coming over to end the season. It was a leap into the unknown that has been a good learning experience for Rochette and, her partner, coach and mechanic David Gagnon.

“It’s been too long for me personally. I don’t think these are the conditions I like the most. It’s been a good experience and I am glad I am doing it,” she said. “It’s kind of boring in between races so it’s not optimal for us. At home, I train a lot. We can see friends, family and work on exciting side projects. If we had never done it we wouldn’t have known. I don’t know what we imagined. It’s easy to romanticize it.”

While it hasn’t gone perfectly, Rochette and Gagnon have no regrets for taking on the project.

“I think we have achieved the goals we had set. I did have some performance goals I have not met. We wanted to see what it was like racing the little UCI races in Belgium, I had never done that before. We wondered what the best setup would be to perform. I don’t think that’s a failure, we have learnt.”

The Bogense world championships

The world championships go off in Bogense, Denmark on Saturday with the elites racing on Sunday. The conditions risk being interesting with the chance of snow falling in the days leading up to the race. The course has a lot of pedalling but if you remember watching the race last year it featured strong winds that saw the waves breaking up spectacularly into a mist onto the course.

Rochette didn’t race the World Cup in Bogense last year so in the coming days she will scope out the course.

“What I know is that the weather is going to be kind of crazy in the next couple of days prior to the race so that should make for very interesting conditions which is exciting. I mean sometimes when the weather is kind of special it makes for an epic day and one you will remember,” she said. “I find it levels the playing field when you get conditions nobody has ever seen before.”

After the past two weeks and a bout of illness, Rochette doesn’t know what to expect on Sunday.

“I have no expectations so maybe that’s a gift, it’s been pretty challenging that last two weeks. That’s different than what I am used to but I have done the work before and my advantage is I am coming in rested. I’ll do the best I can,” she said. In 2016, Rochette finished fifth at world’s a performance that still stands out as a breakout in her career.

If the conditions are challenging, Rochette sees that as a bit of an advantage. “It wouldn’t surprise me if there is ice and snow, it’s cold enough that it could stay on the ground and the water coming from the sea could also freeze. Our nationals were pretty icy and snowy. Because I have experience riding in the snow and ice, I know what it’s like.”

New fan appreciation for women’s cyclocross

The 2018-2019 season has seen spectators, television audiences and the media shine new light on women’s cyclocross after the men’s racing received more of the attention in the past. With Mathieu van der Poel so dominant this season, audiences are coming to better appreciate what was always the case; that women’s cyclocross is extremely exciting with close battles between a bigger group of riders who are competitive on any given day.

“It’s really cool to be a part of it. It’s crazy how many people are really strong. If you ask me who is going to win this weekend I could come up with 15 names and they could all happen. In North American equality is part of the culture,” Rochette said. “Now you talk to Belgium people and the fans are more excited about the women’s race than the men’s race. That’s exciting and it’s good for the sport. When they look at the numbers for the television coverage, it’s almost equally.”

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