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Cross Country Perspective: Bill Elliston

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This Saturday will see the 88th edition of the annual Holy Saturday Cross Country Cycling Classic. This year also marks the third and final year of the CFB policy of gradual separation of foreign riders on local teams. Nonetheless, foreign participation remains, albeit on their own teams. Generally, such riders come from Central and North America, though there is a continued push to include Caribbean competitors. We caught up with one such competitor, William “Bill” Elliston, last weekend to hear his thoughts on the cross country and cycling in Belize.

Bill won the Cross Country in 2005 in the midst of a US run started by Chris Harkey in 2003 and 2004 and ending with Boyd Johnson in 2007 and current record holder Ryan Bauman in 2008. the American bracketed Shane Vasquez’s 2006 triumph.

Bill is a full time coach at Elliston Coaching in the US. He was introduced to Belize and the cross country by Jamaican-American Anthony Taylor in 2005 and has been coming back steadily since then. Though he hasn’t been able to repeat as cross country champ, it is still a race he looks forward to.

CycleBiz: You have been coming down here since 2005. Why do you keep coming back?

Bill Elliston: The first time I came I was fortunate enough to win the Cross Country. That was a pretty big win, I think, for myself. I don’t think I understood actually, how big the race was down here, coming into it. Once I won it I realized from the perspective of a lot of the Belizeans and a lot of other riders that have been here, that it’s a pretty big race; and a pretty prestigious race in this area. So, ever since then, I’ve tried to make it a point to come back down to honor that. Honestly, I really enjoyed the country right off the bat; real easy assimilation coming down from the US. The people are very friendly and the climate is right up my alley. So, it’s been a very favorable experience across the board.

CB: Have you ridden any other races in Belize?

BE: Actually, I have. I have done two editions of the M&M Tour of Belize 2006 and 2007, I believe. Outside that and a bunch of editions of the Cross Country, the only other race I’ve done was that circuit race last Saturday (Westrac Race from Loma Luz Boulevard to Belmopan Junction – 2.5 laps for 100 miles). That was just because I happen to get in in time to do it.

CB: What is it, particularly about the Cross Country that you like?

BE: One of the things I really like about that race is that it’s very unique in that it is an incredibly long race. One of the interesting things is in the US at the professional level, we have a lot of long road races, but I’ve stopped racing professionally years ago and as amateurs there is not that many road races that are that long. So it’s kind of unique to be able to those from time to time. I think in particular down here, you’ve got a lot of other variables in the mix that make it a very difficult event. The roads aren’t perfectly smooth and can be a little rough in some areas and the heat and humidity are immense. So those things are huge challenges especially for riders from my climate. I’m coming from Pennsylvania, coming down here in March. I just got done emailing my wife and she’s going to be shoveling six inches of snow in the morning out of our driveway. So, it’s kind of a big battle of not just the race itself, but you’ve got the elements, the road, and that sort of thing. It makes it as much of a mental battle as much as it is physical and that kind of just falls into my comfort zone of racing. I really like those challenges that aren’t necessarily purely physical. There is a lot of mental in there too and you have to really think and use your energy wisely and stay on top of your nutrition, your hydration and figure out where the wind is coming from and make sure you play the wind accordingly. That’s obviously a very huge factor down here. So, that’s why I really like the race because it’s such a mental and physical challenge. It’s a little bit of an art to tackle all of those elements and come out good on one day and I try.

CB: Riding this race as a solo act; how does that factor in to what you just described about the race?

BE: It factors in. I have to do a lot more thinking beforehand than maybe some of the other riders. Anyone who is riding individual and gunning to win have to predict what some of the other teams are going to do tactically, and try to piggy back on some of their tactics to make your life as easy as you can and not get caught off guard by a big split early or missing the right guys. So, it’s a lot of back and forth thought about who’s going well down here, which foreign riders are coming in that might play into the equation; and trying to figure out what other riders’ strengths are and how they are going to use them and how I can use my skill set to take advantage of that.

CB: What would you say your particular strengths are?

BE: My strengths have been the same over the years in that I have a pretty good diesel engine so I can go all day. So, you know in the overall picture of the race, that’s obviously one of the qualities you have to have; you have to stay at a certain level for the duration of the race just even be in contention. So, that’s one of my strong points is I know year in and year out I can do that. I know generally I’m not the fastest sprinter by a long-shot but I know my sprint is almost exactly the same if I go by the numbers. It’s exactly the same after an hour as it is after six hours. So, I know if I get to the end of the race near the front, I know I’m probably going to be one of the faster guys.

CB: You’ve been coming down here for so long but the local faces have change. What do you know about the local competitors and how that have changed over the years?

BE: Obviously, a lot of the guys that I came down and raced with are not in the game anymore. Guys like Doug Lamb and sad to hear about “Jawmeighan”; guys like that really aren’t around anymore. But, ever since I came the first time, I’ve kind of kept tabs on the races down here. I looked at the New Year’s results, the Belmopan Race results, so I’ve got a pretty good grip on who’s who and the teams. I know what teams are a bit bigger and who’s got more depth than other teams and so on. One of the things I’ve always been good with as a rider is that physically, I’ve never been one of the very best guys. I’ve always been kind of right there, so I’ve always had to do a lot of homework on the outside of paying attention to what teams has certain riders and what those riders are good at and really know my competition going into these races to give myself the best chances.

CB: There are changing dynamics, especially no foreign riders on local teams, but what are you looking forward to this year?

BE: I think in the last few years the race have played out in a similar format. It’s tough to say if it’s going to play out like that this year. The weather can be a little different. The winds could be coming from a different direction. From looking at some prior results, talking to some guys down here and from being in the race last weekend and watching what was going on; I think I have a pretty good grip on who some of the better riders are and what some of their tactics may be. So I’m confident in my ability to be able to work with that.

CB: Knowing what you do and being a coach, what kind of advice would you have for the local guys considering you’re pretty familiar with their situation?

BE: If I had a local client doing this race, my first advice would be believe in your training because if you doubt your training and your abilities it’s going to show on the road and in those crucial moments where you need to have the confidence to go with something or make the move on your own, that doubts is going to get in your way. I think I would also tell anyone, like I mentioned before; do a little homework. Now what the other riders are capable of and try to formulate a good plan. You never want to go into a race like this without a solid game plan. You want to have a plan A, B and C and basically plan D, which is throw A, B and C in the garbage and wing it on the road when you have to. So, go in with some plans and commit to executing those plans as best you can.

The other thing would be, don’t be afraid of the foreigners. A lot of what I hear down here is some guys that speak with some confidence on one hand, but on the other hand they get a little bit rattled because of the foreigners coming in; with the impression that the foreigner is that much stronger. I mean, sure, some of those guys are strong but this is the beauty of bike racing. You could have one guys who, on paper, going by power numbers, he may be visibly stronger than another rider but if power numbers determined the finish of races, we wouldn’t need bike racing. Guys would show up at the start line and show their data and that’s how prize money would get handed out. The beauty of bike racing is there are so many variables that can come into play. So, if you’ve done your work and have the confidence, you have a chance to win and you need to believe that.

CB: Any final thoughts?

BE: I love coming down here. I love the cycling community. I love that everyone is so enthusiastic. Bike racing in the US is whole different attitude than it is down here. The barriers to entry in the US are greater than they are here because costs are higher and so on and so forth. Race entries are higher and equipment costs are pretty high. I think down here, one of the things I love is, understandably the cost barriers are high, but the beautiful thing is that guys are willing to race on anything. Some guys race on bikes that went out of date ten years ago but they are every bit as competitive as some of the guys that are out there on carbon fiber and full top shelf equipment. So, that just speaks to the enthusiasm and the importance of cycling down here; and I love that attitude and that’s one of the many things about Belize that make me happy to come back every year.

As a coach, Bill had an opportunity to do a clinic here in Belize in 2012 at the behest of the US State Department and the CFB. He remains very open to the possibility of coming back and working with the cycling community in Belize. For now, though he has won it before, he will be re-joining some 70 plus riders on Saturday all gunning for a win in Belize’s most storied bike race, the Holy Saturday Cross Country Champion.

About Isaac Rhys

Isaac Rhys is the Managing Editor at cyclebiz.com. Based in the Belize, he started Cyclebiz in 2015 intent on attracting more attention to local bike races and its participants.

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