Newly crowned under 23 women's cross country World Champion Alexandra Engen made some big changes this year. First she moved from her native Sweden to Germany, then she joined the Rothaus Cube pro team, and finally, she learned how to manage a lengthy season by balancing her racing with some down time.
Last year, Engen finished as runner-up at the Worlds, a result that motivated her toward a victory on Thursday in Mont-Sainte-Anne, Canada.
"I think even if I hadn't been second last year, I would have wanted to win. It's always been a dream," said a beaming Engen in her brand new rainbow striped jersey.
"I've always had big goals and have dreamed of what I wanted to achieve. Winning this race is a reward for all the work I've done. I went out there and rode the ride of my life, and I'm so happy I could nail it when it was really important," said Engen to Cyclingnews.
Engen explained her move from Jonkopings, Sweden, to Freiburg, Germany, during the offseason, crediting it with some of her success in 2010.
"If you're from Sweden, it's hard to be a pro cyclist. It's too small of a country for cycling, and last year, I was riding and doing all the logistics myself, and I had to ask people to feed me at races."
Her move was tied to signing with the Rothaus Cube team. "They're like a family, and it works well for me. When making the decision, I thought, 'Hey I'm 22. I'm moving to a new country and learning a new language.' It's like an adventure, so I figured I'd do it. I'd already been living on my own for a few years."
The transition worked out well for Engen, who was mixing it up in the early season with the elite women in Cyprus for the Sunshine Cup back in March.
"(Racing in) Cyprus was just training after I moved to Germany in January. That transition took a lot of energy, so I've been cautious to spare my energy and use it on the right stuff," said Engen, who sounded wiser than her racing age of 23 years.
To break up what otherwise would have been a long competitive season, Engen, who is also the European Under 23 cross country champion, treated many of her races at training, deciding to save her maximal focus for the top priority events, such as Worlds.
"After the Europeans, I was totally dead, so I didn't do the Val di Sole World Cup. I stayed home with my friends and family and watched movies. I still did my training, but I think sometimes I really need to have time off from the biking."
When it came to the race at Mont-Sainte-Anne, Engen was focused. "There are so many good girls. I knew I had to have the perfect race."
One factor that made a big difference was racing only the Under 23 women - rather than the Under 23 women mixed in with the elite women, as at a World Cup.
"It's a big difference to race the U23s only vs. the elites. I can do my own race with my own strategy. When I'm in the World Cup, all of us U23s are spread out among the elites, and I just end up somewhere in under 23s. Here, I can look at the other riders and see if they are tired or not.
"The start is also different; I had the chance to get on the wheels of the other u23 riders directly and I wasn't guessing where everyone is by where they were ranked on the start line."
Watching the top under 23 women race, it was clear that they they had honed their skills among the elite, racing speedily and smoothly around the course.
Engen will move up to the elite ranks for 2011, a transition she's anticipating. "I'm looking forward to my elite years. I'll give myself some time to get used to it."