The top American cyclo-cross racers will assemble at the USA Cycling National Championships in Louisville on Sunday, when defending champion Katie Compton will attempt to win a record 15th consecutive title. But there will be one rider on the start line who, as a junior seven years ago, predicted she would break Compton's winning streak, and that is Ellen Noble.
"It would be insane, totally crazy if I won," Noble told Cyclingnews in a phone interview while she was travelling from Athens, Georgia, to Louisville.
"It’s funny, because when I was 16 years old I raced against Katie at my first Nationals, and I remember saying back then that if someone was going to break her title streak, it was going to be me."
She laughed and admitted how brazen that might have been to say at the time.
"At 16 years old, that was the goal, and I think Katie was on her eighth or ninth consecutive title back then. But I was only 16, so what the hell did I know. I didn't know anything about anything."
Noble might be the youngest of the three out-right favourites to win the elite women's title in Louisville, alongside Compton and Kaitie Keough, but she exudes the confidence, determination, strength and skills of an up-and-coming elite champion.
Just days ahead of the championship showdown, Noble said she would not accept anything less than a victory, or collapse at the finish line trying.
"I feel confident that I can win because I refuse to let myself say that I can't," Noble said.
"I only visualise winning, and I only tell myself that I'm capable of winning and that I will rise to the occasion. I won't give myself an excuse to say, 'Oh, I'll be happy as long as I try my best.'
"If I don't win, I would be disappointed if I don’t collapse across the finish line because I absolutely tried my hardest. If I put together my best day, then I think I can win."
Noble, 23, certainly has a do-or-die instinct in bike racing, but she also voices the utmost respect of her competitors, including those who she'll be going up against in Louisville.
Compton, who just turned 40 this month, is still racing at the top of her game. She is currently ranked second in the world behind world champion Sanne Cant. During the last decade, she has been a consistent winner and podium finisher on the World Cup, and always a contender at the World Championships. Likewise, Keough is currently sitting in third place in the world ranking, and won the Iowa City World Cup in September.
"That is not to say anything against, Katie or Kaitie, or anyone else in the field, but I feel like I need to be as positive as possible, and that I need to be able to say [out loud] that I really do believe that I can win," Noble said. "In my heart, that will lead to my best preparation and my best race."
Noble does have a solid chance of winning the elite women's title, which would end Compton's long-running winning streak. She was regarded as one of the most talented cyclo-cross racers in the world as an under-23 rider: four-time national champion, Pan American cyclo-cross champion, runner-up at the World Championships and won the corresponding World Cup series.
This year as an elite, she was second to Compton at the national championships in Reno in January. In September, she was second to Marianne Vos at the opening World Cup in Waterloo, and she went on to win two C1-level events and six C2-level races in the US.
Noble envisions a long and successful career ahead of her in both cyclo-cross and mountain biking. In the latter, she just finished her first World Cup season and has goals of qualifying for a future summer Olympic Games.
Asked if she sees herself becoming a rider as successful as Compton in her future career, Noble said, "I don't think anyone is going to be like Katie ever again. I don't think the sport will ever see someone like her, ever. The sport is cycling through people faster, it's developing, and women are pushing the limits more than ever before.
"I would love to be as good as Katie, which would be a dream come true, but what that results in will be very different. It might mean a couple of years of winning Nationals, and maybe some World Cup wins, but I don't see anyone with as many victories as Katie - UCI, World Cup, National Championships - ever again. That is my prediction."
Speaking of predictions, Noble seems almost destined to win the elite women's national title, at some point in her career, and whether it's this weekend remains to be seen. If she does win the stars-and-stripes jersey in Louisville, and break Compton's national title streak, it would very much have been a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Check back on Cyclingnews for our feature story on Ellen Noble.