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Up Close WIth Katie Compton

January 30, 2014
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Now 34 years old, married and living in Colorado Springs with a UCI World Cup title to her credit, Katie Compton can look back to some 25 years ago when her father first got her on a bike to begin her racing career and have a laugh. ‘Yeah, I spent most of my life riding bikes,’ she recalls, ‘and I never thought I would find the kind of success like I did last year this late in life, but it’s great!’

Meet Katie Compton, an unabashed fan of cyclocross who is not only America’s most accomplished cyclocross races ever, but one of America’s most accomplished all around riders as well. Not since the 1999 World Championships when Junior rider Matt Kelly took the gold medal and Tim Johnson secured silver in the U23 class has America shown such a capable face as Compton’s in the notoriously tough winter sport. In the last nine years, the Colorado Springs resident has managed to win eight National Championship ‘cross titles, three runner-up rides at the World Championships, 17 World Cup wins and, undoubtedly the biggest highlight of all, the 2013 UCI World Cup Championship. In addition to all of her cyclocross success, Compton is also a two-time NORBA Short-Track XC National champ on the mountain bike and a multi-time Paralympic gold medalist (on the track with tandem partner Karissa Whitsell). We caught up with Compton midsummer as she was beginning to face the reality that the 2013 ‘cross season was knocking at her door.

FROM DAD TO COLLEGE TO MAKING HISTORY

RBA: How did you get involved in cycling?
Katie: I grew up in Delaware, and my dad was a bike racer and race official. He got me started when I was 8 years old, and then he got me on the track when I was 12. Basically, I’ve been racing ever since. Eventually, I rode for the U.S. National road team and competed in the Nationals and World Championships as a Junior. One year I was the National Criterium champion in the Junior class. I spent quite a few years competing on the track and also rode mountain bikes in college.

RBA: You had been a road racer for years, but eventually you turned to ‘cross?
Katie: Back in 1999 I realized that I was pretty much done with my career as a road racer. One night, when I was hanging out with some friends at the local college bar, they said I should give cyclocross a try. I was reluctant at first, because I didn’t want to have to run with my bike. Maybe I was drinking too much, but eventually I gave in and said yes. The very next day I gave it a try, and I ended up being good at it from the start and soon fell in love with the racing. After my first race I went to every weekend race that season.

RBA: How would you describe the difference between racing in Europe and America?
Katie: I think the main differences are the courses and the spectators. The courses are generally more technically difficult. The Elite races have lots of spectators and only four races each day. The spectators simply make it really hard to get around and do anything quickly. The majority of the races in the States are made up by amateurs and masters racers, whereas in Europe they are mainly Junior/U23 and Elites only. It makes for less racing, but still takes the whole day to do it. You really need to pre-ride courses before racing them and try different lines and see what’s fastest. The courses also tend to break down more over the course of the day, so pre-ride lines are different than the race lines a lot of the time. You have to bring your A-game to pretty much all the Euro races. The U.S. courses generally hold up better, and there’s less need to pre-ride enough to dial everything in perfectly.

Another big difference is the dirt we ride on. I don’t know how to explain it, but the mud and sand are different over there, and your tires ride differently, so we have to play with the tire pressures a lot more.
 


‘I’m proud of my World Cup title, because it speaks to the development of a full set of skills, but, I have to admit, those rainbow stripes are awfully nice too!’

RBA: What does your lead-up to the ‘cross season look like in terms of training?
Katie: I use the summer for the base miles and endurance strength work, and then start increasing the intensity in July so I come into ‘cross season with some good fitness and can build from there. It’s hard to get consistent training in once the season starts since there is so much travel and racing to recover from, so I like to start with good fitness and try to maintain for the first part of the  season. I ride road bikes throughout the year and will also hit the track in the summer.

RBA: Do you practice any specific skills?
Katie: I usually wait until July to pull the ‘cross bike out and start working on specific skills. One big payoff for me is to practice cornering. There are actually two parts to that: practicing the slide balance of when you enter turns and exploding out of turns, which is really important to do in ‘cross. My mountain bike skills have helped me a lot with dealing with cornering sensations over different types of terrain. And, for sure, practicing dismounts with barriers is really important. I’ll set some up and just go back and forth, because you want to be as fluid as possible and not have to think about it in the middle of a race. The more that you’ve practiced your mount and dismount, the more like second nature it becomes.

RBA: How does your training schedule change from pre-season buildup to in-season maintenance?
Katie: I think the main thing that changes is the hours of training. I simply don’t have the time to ride long hours and get the endurance in, so I do as much as I can while still getting the right amount of intensity in and also recovering from racing. Once the season gets into full swing, I follow the philosophy of less is more. ‘Cross racing is so intense, and we’re racing almost every weekend that I have to have enough mental and physical recovery so I can attack each race and still be spunky instead of coming in flat. season. I ride road bikes throughout the year and will also hit the track in the summer.

RBA: Do you practice any specific skills?
Katie: I usually wait until July to pull the ‘cross bike out and start working on specific skills. One big payoff for me is to practice cornering. There are actually two parts to that: practicing the slide balance of when you enter turns and exploding out of turns, which is really important to do in ‘cross. My mountain bike skills have helped me a lot with dealing with cornering sensations over different types of terrain. And, for sure, practicing dismounts with barriers is really important. I’ll set some up and just go back and forth, because you want to be as fluid as possible and not have to think about it in the middle of a race. The more that you’ve practiced your mount and dismount, the more like second nature it becomes.

‘Racing a heavy bike will never be the case for me. You want to be sure to have a light bike for ‘cross.’

RBA: On the tech side, have there been any big breakthroughs that have changed the game for you?
Katie: Not huge breakthroughs, but I think all the little details add up to a bike and equipment that works great and handles well in all conditions. It’s not until we get to Belgium that we really know what works well and what doesn’t. The mud and sand are just different over there. I think having a bike that handles well and fits great are the most important things.

RBA: What about your bike?
Katie: Trek makes both carbon and aluminum bikes, and for this year they’ve introduced a signature frame based on the aluminum Crockett. The geometry on the carbon Chronus doesn’t fit me, so I rode the aluminum bike last season, just getting the new frame dialed in. It’s been pretty cool having the Trek race shop there to do all the R&D work. Those guys go full on and have so much enthusiasm to make the bikes better; it’s awesome having them behind me. I’ll have one bike set up with disc brakes and one with cantilever brakes, which is the bike I will start on in Europe. I guess the aluminum frame is a little heavier than carbon, but if it was heavy enough to be a disadvantage, I wouldn’t race it. Racing a heavy bike will never be the case for me. You want to be sure to have a light bike for ‘cross.

RBA: You’re a World Cup champion, but you’ve been a runner- up at the World Championships numerous times; what’s the story there? What will it take for you to finally clinch a rainbow jersey?
Katie: Yeah, I’ve been second at Worlds like, what, three times now? I guess I just haven’t had the perfect day yet. I’m pretty good at being consistent through the season and riding different courses, but to be the World Champion, you need to be amazing on a single day. I’m proud of my World Cup title, because it  speaks to the development of a full set of skills, but, I have to admit, those rainbow stripes are awfully nice too!

‘The more that you’ve practiced your mount and dismount, the more like second nature it becomes, and that will really pay off when you’re fatigued.’

RBA: Any more racing in the Paralympics?
Katie: No more Paralympic racing for me. I loved doing it and would go back in a heartbeat, but I can’t race Elite and Paras at the same time. I do love tandem racing, especially on the track, but I love cyclocross more. Maybe once I retire from racing Elite ‘cross I could go back to the track. I guess I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it!

RBA: What are your plans for the upcoming season?
Katie: I’m going to miss the Cross Vegas race at the Interbike show so I can be fresher in Europe. I’ll move back to Belgium in October for much of the season. My husband will be there as my mechanic, and the family that I live with there will act as my support crew. My biggest goal is to be able to hit the Worlds fresh and with more energy.

RBA: What training tips would you give to a new rider to cyclocross?
Katie: I think getting out and riding trails and singletrack and having fun with it is the best way to get started. Find a clinic to do, or ride with people who can help you with your on/off bike techniques, and go to races. Finding a good group of people to ride and travel with is key, and getting advice along the way helps a ton. I think to be a good ‘cross rider, you just have to ride your ‘cross bike a lot and ride trails so you can get faster technically. Don’t take it too seriously until you have to.

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