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When Katerina Nash (Clif Pro Team/ Czech Republic) lines up for the 2017 UCI Cyclocross World Championships in Luxembourg on Saturday, it’ll be the end of a successful but long season. One that started on the top step of the cross-country mountain bike podium at Sea Otter Classic, saw her compete at her fourth Olympic Games –where she finished fifth– and now, after a strong cyclocross season, will see her line up for her season finale as a race favourite.
So when she says she’s excited for the weekend, she means more than the race itself.
“You know there are a lot of things to be excited about. I’m excited that Worlds is finally here. But I’m also excited that I’m almost done. I’ve been racing for 11 months and it feels like it’s been a long year,” she told Ella CyclingTips. “In a few more days I can go chill and ski and not look at a bike for a while.”
At 39, Nash has been a life-long athlete and considers herself fortunate to have been given not one, but three sporting careers.
A competitive cross-country skier in her former life, Nash competed in two winter Olympics, but hung up her skies following the 2002 winter Olympic in Salt Lake City and signed with the Luna mountain bike team that same year. And, as though two sporting careers weren’t enough already, she added cyclocross to the mix in 2006. She has been combining mountain biking and cyclocross ever since.
“It’s all Georgia [Gould]’s fault!” Nash said. “She joined Luna about 10 years ago and she had done some cross, and it was right at the time that the team was sort of splitting off and they were asking some mountain bikers to do x-terra. And I was like ‘I don’t want to swim! Ugh, that sounds super boring – going back and forth in a pool.'”
“Growing up in Czech, I always watched cyclocross but there were no women cyclocross racers, but then Georgia said, ‘hey let’s do cross’ and so we did. I did my first race at Gloucester and I was just hooked. After since then it’s been about managing my summer season so I can go do cyclocross.”
“I love ripping down trails on my mountain bike but on any given day that’s what I would choose to race.”
Strength in “extensive experience”
It’s that love for the sport that makes her come back year after year, despite having known some tougher years and racing against competitors half her age.
“I see some of these youngsters and think, they could be my kids!,” Nash said, laughing. “Good thing I have extensive experience on my side.”
With a racing age of 40, Nash is the oldest rider in the UCI Top 40 rankings. Yet, she’s (still) on top of her game. She’s currently ranked number four in the world, and is a serious podium contender at any race she enters.
“I feel like things kinda clicked for me after 30,” Nash said. “And I worked for a long time to get to the top of a world cup podium.”
Does she remember that first win?
“It was in Roubaix. It was a pretty muddy day. No not really hilly but super muddy. And I caught Marianne Vos, I think, halfway through the race and kinda powered by her and there was also Hanka Kupfernagel back then and all these stars of cyclocross,” Nash recalled.
“With maybe a lap and a half, I got to the front and I kept it together and got to the finish first. It was definitely one of the most exciting moments of my career because in both mountain biking and in cyclocross I had been getting a lot of fourths and thirds, some seconds. I was always kind of there, but winning it…it was a big deal.”
Nash credits those in between periods of missing the podium or having a bad year for making her a successful athlete.
“A lot of my success comes from having those not-so-good years and always coming back, always learning and always working harder,” Nash said. “And then, when you make it onto a world cup podium, you really appreciate it.”
“Already a few years ago, I came to the conclusion that I have accomplished a lot more than I ever pictured I could. I went from ski racing to mountain biking and while I was in college I thought that would be fun for a few years. That’s 16 years ago now! Yes, I’m pretty content but at the same time, I still enjoy the racing and the training and chasing fast ladies around the world on my bike.”
On being a world championships race favourite
Proven, experienced and fulfilled, Nash seems to be going into these championships relaxed, despite being a race favourite.
“Yes, it’s the biggest race of the year but, to me, they’re all important and I always want to do well so I don’t get stressed out about the fact that it’s bigger than the other events,” she said.
“[The rainbow jersey] is everyone’s goals and I’ve definitely put myself out there so many times and tried and tried and tried. It just hasn’t happened and you know life goes on just fine. But in some ways I do think it has made me stick around a little longer and enjoyed the sport. There was definitely a point where I wasn’t enjoying cycling as much as I do now so it’s nice to come full circle.”
“I just feel privileged just to be able to fight for it.”
With that said, Nash is well aware that she’s lining up as a favourite and her chances are good.
She’s been riding this season with 12 race wins and at least three world cup podiums to show for it. Additionally, four out of her five previous world championship appearances have resulted in top 5 finishes including a bronze medal in Germany in 2011, and a fourth place in Kentucky in 2013 following a heart-breaking mechanical in the last few metres of the race.
“The field of women’s cross is incredibly strong right now, but I know I am part of that front group and I will definitely ride with that in mind,” Nash said.
“I like the course and everything has gone really well for me this season. I have had a good, consistent season so we’ll see where that and my extended experience can take me.”
UCI Cyclocross World Championships race schedule
Saturday, January 28
Junior Men: 11 a.m. local time (5 a.m. EST, 9 p.m. AEDT)
U23 Women: 1 p.m. local time (7 a.m. EST, 11 p.m. AEDT)
Elite Women: 3 p.m. local time (9 a.m. EST, 1 a.m. AEDT Sunday)
Sunday, January 29
U23 men: 11 a.m. local time (7 a.m. EST, 11 p.m. AEDT)
Elite Men: 3 p.m. local time (9 a.m. EST, 1 a.m. AEDT Monday)
All of the races will be live streamed on the UCI Channel but they are geo-restricted. Be sure to check your local broadcast listings, and for those of you with VPNs installed, check out steephill.tv for links.
If you’re unable to watch the livestream, check out the official Twitter account @uci_cx and @bieles2017 or use the hashtag #CXWorlds and #Bieles2017.