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She’s the best woman American cyclocrosser of all time, but she’s coming off a less-than-ideal summer, and will have only been on the bike about 10 days by the time this weekend’s Providence Cyclo-cross Festival comes around. Defending World Cup champion Katie Compton (Trek Cyclocross Collective) will come into this season having to race herself into form — a first — but she’s ready, and hoping to have more in the tank than years past come the world championships, where she’ll try, yet again, to dethrone Dutchwoman Marianne Vos.
Compton has finished in the top five at the worlds five times, including her third silver-medal ride in February, and is a nine-time national champion in the discipline, though she has dealt with debilitating leg pain at times during her career. Compton appeared to have put her health issues behind her after changing her diet and training/travel routine in 2011, but was dealt a setback in July.
Finally opening her racing season in Providence, VeloNews caught up with Compton this week.
VeloNews: What’s been going on?
Katie Compton: I’ve actually been home quite a bit, mostly all summer. I’ve been dealing with injuries and illness, pretty much, since July. It’s been a trying summer, I’ll say. … Just had my leg pains come back in July after racing a track omnium here. I recovered from that, then I got a bacterial infection that took me off the bike for another chunk of time. Just trying to recover from that. Just starting to feel better. I got back on the bike about a week ago.
VN: Just a week now?
KC: Yeah. Right? … Maybe it’ll be, like, 10 days by the time the race comes around. So I’ve got the cross training. I’m like, ‘Ok, I’ve got plenty of base because I’ve been doing this forever. And I just need some intensity and hope for the best.’
VN: You’ll just get better from here on out, you’d assume.
KC: That’s the hardest part for me. I’ve never come to a season, like, unfit. I’ve never raced myself into shape, and this will be first time I’ve raced myself into shape. Maybe it’ll help me for worlds. I’m hoping, being positive, thinking of January, when I’m usually all tired, I’ll be gung-ho. January will come, and I’ll be like, ‘what? the season’s over? I’ve got another two months in me.’
VN: Perhaps you’ve peaked too soon in the past, though?
KC: I wouldn’t say that. I just think I got tired from the intensity, because you start ramping it up early, and then it’s a long season with just the travel. It’s so many hard race efforts … I’m hoping maybe, since I’ve never done it this way before, it’ll be something new and different. Maybe I’ll have more energy for that intensity in January.
VN: What’s the schedule from here on?
KC: I’ll race Providence, I’ll race the Boulder races [Boulder Cup and Colorado Cross Classic in Colorado], and then I’ll head to Europe for the first two World Cups. And then I’ll come home. (She plans to stay in Belgium through nationals, upon her second trip over).
VN: Worlds. We ask you this every year. What do you have to do to beat Marianne? She’s a force of nature.
KC: I’ve got toride faster. Barring a mechanical or a flat or an unfortunate time, I’ve just got to go faster. To do that, I have to have a perfect race. Or if she’s off her game or sick or [has a] mechanical. But she’s so freaking fast come world championships that it’s hard every year.
VN: Is it frustrating, though? Maybe in a different era you’re a three-, four-time world champ.
KC: It’s the way it goes. I’m just lucky enough to be in the same generation as Marianne. It’s unfortunate that I can do everything I can and I get second, a lot. But it’s bike racing, and there’s always somebody faster. It ups my game. It makes me work harder. I love that competition. She’s doing everything she can to be fast, and it kind of keeps me on my toes. And I like that. If I get second — obviously racing for first — but it’s like, if I get second to Marianne Vos, that’s pretty damn good, because not too many people get to beat her. I don’t necessarily get frustrated. Most frustration I get is usually just with my body and dealing with health issues at unfortunate times. Like, I’m frustrated right now with my leg issues and then getting sick. Ugh. I have to just wait and rest. That stuff is frustrating. Getting beat by somebody that’s faster? Eh.
VN: Someone’s faster than me every day on the lunch ride.
KC: [Laughs] Shit, there’s people faster than me all the time. I have to pick my battles … sometimes it’s really good being a big fish in a small pond. It’s like, ‘I’m going to stay local, I’m going to win.’ It’s not quite as fun when you’re not having to work really hard and suffer. I think earning a win feels way better.
VN: I can tell you, I don’t know anything about that.
KC: I do. And I definitely like working hard for it. It feels better when you’ve got to really struggle for it.
VN: Is this a job to you? Is it more of a grind than it used to be?
KC: Right now, no. I went through a bad phase a couple of years ago. Where it was definitely a job I didn’t like. But I think we all go through that. We all have times during our careers where it isn’t the best, and we’ve just got to deal with it and move on. It’s where you make a decision to stay the course or make a huge change. You’ve got to do something to make you happy, to keep doing it, to keep enjoying it. Right now, I’m in a good spot. I’m already missing racing. The fact that I’ve had to sit out the first two race weekends is killing me.
VN: How many more seasons do you think you have?
KC: I’m taking it a season or two at a time. I’ve started to think about that, because I’m getting to be mid-30s. I’m still riding fast. … I think as long as I’m riding well and feeling good I just want to keep going. I’m not going to retire just to retire, epecially if I’m still getting results and having fun.
VN: What’s the best part about racing?
KC: It’s just the lifestyle. It’s being fit. It’s getting out every day to train. It’s seeing new places and the traveling and meeting new people. And never waking up with an alarm clock.
VN: Oh stop.
KC: I know. Every day is Saturday.
KC: I know. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t tell you that. Although, it is bad when you’re in a bad place and not getting results and not feeling good and racing crappy. I have to say, I tend to forget that when the racing is going well. There are definitely hard days on the bike, and I’ve been through a lot of hard days and hard periods when I did question it.
VN: That’s why all bike rides should end on a downhill.
KC: Exactly. With a tailwind.