Q&A with Meredith Miller: Repaired, ready to race and looking toward Louisville

After a forced layoff to repair a broken hand and a strong comeback overseas, Miller is ready to race in Verona and Louisville

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VERONA, Wisconsin (VN) — After Katie Compton (Trek Cyclocross Collective) won the World Cup overall, the women’s U.S. world championship team was awarded an extra slot, making Cal Giant rider Meredith Miller’s discretionary nomination a safe bet.

Miller’s season came crashing to a halt after she broke two metacarpal bones in her hand on day one of the Providence Cyclocross Festival on October 6. During her recovery, she focused on raising breast cancer funds and awareness.

She came back ferociously, eager to still qualify for the (then) five-woman world championship team in her narrow window of opportunity. In her brief European bid, she scored top-10 finishes at the Superprestige Diegem in Belgium and Bpost Bank Trofee Azencross in Loenhout, Belgium, plus took her best cyclocross World Cup result in Namur, where she placed 11th.

VeloNews caught up with Miller on the eve of the elite USA Cycling National Cyclocross Championships to discuss her recovery, comeback and imminent worlds team selections.

VeloNews: You used to live around here, right?
Meredith Miller:Yes, I went to school here, I played soccer here. It’s kind of my old stomping ground and where I started cycling.

VN: You’ve had quite the comeback from injury. Did you anticipate your results being so strong?
MM: No, I have to say that I had hoped I would be coming back this strong. I trained really well, I had a solid block of training, even though it was on the trainer for, probably, five or six weeks, or whatever it was.

VN: How did you stay fit during your injury?
MM: I’ve had an injury before. I was hit by a car and broke my thumb and was in a cast and the cast prevented me from being able to ride on the road. … I spent six weeks on the trainer and came back and my first race was a World Cup. So, I knew if I trained hard and kept myself together mentally that I could probably come off the trainer feeling pretty good.

VN: How did your first races back go?
MM: When I came back and my first weekend back was in LA and I had a pretty good showing and was getting good results, but I knew it was a matter of getting that race fitness back. That’s something you can’t simulate on a trainer. I can’t, anyway; maybe some people can. So I came back to LA and got those results, and then the next weekend was Bend and I kind of fell apart in Bend. I think I was doing everything so perfect and I was so focused on worlds and so focused on my UCI points and all of this other stuff that I kind of forgot to go out and just race my bike. So after Bend I kind of had to regroup. My goals were still the same but I had to reorganize everything in my head. Once I went over to Europe I had the kind of attitude of ‘I have nothing to lose here, but have something to gain.’ I went over there and did well in those races in Europe and am sitting here in Madison getting ready for ‘cross nationals and hoping for the best.

VN: Katerina Nash was also sidelined early and is now crushing. Is it advantageous to come into the season late?
MM: I think we all know somebody — a cyclist or an athlete — who has had an injury and is forced to be sidelined and have seen that person come back really strong. I think, as athletes, we tend to overtrain and not give ourselves enough of a break, both mentally and physically. So I think that break — even though it’s a forced break and not fun and nobody wants to do it — it actually sometimes is for the best. … You come back wanting more and fighting harder and feeling stronger and more motivated and fresh.

VN: Since Katie Compton secured another world-championship spot for the United States with her World Cup win, your potential discretionary slot is more secure. What would it take for you to not make the team at this point?
MM: Well, I missed two months of racing and that was two months that people didn’t see me racing against my competition. But then I came back, and with the exception of Bend, which wasn’t so great, I went over to Europe, and those are the people I’m going to be competing against at worlds, and I’m right there with them. A lot of the Americans were there and, with the exception of Katie Compton, the five races that I did, most often I was second American. [So] I feel like now that we have a sixth slot I feel pretty confident that I should be selected to get one of those slots. Four slots for coaches’ choice, because only Katie and Katie [Antonneau] are automatically qualified. … I know that they’re really gonna be looking at tomorrow and see how we all do against each other. But at the same time, anything can happen, anybody can have a bad day. So, whether it’s me or someone else that deserves to go, I hope that USA Cycling doesn’t say ‘Oh, she had a bad day, she’s off the radar because of one race,’ especially given the conditions.

VN: If world championship team selections were today, who do you think the other slots would go to?
MM: Georgia Gould hasn’t done a ton of ‘cross racing, but every one she’s done she’s been second or third behind Katie or Katerina [Nash], so I would expect that she would get the chance to go. She also has a long history in cyclocross, so she’s experienced. Just going to the Olympics and everything else she’s done, she knows what she’s doing and performs well in all this hoopla, so I think she’s pretty much a shoe-in. Then for the other three spots, I think there’s a handful of women that could round out the team. It’ll be between myself and Nicole Duke, Amy Dombroski — who’s not going to be here for nationals, she’s going to stay over in Europe, but she’s been on the team for the last several years and she’s always right there, in the mix over in Europe. Mo (Bruno-Roy). Crystal Anthony made the effort and went over to Europe and got her feet wet and she’s had a really strong season, too. Then there’s also somebody like Elle Anderson, who is a young rider but has shown she has incredible talent. If she came out and had an awesome race tomorrow, she could be chosen to go. There’s quite a few women that could fill out those last three or four spots to fill up the team.

VN: What type of rider will Sunday’s conditions favor?
MM: I think tomorrow with the tricky conditions it’s not necessarily who’s gonna be the fittest or the fastest or the strongest, it’s gonna be about who can keep their wits about them and keep it together because we’re all gonna make mistakes out there, and it’s gonna be about who makes the fewest mistakes and can stay focused and not completely fall apart. It’s gonna be so crazy out there tomorrow.

VN: Are your skills in the icy, rutty conditions pretty strong?
MM: Hopefully my experience in Europe will help me out. I think that the conditions will be a lot different, but the one thing that is the same is running really low tire pressure and that kind of freaks a lot of people out because you feel like you’re riding on a flat tire and you’re hitting your rim and you’re sliding a little bit more, but you’re getting the traction that you need. When I was racing in Europe, sometimes you have to just let your bike go because there’s nothing you can do in the mud. I think some of that will translate to the ice. But also ice is just a whole different beast because you can be riding in a straight line and your bike can slide out from under you. It’s just gonna be a matter of you staying loose and relaxed as much as possible. I haven’t ridden the course yet, I’ve only heard about it, I’m expecting the worst as far as conditions are concerned. I’m just preparing myself mentally and trying not to freak out about anything and just remember that everyone else is probably going to feel the same.

VN: Lots of amateur Americans that don’t race often in the mud have been realizing the drawback to discs in muddy conditions this weekend and had brakes fail or need adjustment each lap. What’s been your experience racing in the mud on the disc-equipped Specialized S-Works Crux?
MM: Oh my goodness, it’s amazing. I absolutely love my bike. I love the way that the Crux handles, it’s an awesome bike. Then, having the disc brakes is amazing. I had seen the videos of the (World Cup) race in Namur, so I’d seen the drop-in and had been thinking, ‘Oh my God, I don’t know if I can do that.’ I got over there and went to pre-ride the day before and just said to myself, ‘you have nothing to lose, and the last thing you need to do is sit at the top of these drop-ins and think about it because that’s when you start to freak yourself out and you over-think it and screw yourself up.’ So I got out there with that mentality, and just knowing that I had the braking power, I had confidence in my bike to do what I wanted it to do. I got to the top of those, didn’t even think about them and ended up having a really great race and missed automatic qualifying [for the worlds team] by one slot. With my bike and my disc brakes I had a ton of confidence and it was that way for every race the rest of the trip. [The bike] is a little bit heavier, but to me the confidence that I get from having the braking power outweighed the little extra weight. I didn’t go over there with a regular mechanic and with a lot of extra spare parts or anything like that. So if something had gone incredibly wrong, I probably was in trouble. Everything went just right and the only thing I had to stay on top of was changing brake pads.

VN: Do you take more pits in the mud than you would with cantilevers?
MM: No, I wasn’t changing more because of the brakes at all, I just took a lot because of the conditions. The conditions were outrageous and I had to do something I had never done before, which was run into the pit with my bike and run out of the pit shouldering my bike. There were a couple races that were so muddy that when you run in shouldering your bike, the mechanic would just hold it up for you to throw your arm through. The first time that happened to me in the pit, my mechanic was holding my bike up and watching for my other bike to catch it and I thought he was not paying attention and I was like, ‘What are you doing?’ I felt like such a rookie when after the race he told me what he was doing.

VN: What do the American women have to bring to the table in Louisville?
MM: Besides Katie who’s obviously been looking super strong and has the advantage of having raced on that course a bunch, a lot of the Americans have been knocking on the top five or top 10, so I think the Americans are going to have a really good showing. I’m really excited to see what happens.

VN: What has the Pink effort accomplished this year?
MM: That was all for breast cancer awareness and raising money for the breast cancer foundation in Fort Collins called Hope Lives. I raised about $9,000 for the foundation, so it was in one year almost what I had raised for the foundation in previous two years. It was awesome. I was able to give away a pink crux and the people that came forward to donate to the raffle were phenomenal. It was the third year that I’d done it and it’s awesome when I go to races and see people walking around with the T-shirts on. It’s really cool to have that type of connections and the resources to make something like that happen. I see that fundraising effort as something I’ll continue to do for a long time.

An American in France

What’s it like to be an American cyclist living in France? Watch to get professional road cyclist Joe Dombrowski’s view.