After winning her 14th consecutive national cyclocross championships in Reno, Katie Compton warned the world about her young American rivals: “They’re only going to get faster.”
One week later, Kaitie Keough (Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com) was second to Compton in the seventh round of the UCI’s Cyclocross World Cup in Nommay, France. Keough finished a healthy 25 seconds ahead of former world champion Pauline Ferrand-Prevot (Canyon-SRAM) who was third.
“They’re getting faster and faster and technically they’re good. They’ve got the support; they’re racing a lot. It’s awesome to see the progression,” Compton (Trek-Knight Composites) said of riders like Keough and Noble at USA Cycling’s nationals. “That bodes well for American ‘cross in general.”
Compton won her first Stars and Stripes jersey in 2004. For some context, that’s the year that Facebook launched. So, she’s got a clear perspective on the ebb and flow of talent in American cyclocross.
In years past, more mountain bikers would come out and challenge her in the fall, riders like Georgia Gould (Boo Bikes), Ann Knapp, and Alison Dunlap. Compton says the new generation is quick, but perhaps doesn’t yet have the same strength to close out a race in the final two laps like Gould did.
“That’s just age and maturity,” Compton said. “The older they get, the more they’re just going to be able to drill it pretty much start to finish.”
In some instances this season, Compton’s young rivals have proven they can go the distance.
Compton said Ellen Noble (Aspire Racing) kept the pressure on “the whole time” at nationals — only one bobble would have cost her the lead. Noble started fast at the championships January 14, and though she lost touch with Compton, managed to keep her within reach, about 10 seconds behind all race.
However, Noble, who ended up second in Reno, has had trouble in European World Cups this season.
In Zeven, Germany, the 22-year-old had a great start, trailing Helen Wyman (Xypex-Verge Sport) and world champion Sanne Cant (Beobank-Corendon) for the first lap. On the second lap, Noble dropped her chain, setting her back to a chase group that included Compton. But she couldn’t keep the pace — while Compton finished third, Noble ended the day a distant 18th place.
Keough had a similar performance at the Koksijde World Cup, October 22. She rode in third place for the first two laps. When a chase group caught her on the next lap, Keough couldn’t follow Cant’s acceleration. She eventually finished eighth on the sandy course in Belgium.
She also had a strong start in Namur, Belgium at World Cup #6, following Italian champion Eva Lechner (Luna) into the course’s treacherous ruts. Keough then faded to sixth while another youngster, Evie Richards, 20, came on strong in the end to win her first World Cup.
At the World Cup’s penultimate race Sunday in France, it seemed Keough, 26, had the stamina to last through the end of the muddy race. Riding alone in second place for much of the day, she paced herself well and avoided any major mistakes.
She’ll hope for a similar performance at world championships in Valkenburg, Netherlands, on February 3. Compton believes that consistent riding, rather than tactical maneuvering will win the day, given how challenging the worlds course is expected to be.
“Valkenburg, it’s more of a mountain bike course; it’s going to be someone who’s a proficient climber as well as good technically,” Compton said. She has frequently credited Keough for being a much stronger climber. Noble, famous for hopping barriers this season, is arguably the best American for technical, steep courses.
Regardless of a given rider’s talents or predispositions, Compton expects Valkenburg will simply come down to who is the strongest rider, on the best form.
“I think it’s going to be less tactical, and more just who’s the best rider that day,” Compton added.
“You’ve just got to give ‘er, hope for the best.”