added strength to the team’s women’s side this week with the addition of U.S. masters national champion

Duke at the 2010 Jingle Cross Rock added strength to the team’s women’s side this week with the addition of U.S. masters national champion Nicole Duke. In her third season of elite cyclocross racing, Duke will focus on a return to Europe and a run at the world championships in Koksijde, Belgium.

A former downhill mountain bike pro, Duke joins fellow new recruit Christian Heule of Switzerland and returning riders Tim Johnson, Jamey Driscoll and Kaitlin Antonneau in Stu Thorne’s squad.

“After seeing what I could do last year on what little effort I put in, I figured that maybe this was going to be the second half of my career,” said Duke. “I decided that, since I had enjoyed my year so much last year, I would put a big effort into it this year. I wanted to join a bigger team and really put all of my mental and physical energy into it. Last season, everyone saw me as a breakout rider, but this season I’m really going to try to prove myself and my potential.”

Duke rode in 2010, her second cyclocross season, for Colorado-based Hudz-Subaru. She rang up podiums across the NACT series and won the Most Aggressive Rider prize at the U.S. Gran Prix of Cyclocross Derby City Cup in Louisville, Kentucky. Duke, a competitive stand-up paddle boarder and mother of two, won the women’s 35-39 national cyclocross championship in December and the next day rode to sixth in the elite event.

She will forgo masters competition this season for a stint in Europe during the season-opening World Cups in Plzen and Tabor, Czech Republic, as well as a campaign to qualify for the elite world championships.

“I’m going to go do a couple of World Cups and try to qualify for the world championships team. That’s going to be one of the highlights of my season. I feel that I’m a better technical rider than anything, and from what I’ve heard, the courses over in Europe are much more technical,” said Duke. “I’ve heard from other girls on the circuit that sometimes riders can be afraid of some of the courses in Europe. For me, when people say they’re afraid of a course, that’s when I’m going to shine. That comes from my downhill background.”

In addition to her focus on European races, Duke said she was excited to work with Antonneau, the 19-year-old U23 national champion who competed in her first elite world championships earlier this year.

“At this point in my career, I’m looking to mentor younger riders and help them along the way,” said Duke. “When I started racing, I was really young, and I wish I had had someone there for me and to guide me. I know what it feels like to be young and talented but not really to know what you’re doing and what’s going on. I definitely want to take on that kind of role.”

The team opens its season at CrossVegas in Las Vegas, Nevada, September 14.