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Post race shine with Kate Courtney. Photo: Don...

Q&A: Kate Courtney on her World Cup title, and why she hugs her competitors

We caught up with Kate Courtney following her World Cup overall title to discuss the 2019 season.

Kate Courtney recently became the first American in 17 years to win the cross-country World Cup overall, a title she snagged by finishing fifth place at the World Cup finals in Snowshoe, West Virginia. Courtney’s World Cup win came after a season that saw her win three World Cups, and then struggle with the fatigue of a long campaign in the midpoint of the season. We caught up with Courtney on The VeloNews Podcast to talk about her season. Below is an excerpt from that conversation.

VeloNews: Winning the World Cup overall requires consistency. Was maintaining a high consistency your goal coming into 2019?

Kate Courtney: Yeah, I think consistency is always a focus for me, and making really consistent progress every season has been a focus of mine and my entire coaching staff. This year the goal was to get a [World Cup] win on the board, and that’s what makes this such a crazy journey. When my big goal for the year was win a World Cup, and when we did that in the first race, we had to readjust a little bit and think about how do we stay at the front of the field, and deal with the pressures of the season, and peak when it matters, but also make sure that consistency is enough to put me in the running for the overall.

VN: In Les Gets you won the cross-country and the short track. What’s the lasting image from that race weekend?

KC: For me that one was especially memorable because in Andorra the weekend before I struggled with the altitude, and I was 8th and had to fight really hard to even finish in that position. The question on my mind was: Can I get back to the form that I had at the beginning of the season? Where are we? For me, in Les Gets, I really collected myself. I was able to not only race really strong, but also race in a really courageous way. I attacked with two laps to go in the short track, and I went from the gun in the cross country and trusted that it would be enough. And to be able to do that in the rainbow jersey, and in front of my parents, made it a memorable weekend. For me, that was the only one of my World Cup wins that they were able to see in the rainbow jersey, and it was an emotional and special weekend.

Courtney swept the racing weekend in Les Gets in front of her parents. Photo: Bartek Wolinski/Red Bull Content Pool

VN: By August you started to feel the fatigue of the long season. What were the moments you remember of feeling tired, and how did you get through that?

KC: That was incredibly challenging, and part of what made this overall win so meaningful to me. We were really focused on my end-of-the-year goal, which was to place top-8 at worlds and automatically qualify for Tokyo. Going into the season, that was the top goal for this year. The other thing was, we were factoring in starting to test for Tokyo. So, while the World Cup overall was in play, we also had these other goals to manage, and that meant in between the middle to World Cups, I went to Tuscany to test some things for my Olympic preparation. We pushed pretty hard through that training block, knowing it was what I need to be strong at worlds and during the season. I felt the effects of it in Val di Sole, and had my worst World Cup finish, and that was definitely challenging.

VN: It sounds like that camp in Tuscany featured intense heat.

Courtney struggled in Val di Sole, finishing a distant 17th. Photo: Bartek Wolinski/Red Bull Content Pool

KC: Some of those days in Tuscany were 100 degree heat, and pushing myself to get better fitness-wise and also with technical training. I was lucky to be able to ride with [manager Thomas Frischknecht] and progress and learn so much. Those are some of the investments that maybe made my hunt for the World Cup overall more challenging, but will make me a better bike racer in the long run. It  was a hard process and we learned a lot of things that will be invaluable in my Tokyo campaign next year.

Courtney was fifth place at the world championships. Photo: Bartek Wolinski/Red Bull Content Pool

VN: You finished 5th place at worlds. What were the highs and lows from that race?

KC: Honestly, I think it’s important to keep things in perspective. Last year I had my best day ever at worlds and won, and it was a really special moment, and everything had to go right in terms of preparation, and how the race unfolded. And, with the high level of the women’s field, you can’t count on that always happening. And I came into worlds really strong, and I didn’t have my best day, but I finished 5th. For me, that is an incredible result. Had I finished 5th last year, I would have been blown away. So, it wasn’t my best day ever, and I was able to fight and finish really strong on a tough mental day, knowing I was out of the battle for the win at the front. I’m proud of that ride, and most importantly, notching that top-8 and punching my ticket to Tokyo was a huge accomplishment.

VN: For the World Cup finals you were trailing Jolanda Neff. You said your strategy was to go out hard—what were you hoping to accomplish?

KC: The big strategy was go out hard and make it a battle from the beginning with Jolanda. That course can be really tiring when your’e constantly punching and pushing hard in short segments, and that can explode people. For me, I needed it to be an all-out war. I needed it to be a really hard race so that we could get some riders between me and Jolanda. I couldn’t finish fourth and have her finish fifth and win the overall. So, it was really about creating some separation and putting in a lot of work at the beginning. So, I also blew myself up a little bit, and I had to persevere in order to finish in the top-5. But it paid off.

Courtney embraces fellow American Lea Davison after the World Cup finals. Photo: Bartek Wolinski/Red Bull Content Pool

VN: At the finish line of the World Cups, I’ve noticed a phenomenon. You and the other top finishers often hug, shake hands, and congratulate one another.

KC: I think its something that has not gone unnoticed in the women’s field this year. We’re fiercely competitive, but there is a lot of mutual respect. Each athlete in that field plays a role in creating that atmosphere. It’s one of true competition. I hope each person has their best day, and I hope I’m the best. I think we truly have that in the women’s field, and it’s something special, and it’s something amazing to watch. Nobody hopes that their competitor falls down the rock garden, and that’s why they win. I think everyone wants each other to have a true battle, and want everyone to have their best day, and they want to be the best. That atmosphere means I’m grateful to my competition for helping me push and achieve more. I think that, without Jolanda this season, I wouldn’t have reached the level I did reach. She’s obviously a very talented rider and a very fast descender, but she’s very consistent and pushes me to be my best, mentally and physically, every time. Some day down the road I’ll have a great race and say thank you to the women of the 2019 field for pushing me so hard, and teaching me these lessons.