The most successful elite cyclocross racer the U.S. has ever seen, Katie Compton heads to Hartford, Connecticut to race nationals on Sunday. If she wins, it will be her 13th title at the event. As America’s rider of reference, we had to talk to Compton about her preparation for the race (spoiler: It’s been really, really good), whether or not to butt-slide muddy hills, and how she stacked up against rivals on the ping (or beer) pong table.
VeloNews: Have you seen the videos of the carnage on that hill in the Hartford course?
Katie Compton: Yeah it’s actually pretty hilarious. It’s always tough because the amateurs and the older categories, they don’t ever make anything look easy. You watch some of the pros, and you’re like, ‘Oh, anyone can do that, super-easy.’ Then the amateurs, a little bit older, they just make it look really difficult. None of them are getting on the bike properly. They’re braking too much. They’re probably running too high a tire pressure. Granted it probably is really slippery. But there’s no need to brake on it; just get on your bike and no braking.
VN: But hypothetically, would you resort to sliding on your butt if it meant winning another national championship title?
KC: [Laughs] You know, if I had to resort to that, I probably wouldn’t be winning. If you get on at the top with your bike pointed straight and you just let it go, chances are you’re going faster. Because you’re on your bike at the bottom of the hill. If it would come to that, the winner probably wouldn’t be sliding down on their butt.
VN: OK, so what is your recommended method for navigating descents that are too slippery to ride?
KC: Have better toe spikes maybe. Honestly, on a descent like that, it’s easier to ride it than it is to run it. You try to get off and run it, or try to remount sideways and try to turn into it, you’re just going to crash and fall. From looking at it, what I would have said, ride up to more the top part where there’s still a little green grass, jump on the bike, point it straight downhill, just let it naturally accelerate. If you go in a straight line, you don’t brake, you’re not going to fall over. It’s when you hit the brakes … That’s when you crash.
It’s hard to commit to going fast and just get on your bike and go. You want to brake, but you kind of have to just point and shoot and not brake. Speed is your friend on that section. But it’s hard to commit for sure.
That’s my armchair … From the couch being like, ‘That’s not how you do it.’ But we’ve definitely all fallen down stuff like that. You figure it out pretty quickly what not to do.
But I think starting with your bike pointing straight, and just letting it roll, no brakes.
I’m going to get so many messages on Twitter like, ‘God she’s so mean … She said that?’ [Laughs.]
VN: Which is your most meaningful national championship win and why?
KC: Actually, last year was the most meaningful for me just because I’d been through so much struggle, and I’ve had two or three seasons of just feeling bad, having health issues, and not being fit. And I really worked hard for last year’s race. It just came together. Racing Georgia [Gould] the entire time, it was more of a really tactical race too. The tactical part, the going hard, and then being able to win at the end, it kind of just all came together. Last year was definitely one of the most special ones for me.
And then the first year I won, that was definitely one of the most special. It was a surprise I think for everybody, it was a surprise for me too.
VN: What is the hardest ’cross nationals course you’ve ever raced?
KC: Probably last year’s course was the hardest. It was the most technical and had the most climbing. I think the most fun was Rhode Island, when we raced in the snow and mud. I don’t know if that was the first year or second year in Rhode Island, but it was just such a fun race to race. The snow was tough, the mud was tough. I just enjoyed that one the most.
VN: Where are you at now? How do you rate your season and level of preparation?
KC: I think it’s probably the best preparation I’ve had since probably 2006, probably because I’ve been home. I was home at Christmas, which has been really great — got three weeks at altitude. I’m not as tired from the back-and forth across the country, the time changes. That really wears me out come January. I’m kind of running on fumes, and I’ve been doing all the World Cups or most of them since 2007. It just wears on you, 10 years of it. I think preparation-wise, it’s probably the best preparation I’ve had. Mainly because I’m healthy again. I got my leg issues figured out, so I’m not worried about my leg pains all the time. I was able to train on the velodrome because it was indoors and open for road bikes. I was able to get good speed work in. I was able to get the technical bits riding outside, if I decide to ride outside one day. The training’s been good, the riding’s been good. I’m actually excited to race, instead of tired. I hope it all goes well. The preparation’s been good. Obviously, there’s mechanicals and crashes, and someone having a better day than me. I feel good, and I’m ready to race.
VN: Who will be your biggest threat in defending your title?
KC: I think Becca Fahringer is going to have a really good race. She’s been riding really well. I think her schedule’s been good this year. She’s been getting progressively better all season. She’s pretty good technically; she’s strong. And then Amanda Miller, she’s riding really well too. As long as she doesn’t have issues with crashing — she’s had a few bad crashes in some of the World Cups, but she’s always rallied and recovered and finished well. If she can have a good, clean race, she’ll be strong too. Then Kaitie Antonneau of course. She’s been coming back around too after a bit of a struggle in the early season. Oh and then Courtenay McFadden too, when she’s feeling good … When she’s on, she’s on. She’s always strong. I think for this weekend, it kind of depends on the course, how frozen it is, how much elevation there is, if it’s going to be a tactical race, if it’s going to be a tactical finesse race on snowy ground. It kind of just depends on the conditions. Little Kaitie Antonneau, she’s good at those finesse races with snow and little technical bits. You don’t need as much horsepower when you need finesse.
VN: Among those women, could you beat them at ping pong?
KC: You know I’m not bad at ping pong. I have to say, if it was a drinking game, I’d probably be average, if we were actually playing beer pong or something with drinking involved, but improving with more drinking. Although Amanda Miller could probably put down some beers too. Little Kaitie wouldn’t do so well because she doesn’t drink much.
VN: I didn’t expect you to go the beer pong route on this …
KC: The funny thing is you mention ping pong, and that’s the first place I go — is it a drinking game? I don’t know if most people play ping pong otherwise. Do they?
VN: Good segue. If you don’t win nationals, not to jinx you or anything …
KC: It is No. 13, so you know, we’ll see.
VN: … What advice would you give to the next U.S. champion when it comes to the ’cross nationals after-party?
KC: If you’re a youngin’, I’d say just enjoy every moment of it, go have a good time, make it a big fun party for yourself. But the older I get, the less I can drink. If I won again, I’m not even drinking much anymore, which is sad.
VN: Unless it’s beer pong.
KC: Well yeah, then I’d be drinking cider ale or something because I can’t do wheat. It’s a national championship, so I feel like winning is very special. You’ve gotta enjoy it, especially that evening. It feels great to win. It’s fun. The excitement is there. Enjoy every minute of it.
VN: How many seasons do you have left?
KC: After this year, I kind of want to keep racing. I haven’t put an end date on it yet. Last year I would have given you a different answer, but this year, I’m feeling better, healthy again. I can train normally. The travel stuff this year has been way more fun. That’s all been good. So I want to keep going, I want to keep racing as long as I’ve been riding well. Right now there’s not like a specific endpoint. But also I’m 38, I’m not going to do this much past 40 I don’t think. … But I keep winning races, and I’m like, ‘It’s pretty fun.’
VN: Well, Amber Neben just won a world time trial championship.
KC: That’s the thing with women, sometimes you just get faster and stronger. If you still enjoy it, you’re still doing well and being successful. I don’t want to have kids so I don’t need to worry about that part of my life planning. I don’t know. It’s a tough call, but right now I’m enjoying it. I’ll see where it takes me.