Cyclocross

Colorado phenom Madigan Munro is eyeing the podium at U23 cyclocross worlds

After two months of training and racing in Belgium, the 19-year-old is ready to throw elbows with the world's best.

Madigan Munro’s mid-winter European cyclocross campaign is soon coming to a close, but it will hopefully end on a podium in Ostend, Belgium.

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On Saturday, the Trek Factory Racing rider will line up at her first U23 cyclocross worlds, wrapping up eight weeks of racing and training in Spain and Belgium. It’s the longest that the 19-year-old from Colorado has ever spent racing in Europe, whether for ‘cross or her other favored discipline of cross-country mountain biking.

“I did nine races in the first three weeks I was here over the Christmas period of racing,” she told VeloNews. “Then I went to Spain for two weeks and got to do a couple rides with the women’s road team. It was super amazing and really nice to get some sunshine. It’s been good, a lot of racing. I’m just getting so much more experience racing ‘cross in Europe.”

Even with her limited years of experience racing ‘cross in Europe, Munro has already proven herself a contender on the world stage. One year ago, she placed third at the first-ever junior women’s world cyclocross championships in Dubendorf, Switzerland; just a few months earlier she finished sixth at junior mountain bike worlds in Mont-Sainte-Anne.

The college freshman says that it’s always a bit of a shock to the system to line up at ‘cross races in Europe, but that there’s no other way to simulate the more aggressive nature of European racing.

“It mostly just feels like there are a lot more riders on the start line initially,” she said. “The field is much bigger. People are a lot more assertive, putting elbows out there. You really have to fight for the lines you want, and the minute you back off and get timid, people will blow by you and chop your wheel. You have to be extra aware of what’s going on around you.”

Madigan Munro riding in a field of grass
Munro has just completed her longest European racing block ever. Photo: Jivan West

Regarding the all-important start position, Munro says that in many World Cup races, the courses are long enough and feature enough space to pass that riders can make up time and make passes later in the race. For Saturday’s race, however, she thinks that the start could determine the finish.

“I think the course will be really fast because of sand and a big grassy part, so I think the start will be really important,” she said. “I think the sand is going to be fairly technical and that could play a big role. It’s definitely very taxing and tiring to ride in the sand so people could possibly blow up if they go too hard in the first couple laps and have to recover. I think there will be chances to make up ground, but I think the main thing will be to stay in a group of fast riders so you can put yourself in the best position.”

 Munro is one of five female riders selected to represent the U.S. at worlds; Clara Honsinger, Katie Compton, Kaitie Keough, and Rebecca Fahringer will be racing in the elite event. Due to the strict adherence of riders to their COVID bubbles, Munro says she hasn’t had much contact with her countrywomen. Nevertheless, she’s found other riders to bond with while in Europe and has especially enjoyed getting to know her new teammates and staff at Trek. 

“The whole Trek team has been super motivating and encouraging,” she said. “My teammate Hattie [Harnden] is a year older than me and super inspiring and motivating to be around. Getting out and getting to ride together has been helpful and fun. I also had the opportunity to ride with Sven Nys to learn some more technical skills and work on things for racing, which was a really valuable learning experience.”

Although Munro is clearly riding to win, her commitment to treating all of her experiences in Europe as opportunities for growth implies a maturity beyond her years. When reflecting on the impact of the cancelation of junior worlds on young racers, Munro’s perspective is particularly refreshing. 

“Not being able to do that [junior worlds], I would be really disappointed, and I definitely feel for those riders who can’t race,” she said. “But also remembering, even for myself, we have a lot of years ahead of us in cycling, we’re still young.”