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The Clif Pro Team is folding at the end of the season, but Kateřina Nash, one of its most longstanding riders, isn’t going anywhere.
In fact, Nash is poised to begin her 15th season racing cyclocross, after a summer of dabbling in gravel and endurance mountain bike racing (of which she says: “let’s just say those were definitely personal challenges, I really do not like long distances”).
At 43, Nash is at once one of the most veteran racers on the ‘cross circuit and a trendsetter. Although her primary role on Clif was always that of mountain biker — she never spent a full season racing cyclocross in Europe — Nash has always been a dual-discipline athlete (and, if you count cross-country skiing, she excelled in three).
“Throughout my career I never had a need to quit mountain biking and fully commit to ‘cross,” she said. “I never did it 100 percent, I did it very seriously but I didn’t have those 30 races per season in ‘cross. I’d look at the schedule to get to worlds with a good amount of points to be competitive but by mid-April I’d turn around and be back on the mountain bike. It worked for me, but I don’t think many people would be up for that.”
However, a scan of the competitive cycling landscape of 2021 shows us that Nash has just been ahead of the game. With XC and short track mountain bike world champions Evie Richards and Christopher Blevins about to jump into the ‘cross season, Mathieu van der Poel and Tom Pidcock tearing up any surface on their bikes, and the countless number of pro cyclists enjoying gravel, it’s clear that year-round fitness isn’t the only thing inspiring riders to swing — and excel — across disciplines.
“I don’t think riders have to commit,” Nash said. “Obviously I have been a multi-discipline athlete for over a decade. Before, a lot more women were combining two disciplines because it was a good way to earn more money, but now we’re seeing male athletes jumping around and combining it successfully.”
While talent and a true love of the bike motivates most multi-discipline cyclists, it also makes their employers very happy.
“I’m sure my sponsors loved having a strong MTB and ‘cross rider,” Nash said. “The same rider on the same salary doing two disciplines?”
Clif and ‘cross
Fortunately for Nash, ‘cross became her second discipline after mountain biking, even though the team managers at Clif (then, the Luna Pro Team) had hoped she’d take up XTERRA triathlon racing.
“I just remember having this conversation about XTERRA, being like ‘hell no, I’m not gonna swim in the pool, no way,'” Nash said. “Luckily the same year Georgia [Gould] joined the team and she’d already done some ‘cross. So it was like, ‘can I do cross with Georgia instead of XTERRA?'”
Nash had been with Luna since 2002, so as one of the MTB team’s original members she had some clout. Yet, no one knew how the Czech ski racer turned pro MTB’er would fare on the cyclocross circuit.
In 2006, Nash and Gould hit the domestic ‘cross scene, focusing on the now-defunct USGP series. Nash says that even she was surprised at how well she took to the discipline.
“It was like I found my perfect sport and I couldn’t stop doing it,” she said.
And with strong results coming in out of the gate, Luna was supportive.
“With USGP it was like, ‘so can we get a little more money out of you guys?’ It started chill, not a huge extension of the season,” she said. “But once it went away, I was way too hooked. I started doing more and more figuring out ways to fit it in with the mountain bike season.”
Nash became a force in the discipline, winning the USGP finale in her first season racing, and rising steadily to the top of the discipline each year she competed. In 2009, she won the overall USGP series, and in 2010 she went abroad to race a handful of World Cups. In January that year, she won the elite race in Roubaix.
Nash went on to collect more victories in cyclocross, including five more World Cup titles and myriad podium finishes. Twice, she earned a bronze medal at the ‘cross world championships. Yet, she always returned dutifully to her mountain bike with the change of seasons. Does she wonder what would have happened if she swapped out bikes permanently? Yes, but the commitment to both was was always her prerogative.
“I always had a great thing with Clif, so I do think about what would have happened if I gave it [cyclocross] a go full time, but I really like mountain bike racing and I had a lot of goals on the mountain bike, as well,” Nash said. “Obviously the team has been really really cool for the last 20 years. Throughout my career I never had a need to quit mountain bike and fully commit to ‘cross.”
Multi-discipline for the win
As Nash nears the end of her nearly 20-year tenure with Clif, she’s not ready to hang up either set of wheels. In fact, if this year is any indication, she’ll be adding a set of gravel hoops to the mix. And while she looks for a new team or decides how to create her own program, she already has what many sponsors are looking for: she can ride across disciplines.
“And I think that’s what the sponsors appreciate right now,” Nash said. “I think it gives younger athletes more options. For me, riding all kinds of bikes has been so beneficial. Each one has built a skill set that I carried over to the other discipline. Whether doing crits and learning about sprints or even racing Enduro and realizing that people ride mountain bikes way faster than XC mountain bikers. I’ve definitely enjoyed the diversity.”
Nash broke her clavicle in early March, which took her out of contention for most of the 2021 World Cup mountain bike season. Instead, she recovered calmly, and with diversity. She trained on her road bike in California and rode a gravel bike in Moab. She traveled back to the Czech Republic to visit family, hike, and swim. In Europe, she entered local races.
Then, in early July, Nash lined up at The Belgian Waffle Ride in San Diego to race the longest distance of her career and won it.
Nash’s decades of training and intimate knowledge of how her body and mind respond to the various efforts are the foundation to her prolific career and the support and resources of her team have been the scaffolding. As fellow ‘cross racer Rebecca Fahringer commented on Nash’s Instagram page, “you have the deepest heritage fitness of them all.”
So, how will Nash continue to build out her legacy in cycling?
“There’s always something going on, always something new,” she said. “I think it’s exciting to be a cyclist right now. Gravel is so broad with such a broad skill set. It’s this perfect melting pot for all these athletes coming from different cycling disciplines. Whether they want to prolong career or just change direction.”
“A few years ago, if you were dropped by a team, you were done,” she said.”But, you never know if you’re done by your early 30s, cycling is an endurance sport.”