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Katie Compton was America’s best chance to medal at the women’s cyclocross world championships, but searing leg pain has again torpedoed her longtime dream of capturing the rainbow jersey. Compton suffered similar issues at the 2008 world championships in Treviso, Italy.
Despite not being able to ride her bike for nearly three weeks, Compton decided to start Saturday’s race simply to see what happened. Unfortunately, the pain was so strong she could barely turn the pedals and she pulled out after one lap.
VeloNews caught up with Compton inside the U.S. team hut after her frustrating early exit to talk about her mysterious condition and how she’s fighting to overcome the debilitating pain. Here are excerpts from the interview:
VeloNews: Tell us about the decision to start despite the problems you’ve been having.
Katie Compton: I knew coming in that even finishing was hopeful. I hadn’t ridden in a couple of weeks and I’ve been having the leg pain pretty consistently, but I was trying to be optimistic. I tried to do one lap, it wasn’t pretty. I got on the rollers for 10 minutes, which was progress because that was the longest I’ve been able to ride in two weeks, so I thought, maybe I can push through it. As soon as I got going, I knew. Sometimes I can push through it and the pain is tolerable, but today I knew there was no way I could do it. When I am sitting in 40th spot, what’s the point, really? I just pulled out at the bottom of the course and came back.
VN: How frustrating must that be?
KC: Frustrating is an understatement. It’s hard. It’s difficult, discouraging and disappointing. I just tried to do the best I could, and today it was one lap. I cannot bend my legs. I cannot turn my pedals over. I think it’s harder for me mentally than physically.
VN: When did you last race?
KC: I haven’t raced since Zolder. I came home for some training, but I was suffering with some bronchitis through December and the first part of January. Once that was good, I was able to do a little bit of training. It was the travel and the overall fatigue from the season. It’s just too much travel back and forth, the jet lag. I was pushing it this year to see what I can do. It was too much.
VN: You’ve been unable to determine the cause of the muscle problems?
KC: No, that’s very difficult just to deal with that part of it. We’ve been using stretching and massage to try to bring me around sometimes. It helps, but it didn’t help enough today. We’re going to see someone in Boulder when we get back. It’s muscle trigger point therapy, so we’re going to try that. We’re going to play it by ear and hope for a better season next year. We’re not staying here (for the remainder of ’cross season), we’re flying home Wednesday.
VN: How long have you experienced this muscle pain?
KC: I’ve been dealing with this since I’ve been a racing. I think my first episode was when I was 18. I deal with it all the time. I just think how much easier this would be if I didn’t have to stress out over my legs. I wish I could just train and travel like a normal person, but I can’t. We’re constantly trying to figure it out. We’re managing it better. I used to have episodes that would last three to four weeks at a time, every eight weeks. Now it’s down to once a year, or even every 18 months. It’s actually much better, but I don’t like looking at it that way. It still sucks.
VN: So it’s certainly bad timing that it was during this period of the world championships. Do you know what triggers it?
KC: I don’t think it’s typical cramping. It’s a really strong burning sensation in my legs. I just cannot bend them. I’ve had cramping from electrolytes and that I can deal with. That’s a little bit of discomfort. This is bad — I haven’t had pain like this ever. It gets worse and worse. A normal cramp comes quick and it hurts. This just builds and builds and builds, until it just cracks me and I cannot bend my legs.
VN: Can you describe the sensation when you’re feeling this discomfort?
KC: It’s like someone just punching you in your legs until you have a charley horse for a couple of weeks or so. It’s happening right now. Right now it’s my quads. Sometimes it’s part of the muscle, sometimes it’s all of the muscle. It moves around. It’s not consistent. I think that’s the hard part. It’s consistently unpredictable. It is frustrating.
VN: Despite the latest problems, how would you characterize this season?
KC: It’s funny, because people keep saying I’ve had this great season, but I haven’t a good race since November. That’s the last time I’ve felt good. Results-wise, I had a great start to the season, but if I did it again, I would probably try not to do as many World Cups. I don’t want to race for third place, I want to race to win. I think next year, I am going to try to pick and choose the races better. Not, ‘ if I can hit the podium, I can retain the overall’ — I hate racing that way.
VN: Is there a lot of pressure to compete in all the World Cups?
KC: It’s easier if your home base is Europe, because you can easily travel to all the World Cups. I could do that if I stayed in Europe all season, but I like racing in the U.S. and I like promoting the U.S. ’cross scene. It’s getting better and better. We’ve got good competition over there now, too. I don’t want to leave the U.S. racing behind. I want to do both. I know I can. I just have to do it better.
VN: On another topic, what’s your reaction to Louisville worlds?
KC: I think it’s awesome. I am really excited about it. Finally, we don’t have to pop over the ocean for the worlds. And more important, it’s time for the U.S. to get a worlds event. The scene is such a growing discipline in the U.S. and there’s so much excitement behind it. I think it’s going to be a great thing, especially having the masters’ as well.
VN: Does that give you a special target to build toward?
KC: I try to keep getting better and better every year. I am going to build toward that and I want to keep doing this as long as my body will let me. I would love to win in my home country, but I just want to win a world championship — anywhere.