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Q&A with Katie Compton: Mountain bike and cyclocross for 2011?

How does ‘cross queen Compton plan to fit in MTB at Rabobank-Giant Off-Road?

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What makes Katie Compton’s seven consecutive national cyclocross championships so impressive and her pioneering American success on the European ‘cross circuit even more meaningful is that she’s done it largely as a privateer.

Operating on the same bare-bones program, “Team Compton” — made up of Compton and Mark Legg, her husband, mechanic, soigneur and training partner — won two mountain bike national titles in short-track cross-country in 2008 and 2010.

Now, however, Compton may have found the extra push needed to reach two lofty goals: qualifying for the 2012 U.S. Olympic mountain bike team and finally standing atop the podium at the cyclocross worlds after winning silver twice and bronze once. After some 16 years’ racing, the 32 year old has signed on with a full-on, international sponsor — Rabobank-Giant Off-Road Team.

“As much as I liked being independent for a few years, I’m ready to move onto a team that has the infrastructure to support me on both the ‘cross and mountain bike,” Compton said.

Hailing from Wilmington, Delaware, but now a long-time resident of Colorado Springs, Compton won her seventh-consecutive U.S. cyclocross title in 2010 and added a fistful of wins to her list of UCI cyclocross podiums this past season. She started riding track and fat tires as a junior, then began racing on the track in college. Next came mountain biking as a member of the Trek/VW East Coast team.

While a coach at Carmichael Training Systems, Compton started racing again as the sighted pilot with Karissa Whitsell on a tandem Paralympic cycling team. The pair won multiple world and national paralympic championships as well as medals at the 2004 Paralympics in Athens on the road and track.

But it was in 2004 that Compton made her true debut on the American cycling scene by winning the first of her string of U.S. cyclocross national championships and then finding success on the world stage in 2007.

We caught up with Compton to get her thoughts on her new team and how she plans to meld mountain bike racing with cyclocross.

Q. To one degree or another, you’ve been a privateer for most of your career. How do you see the partnership with Rabobank-Giant Off-Road helping in reaching your goals?

A. They have a great program, great support and I’m just really excited to be a part of it now. I think this program has what I need to get me to that next level and win more races. It’s also a big stress relief to not have to worry about paying the bills anymore. I can focus solely on training, resting and racing now.

Q. One of your stated goals is qualifying for the mountain bike cross-country at the 2012 Olympics. What is your plan/schedule for 2011 as far as World Cup and domestic XC and then the lead-up to London in 2012?

A. For this year I’m going to do the full mountain bike World Cup schedule and will race ‘cross again in the fall. Next year is the same plan, I just need to get the right results in order to reach that goal. I plan to do everything in my power to make that happen and the team is 100 percent in support of that.

Q. In order to qualify for the U.S. Olympic MTB team, one has to rack up UCI points and top-10, or better, results internationally and domestically. How does that commitment fit in with your continuing success in cyclocross — especially with the Olympics looming?

A. I think training and racing well is a good build up for my ‘cross season. I’ll have a little more flexibility for ‘cross so I can set up my race schedule to come into worlds feeling strong and racing well like I did this year. I love riding and racing my bike and staying fit, so as long as I have a little down time in between seasons I’m good to go.

Olympics is the main goal, so I’ll do what I need to in order to qualify — that is first and foremost on the list. I think preparation for that will bring me into ‘cross season riding well.

Q. Other than you and Katerina Nash there aren’t too many other women who are consistently legit podium contenders on the both the World Cup cross-country and cyclocross scenes. With the demands being great for both, is it possible to excel at both in one year or does one have to be a priority over the other?

A. I think you can do well in both in the same year as long as you plan your seasons right. I think the two disciplines really complement each other. The mounain bike racing gives you the strength and aerobic fitness to be a good ‘cross rider and ‘cross gives you the speed to be a better mountain biker.
I like going hard over the winter and racing throughout the year, six months is too long to go without a race effort in the legs.

I know that doesn’t work for everyone, but it does for me as long as I have some down time between the two seasons. I just look forward to racing. As soon as I finished ‘cross worlds I was already thinking about what fun mountain bike rides I wanted to do.
‘Cross and mountain bike are such different scenes; both fun in different ways that it’s enough variety to keep from getting tired of either one.

Q. You’re the U.S. national champ in short-track XC, which, to a degree, requires the similar power and endurance needs of ‘cross racing. Olympic XC is a bit longer, with different requirements. How are you training differently or do you?

A. They are different efforts for sure, but the training is similar. I just make some adjustments depending on what racing I’m preparing for. It’s not like I only do 45-minute rides during ‘cross season since the races are so short. I still get in the endurance and the strength work. I just focus on shorter and harder efforts when ‘cross season comes around. And that’s kinda nice when it is really cold outside. I’d much rather go hard for a short time then do long training rides in cold wet weather.

Q. That said, the UCI has mandated shorter Olympic XC courses for 2011 and onward. How do you see that working out for your style of racing?

A. I think it’s great. It suits my racing style and it’ll be more exciting for TV and spectators.

Q. Going with Giant you have a variety of bikes to choose from — straight up hardtails, 26-inch dually XC, 29er dually. So what will it be — 29er or 26er?

A. I know, and I can’t wait to get them. I’ve got some fun bikes on order for training, but I plan to race the World Cups on the 26-inch hardtail. I have an aggressive riding style and I’m out of the saddle a lot so I like the response of a hardtail when I have to ride fast and the full suspension when I want to have fun and work on skills.

Not sure what I will race in the U.S. yet. It will probably depend on the courses and how I am feeling. As much as I like 29ers for Colorado trails, I’m still happier with smaller wheels on tight, technical terrain so I probably won’t be racing a 29er much.