by Christine Vardaros
This Saturday, 10-time US National Champion Katie Compton (Trek Cyclocross Collective) will have her best chance yet to make history as the first American to win gold at the World Cyclocross Championships. She has already made us proud by being the first and only US female to make it on the Worlds podium since its inception in 2000. And comparing Compton’s racing this season against her top rival, Marianne Vos (Rabo-LivGiant), this could be her year to upgrade from bridesmaid, having placed second two times to Vos in the last three World Championships, to fully-fledged bride – replete with gold glitter.
Going into the season, Compton had a slow start due to sub-par off-season training. She found herself injured or sick a bit more often than usual. But once she got moving, she shot right back to the front of the peloton. Over the season, she had 14 international victories and five additional podium placings, never finishing out of the top three. She also dominantly won the Overall World Cup with five wins and one second place. The point spread was so large that took the overall without needing to compete in the final round.
The only person left standing who could challenge Compton was Vos, with Compton coming out on top overall with four victories over Vos’ three victories in the seven times they’ve gone head-to-head.
“It gives me confidence, that’s for sure,” explains Compton. She added, “And I think my chance to win is better this year than in years past. I have the fitness, ability and support so all I have to do is have the legs on the day.”
Natually, Vos is feeling the pressure. “Katie’s the favorite although I’m wearing the rainbow stripes now. I’m going to have a hard time to beat her,” said Vos.
The last time the two gals went head-to-head, though, it didn’t turn into a two-person battle at the front which has been the norm all season. Unfortunately, shortly after the start in last weekend’s Nommay World Cup, Compton suffered from an asthma attack. “I’m doing better although it takes a few days for me to recover from it so I’m resting now. I will be okay for the weekend. Rest is probably the best thing for me now anyway.” After the race in Nommay, Vos comments, “Of course it’s not nice to see her having problems in this race but of course she will be good next week.”
In addition to asthma, Compton also has to deal with random leg pain. It had even caused her to drop out of Worlds in 2008 and 2010. “I’m always a little worried about [asthma] or my leg pains creeping up at the worst possible times, but I try not to dwell on it. I’ve dealt with health issues and leg pains for so long that I just appreciate the good days and try to let go of the bad ones. Stressing doesn’t make it go away, so I try not to let myself even go there.”
By missing out on her chance in Nommay to test herself, Compton relies on other markers to gauge her progress since Rome World Cup [Jan. 5], the last time she faced all the toppers including Vos, with Compton coming out on top. “I just have to go by how I feel now. I think I’m stronger than what I was in Rome but I know she is too. I trained and rested as best I could between the racing and the travel the last few weeks. I’m just going to race my race on Saturday and hopefully it’s fast enough. I’m doing well otherwise! I’m happy and feeling strong.”
While Vos got to keep within the same time zone the weeks leading up to Worlds, Compton has had to jet-set between continents to contest US Nationals. “I returned to Belgium on the 21st. I stayed close to the Euro time zone [back in the US so the jet lag wasn't much this trip. I only had a three-hour time change instead of eight hours so that helped a lot. I had many productive early mornings in Colorado [chuckles].”
This Saturday will be the second time that Compton and Vos compete for the rainbow stripes in Hoogerheide. The first time was back in 2009 where Vos won on the fast criterium-style course, although Compton may have been the strongest on the day. They have also faced each other in other years where Hoogerheide was part of the World Cup series. “Of course I think about that race a lot. Every year and race is different though, so I hope to race smart and not make the same mistakes twice. I think I’m also a different rider [than in 2009], a faster rider, a smarter rider. It looks like the course will be heavy and muddy and different than years past so hopefully that will be good for me. And my bike is way sweeter this time around [grins].”
She currently races with the Trek Boone 7 and 9, while keeping the Crockett as her backup bike. “The geometry is the same on the Boone 7 and 9 and also the Crockett. The difference is the carbon and the ISOspeed [Trek’s new seat-tube-based suspension system designed to provide comfort-boosting flex] on the Boones which make for a super smooth ride. They are also lighter and more lively since they are carbon over aluminum. Right now I’m running canti’s because I still like them better than disc brakes. The discs seem to stop too well and there’s no stopping in ’cross, just modulating speed.”
With everything in place to earn the gold, Compton allows herself a very brief moment to dream. “It would be amazing [to win]! I haven’t let myself think about it though. I need to win before I allow my emotions to go there. But if I did, I would feel elated, joyful and relieved.”
And if she’s again 2nd to Vos, Compton will feel, “Not surprised. I’ve been the bridesmaid many times so what’s one more? I’ll only be disappointed if I didn’t have a great race. If I make stupid mistakes, miss the start and just not ride to my potential, I’ll be way more disappointed with that. If I have a great race and still get 2nd, well than the best rider won on the day and I have to accept that.”
But don’t let her humility underestimate her hunger for victory. “I’m really happy with the season—it’s my best season yet. But of course I really want to win, who wouldn’t? I also know Marianne wants to keep that jersey and won’t give it up without a lot of kicking and screaming!”
In some of Compton’s past races, she’s given herself some extra work by missing her start. But if she nails her start like she did in Nommay, those extra percentage points could come in handy in overturning Vos. “In Nommay, I finally hit my pedal and made a good effort to the stairs. I just need to do it again on Saturday. It’s not obvious, but I do work on my starts, I just have a tendency to miss my pedal!” Even if she misses her start, based on her physical prowess she’s already displayed numerous times this season in similar situations, she can still come back to the front for the victory.
Moving past Worlds, Compton plans to stick around in Belgium to finish out the season. In addition to her European campaign, she’ll be making the trip to Tokyo to compete in their yearly ’cross event on February 8-9.