Curtis White of the Cannondale p/b CyclocrossWorld team headed into the 2017 Cyclocross National Championships as the top favorite, after his second place to now-Elite Tobin Ortenblad at the 2016 Nationals, defending his Pan American continental championship title and beating all the Elites this season in domestic UCI races. After several crashes and a disappointing sixth place, White crossed the line and confined himself to his team vehicle, leaving many wondering what happened on the day. Zachary Schuster caught up with White recently, after his impressive 10th in the 2017 Hoogerheide World Cup to talk Nationals, Worlds, the Boss (not Vos) and musical teamwork.
Cyclocross Magazine: Thanks for chatting with me. We wanted to catch up with you because we missed you at Nationals. To start, I was actually looking at your Instagram, I saw you went to see [Bruce] Springsteen earlier this year?
Curtis White: Yeah, that was how I kicked off the off-season last year, so big Boss fan for sure.
CXM: Are you?
CW: Yeah. Both of my parents were, so it was kind of what I grew up listening to.
CXM: Is that the first time you had seen him or have you seen him more than that?
CW: That was the first time I saw him. He came to Albany, now that was something. That was like a four-hour long show. He just never stopped. There’s something about it, he probably could have gone on for like another couple hours, but it was pretty sweet.
CXM: That’s awesome. I’m also a huge Springsteen fan, so that’s incredible. Awesome it was your first show. I’m really excited you got to see him.
CW: Yeah, yeah for sure. It was sweet, so yeah, it was my parents, myself, and my little brother Harrison went. He was getting an education going there too.
CXM: I like putting it that way.
CW: Yeah, right.
CXM: I also saw the video you had of [Stephen] Hyde playing the guitar, so maybe in the future you guys can do a Born to Ride parody, or The Next Great American Anthem between the two of you.
CW: Oh yeah. My girlfriend just got me a harmonica this Christmas, so yeah, I don’t know. I’m coming for you, Springsteen.
CXM: I love it. Born to Ride like Hyde. I think it’s the next great viral sensation.
CW: Born to Ride. Yeah, right. That’d be sweet.
CXM: More seriously, talking about bike racing and big races coming up, you had a good race on Sunday. Did that kind of help you put Nationals behind you a little bit?
CW: Yeah, Nationals, that was kind of a hard race to stomach afterwards, but I think that race, there was a lot I did wrong and made a lot of poor choices in the race that obviously showed and it was really easy to get frustrated and get down on myself. I knew I came into the race fast and strong and I knew it was there after the race. I left Europe on a good note so I was focusing on coming back and just trying to pick up where I left off and yeah, it worked out well on Sunday, so I was just patient through the whole race. I was surprised it went that well after the trouble, but yeah, it was good to pick up where I left off here.
CXM: If you don’t mind talking about it, what are some of the mistakes that you did make at Hartford?
CW: I think the tires was one of them. I was in the pits a couple times just kind of changing the pressures, changing tires. I crashed early on and I let myself get way too frustrated. It was a course that really rewarded you for staying as calm as possible which it’s kind of silly to say, but I raced it more like an amateur and just went balls to the wall and crazy from turn to turn trying to catch up and that was just really destructive. It just caught up to me in the end and then the last two laps, there was just no way I could have brought the gap back. That was I’d say the low point for the season. Everyone has those races, it’s kind of a reality check. You’ve got to stay sharp, always.
CXM: Being there all week covering it, hearing from the age-group racers, they were talking about how once you fell behind, you were kind of in trouble. It was pretty difficult to make up time because you were very much racing the course as well as your competitors.
CW: Yeah, exactly. It was super strange. One of the ways to chase back was almost to try and hope someone in front of you would crash. This is how it seemed, but yeah, once you fell behind, it was real easy to get frustrated and caught up and get in your own way. That was my fault at Nationals. I had tremendous support from the team. I came in physically great. Coaching was spot on, I wasn’t able to put it together, so that was that.
“One of the ways to chase back was almost to try and hope someone in front of you would crash. This is how it seemed, but yeah, once you fell behind, it was real easy to get frustrated and caught up and get in your own way.”
CXM: You’ve had a very successful season and career thus far, were you feeling pressure heading into Hartford?
CW: I try not to put pressure on it, but I’ve never won a National Championship. I won a lot of races but never Nationals and it was always something that I really, really wanted. This was my last year in the Under 23, I felt like it was my year, but I think the movement with the young guys, it’s something the U.S. hasn’t seen before. There’s Logan, myself, Danny Summerhill. Before that it was just kind of the same two guys always fighting.
This race was a wild card, Lance is good, he’s shown he’s been good for a long time, but there’s a whole movement of guys that have been on. There are a lot of really good guys who didn’t have great races at Nationals either, so it’s just a group of like six or eight guys that just kind of are at the top now. Certainly next year, it will keep on making the Under 23 race interesting.
With that, I move onto the Elites I guess. Yeah, I’ll be racing Hyde next year.
CXM: I don’t disagree with you. I think the U23 race was the highlight of the weekend. At least you have that. It was a great race to watch from a fan’s perspective.
CW: Oh yeah, I’ve heard that from everyone who’s talked about the race, just the Under 23 race was the most exciting, it was the number of lead changes to crashes to coming back, attacks, everything. It certainly made it exciting to watch. It’s awesome for U.S. ’cross to have that. [Watch the full U23 Men’s race from the 2017 Hartford Nationals here]
CXM: What ways have you developed to deal with, I guess, disappointments like what happened at Hartford?
CW: Just confidence I guess. That was a big one. I was confident in my abilities, the coaching. I still had power in the legs. It’s not like everything disappeared on the plane ride back from Europe. It’s just kind of being able to step back from the race, analyze it and try not to make the same mistakes twice and yeah, just have faith that my ability is still there. I just can’t get in my own way again.
CXM: Yeah, that makes sense. You mentioned Stephen [Hyde], what’s the relationship between you guys, especially when you’re racing? Do you guys talk about doing team tactics?
CW: It’s very similar I think on and off the course. We’re teammates through thick and thin. I try and learn from him as much as I can. Whatever I can provide for him, you know, just vice versa. I don’t think we’ve ever raced against each other in races. Both of us want to win, obviously, but the goal is always to have Cannondale on the top step. There were a couple races this year where he was able to help me out and I try to help him out when I can. I think between the two of us, the team has had a lot of success and I think that’s what both of us kind of thrive on.
The cool part is that Stephen’s kind of able to help me analyze what I’m doing in the races or what I could do better. We were pre-riding Hoogerheide together. He’s in the Elites, I’m in the Under 23s, and we’re redoing sections together, how to shift body weight or talking about tires or pressure. It’s a pretty close connection like that on and off the bike.
“We’re teammates through thick and thin. I try and learn from him as much as I can. Whatever I can provide for him, you know, just vice versa. I don’t think we’ve ever raced against each other in races.”
CXM: Cool. I saw the picture that you had on Instagram. It was typical Stephen Hyde with his smiling ginger face behind you.
CW: Yeah, for sure.
CXM: Has he ever given you any music recommendations? You guys talk about music at all?
CW: He always has something playing like in the hotel room or something. I like his taste in music. I don’t know exactly the names, but it has a good sound to it. It’s calming. It’s not too crazy, but I wouldn’t be able to tell you the names. I’m sure if you look on his Instagram, it’s all there. I like hearing it.
CXM: That’s cool. Yeah, we actually, hopefully in our magazine we’re going to be running a story about him and his turntable…he definitely likes his music.
CW: Oh for sure, yeah. It’s something he’s super passionate about obviously. He had a guitar in the trailer that we brought to races sometimes. That’s a part of who he is, so it’s super cool to have that around.
CXM: Well, you know if bike racing doesn’t work out, I don’t know what Emma’s proclivity towards music is, but it could be Stephen Hyde and The White Family Traveling Band or something.
CW: Yeah, actually [Emma] grew up playing the piano, so I don’t know, me on the harmonica, Hyde on the guitar and her on the piano, it could be a pretty formidable band.
CXM: I like this idea. I would love to see this happen.
CW: I’m surprised Cannondale hasn’t done any band cover photos yet at team camp or something.
CXM: Dear Cannondale folks or Stu Thorne, if you read this, please, this is a great idea.
CXM: Heading into Worlds, how are feeling and what are your feelings about Worlds this year in your last year as a U23 rider?
CW: Especially after Sunday, I’m feeling pretty good physically and mentally too. The set up we have here, we’re staying in Sittard at the USA Cycling House, Sittard, Netherlands. Super comfortable place. The riding around here is awesome. Spent the last couple Christmases here and I’ve probably made a dozen trips over here and stayed in the house. It’s nice to have like a home away from home. It makes that part of it really comfortable.
Heading in the Worlds, I’ve been watching the course preview videos and Sven and the Fidea team came out with another preview video yesterday, early this morning. I’m just trying to process the course and trying to see myself there, trying to mentally picture that. The preparation is going pretty good leading into it.
CXM: Do you think having that experience knowing some of the racers who you’ll be lining up against, do you think that really helps you?
CW: Oh yeah, for sure. Especially this year, I think this was maybe the first year I was able to figure out the rhythms of the Under 23 races. Racing at the front of the race for the whole 50 minutes near the front with guys like Quentin Hermans, Eli Iserbyt, Adam Toupalik, all these guys are there week in and out. The Christmas block I got pretty comfortable or familiar with them, just kind of rubbing elbows with them and it was good to see I picked up where I left off this past weekend. It’ll be interesting going into Sunday.
CXM: I think you hear from American riders, some people love Europe, some people hate Europe. How do you feel about racing Europe especially compared to racing in America?
CW: I really like it. It’s a different style, so I think it’s difficult getting used to the rhythms of the racing over here, but I’ve always really enjoyed it. This [was] my sixth Christmas here, so I’ve been able to get used to it. I think there are some guys who are able to acclimate better than others, but I think the past couple of years, my sister Emma’s been over here and that’s certainly helped a bit. We’re both over here, it’s nice to have someone over Christmas or whatever training block we’re over here for. I’ve always felt pretty comfortable here, especially in the new USA Cycling house.
CXM: What are you looking for on Sunday?
CW: This past week was the first time I cracked the top ten, but hopefully another top ten ride, but if things go well, I’d love a top five. I think I would have to have a perfect ride with nothing to go wrong for that to happen. I’m not leaving that out of the realm of possibilities. I think first thing’s first, just focus on having the best, cleanest race I can, but yeah, top ten, hopefully top five.
CXM: Looking at the course or some of the pictures I’ve seen, it seems like there is a chance of snow. Do you feel maybe a little bit better about that after learning some lessons at Hartford?
CW: Yeah, certainly. I think in Luxembourg the weather’s kind of changing everyday. It’s looking like rain for Sunday, so that can make it even more interesting. Yeah, every lesson I learned in Hartford, I try to take it to the table next time and just try not to make those same mistakes twice.
CXM: You mentioned Emma being there with you and I talked to her before Nationals and she talked a lot about how much, your relationship and having you for that experience in Europe, how good that’s been. What does this mean to the White family to get to do this again and especially since both of you guys have a legit shot at top ten, top five at Worlds?
CW: It’s huge. It was a huge commitment from my parents. I know it’s hard for them to say goodbye to their two oldest every Christmas or through the holidays and it’s going to be really nice…both of my parents are coming over to watch Worlds. My little brother Harrison, he’s coming. It’ll be great for them to see.
Harrison will be old enough to come here next year, so hopefully he keeps things up and he’s on the track to come over here. It’s great having everyone over here and kind of involved in the same thing.
“It was a huge commitment from my parents. I know it’s hard for them to say goodbye to their two oldest every Christmas or through the holidays and it’s going to be really nice…both of my parents are coming over to watch Worlds.”
CXM: There’s another White to join the White Family Band? Is he 16 now?
CW: He’s turning 16, so I’m the oldest of five, and three of us race bikes.
CXM: Oh, okay.
CW: The two who don’t, one rides horses, one runs on the track. We come from a pretty athletic family, but the three of us, myself, Emma, and my young brother Harrison. Harrison’s on the Cannondale Cyclocrossworld development team. He’s 15, yeah, he’s turning 16 next November. Late birthday but he’ll be racing age 17 and old enough to make it over to Europe if he’s selected.
CXM: So have you been coaching him?
CW: I try to give him advice or I take him out after school when I can and the thing is, he just loves riding and just riding a long time, whatever the conditions. He’s not at the point where he’s given a set of intervals to do or a certain trainer. He takes his ’cross bike out, practices skills one day or thinks doing hill repeats is good for one day. He’s kind of all over the place but he’s at the point where he’s just riding and kind of enjoying that. It’s been going well for him but we’re approaching the point where he’s going to need a little bit more guidance and hopefully I can provide that for him, or Emma and I both.
CXM: It’s kind of nice to be young sometimes, isn’t it?
CW: Yeah, for sure. Yeah, I miss those days.
CXM: How have you benefited from your relationship with Emma both as a racer and a person?
CW: I think for a long time we’ve always been on the same page mentally, but also we’re on the same cyclocross team, we’re on the same road team. She went through the same development process as me racing with Hot Tubes Junior Team. It’s a men’s team but she’s good enough as a junior woman to be on it. We both go to the same school right now, Union College in Schenectady, New York. We’ve always had a really cool dynamic. We’ve always been doing the same thing. We keep our distance sometimes, I know she kind of likes her own space a bit more than me. It’s always great having her around and kind of having someone to always talk to on the same flight. We’re always there together going through the same things, so yeah, that’s nice.
CXM: That’s cool. Maybe the typical sibling, sometimes you need to get apart but…
CW: Yeah, exactly. It’s great. Not [all] siblings are in the airport every other weekend or flying to Europe a couple times a year. It’s great having that around. It’s a good time with her.
CXM: We just actually today ran a story about Caleb and Emma [Swartz]. I was telling them maybe brother-sister cross will be a new category at Nationals next year.
CW: Yeah, that’d be sweet. Maybe piggy back off of the KMC and have the brother-sister relay race or something.
CXM: In school, what are you studying?
CW: I’m a classics major, law humanities minor. The classics I’m going the Greek and Latin route with kind of the historical background as well. Trying to tie that into like a law and political theory minor. It’s interesting. It would be a really good lead into law school. Whether I want to do that or not is still up in the air. It leaves a lot of doors open and it’s certainly a very broad major, there’s no pressure to join the workforce immediately. Once I get the degree, I can kind of take a step back and continue bike racing for as long as I can.
CXM: Well I was going to say, the way things are going, you might be a part of a different workforce for a while, huh?
CW: Yeah, well that’s the goal, but my dad is a career coach at Union College. My mom is a public school teacher. There was always a big emphasis on getting a higher education beyond high school. Back then, it was kind of a pain in the ass going through the applications and looking at all different schools, but right now I’m really glad I’m doing it. I have a year and a half left. I’m ending my Under 23 career on the road at the end of the summer, so it’s basically been my Under 23 years as a developing athlete. I’m still developing and just going through school as I’m developing. Yeah, the goal is once I hit that top, my peak almost, I’ll be out of school.
CXM: That makes sense. From my experience, it’s easier to do it now than when you get older.
CW: Exactly, yeah.
CXM: Obviously you’ve been successful on the road and in ’cross, have you thought at all about what your future is in bike racing?
CW: Yeah. I’ve been thinking a lot about it. Right now, I think I can’t really race ’cross at the level I am without a road component, but I always want to race ’cross. That’s kind of where my heart’s at. I’ve been having more success there I think. I enjoy racing on the road. I think I’m fortunate enough to have a solid program behind me. I love ’cross and that’s what I want to keep doing.
CXM: Well, what is it about ’cross that you love so much?
CW: It’s different than any other aspect or discipline of cycling. I’m sure a lot of people have said it but it’s more of a one-on-one sport. It’s not team animated or it’s not [like] there [are] deals that are cut. Tactics play a role but especially in Europe, the courses are hard enough to where it’s the strongest who are going to win. It’s a real test of physical strength as well as tactics. The style of racing, the shortened times, spectator-friendly factors of it, it all kind of comes together.
CXM: With the solo aspect, you and Stephen seem to get along well on the course, but we might have some issues about who gets to do the solos when you’re in the band?
CW: Yeah, right.
CXM: Thanks for taking the time to chat with us. It was good to see you do well on Sunday.
CW: Yeah, for sure. Thanks. Much appreciated.