Early on in the Men’s Elite race at the 2018 Reno Cyclocross Nationals, Curtis White (Cannondale p/b CyclocrossWorld) was where he wanted to be in a six-man lead selection. With teammate Stephen Hyde (Cannondale p/b CyclocrossWorld) there as well, he was in a good position to compete for a podium spot in his first Elite Nationals.
Unfortunately, the technical hill and sidewalk crossings on the course at Rancho San Rafael Park caused a bevy of flats throughout the week. The hill in particular reared its (pointy rock) head in several of Sunday’s races. Despite running higher tires pressures than normal and scouting the section out, White fell victim to one of the devilish rocks midway through the race.
After getting to the pit, White showed the heart of a champion roaring back to a fifth-place finish, just seconds behind Kerry Werner (Kona Factory CX Team) and Tobin Ortenblad (Santa Cruz / Donkey Label Racing). The only riders to turn in a faster lap than White’s closing effort were Jeremy Powers (Aspire Racing) and Hyde during the prepenultimate lap when they broke free in the ultimate selection.
The up and down and up Nationals capped a season that was challenging at times for White. “I felt like I had nailed my training and preparation for the last few ’cross seasons, but there was something I was doing that was way off,” he said.
A theme in our interviews this year has been the role that mentors play in helping young cyclocross riders navigate the physical and mental challenges of racing at the Elite level. Just as training with the Champ helped turn around Stephen Hyde’s season, sitting down with the U.S. Champion helped White get on track midway through the season.
“The turning point in the year was sitting down with Stephen Hyde, asking about a thousand questions, and him pointing me towards working with Al Donahue,” White said. He continued, “Stephen was a huge help. After every race, back at the hotel, we would hash out what happened and what I could have done better. Strategy, training advice, tips on my diet, everything.”
When Team USA for the 2018 World Championships in Valkenburg-Limburg was announced, White’s name was noticeably absent. During the past six years, the few givens in cyclocross have been debates about cantis vs. disc, USAC license renewal fees and Curtis White on the U.S. Worlds team.
Any controversy that White’s exclusion was a mega-snub was allayed when his team announced he declined an invite to focus on his Senior thesis at Union College in New York. White is majoring in Classics with minors in Law & Humanities and Political Science. His thesis is likely going to focus on Ancient Roman Law and its applicability to modern U.S. governance.
“I’ve developed an interest in Roman Law and the role its foundations have played in our own government,” White said. “My idea is to develop a broad base in looking at the development of Roman Law, how it’s survived 2,000-plus years and relate it to a specific Amendment or structure in our federal government.”
Given the discipline and dedication White has shown balancing school with being one of the top bike racers in the country, his thesis seems destined to be a podium finisher.
We reached out to White to ask him more about his Senior thesis, Nationals and his thoughts on his first season as an Elite cyclocross racer.
Interview with Curtis White, Scholar and Bike Racer
Cyclocross Magazine: A week later, how are you feeling about Nationals. Top five, gutsy comeback after the flat…?
Curtis White: The disappointment is still there, but so is the motivation for next year. I came into the race feeling like I prepared the best I could. Training, diet, rest, no stress, it was all there. I think that was the first time I’ve ever felt like that leading into a championship race. So to be taken out of contention for the win by something I couldn’t control, that sucked. But that’s cyclocross, nothing is a guarantee.
CXM: What were you thinking after flatting and while you were coming back?
CW: Coming into the race, I knew there were sections that had a high risk of flatting. I took precautions of running higher tire pressure than I originally planned and went over the off-camber a number of times to make sure I knew where all the danger spots were. When you have an event where there are six days of people riding and breaking down the course, of course you’re going to have rocks and other debris get uncovered. Unfortunately for us, that throws an element at us that we don’t see very often all year long. The Challenge tires we run are the best of the best. We are all very confident in our equipment and that allows us to push things to the limit. It was just a freak occurrence.
After the flat, I just tried to stay calm, and get into the next group of riders coming up. Once I was in that chase group, I had nothing to lose. All I could do was ride smooth, crank out some fast laps, and maybe some guys in the front would crack. My dad and Stu Thorne were on the sidelines giving me time gaps, so I knew Tobin and Kerry were cracking. In my head, salvaging a medal was still a possibility.
CXM: Overall, what did you think of your first year as an Elite?
CW: Overall, it’s not a season I want to have again. I made a lot of mistakes, mostly in my training, and that showed in the first half of the season. It was confusing and frustrating. I felt like I had nailed my training and preparation for the last few ’cross seasons, but there was something I was doing that was way off.
The turning point in the year was sitting down with Stephen Hyde, asking about a thousand questions, and him pointing me towards working with Al Donahue. After making a change in coaches, I was able to understand what I should have done differently and what I needed to do to correct that. After the last race of the Vittoria Series, I went out to California for about 3 weeks in preparation for nationals. I truly feel like it was the best block of training I have done in a long time. I came into Nationals with an “all-in” mentality.
CXM: Since we’re talking school, what did you learn this year?
CW: I became more involved with my training this year than ever before. I started to question what I was doing, why I was doing it and tried to understand what other people were doing differently.
Again, Stephen was a huge help. After every race, back at the hotel, we would hash out what happened and what I could have done better. Strategy, training advice, tips on my diet, everything. I still have a lot more to learn, but he really helped me get the ball rolling.
CXM: Was it a tough decision to skip Worlds? It’s been a yearly event for you, no?
CW: It definitely was a tough decision, but I believe it was the right decision. After coming into the season and having a bumpy start, I made the decision to forego a European block in December and go to California instead to train. I was 100% committed to being at my best for Nationals.
I really missed racing in Europe this year. It’s been a big part of my season and my development for the last six years. However, having an inconsistent year, having done no European races this season and just starting my senior thesis this January, it seemed like the right call.
CXM: What are you studying in school? What’s your Senior thesis on?
CW: I’m a Classics major with minors in Law & Humanities and Political Science. Over the last few years I’ve developed an interest in Roman law and the role its foundations have played in our own government. My idea is to develop a broad base in looking at the development of Roman law, how it’s survived 2000+ years and relate it to a specific Amendment or structure in our federal government.
CXM: Plans for using your degree down the road?
CW: My plan is to go all in with cycling for a few years. I want to know I truly gave 100 percent to this sport, I don’t want to second guess what I could have done. That said, the legs aren’t going to last forever. Classics is something not a lot of people study, but it can be applied to lots of areas. We’ll see.
CXM: What has helped you balance school and being a top-level bike racer? I imagine sometimes you wish you were doing one or the other?
CW: Finding balance has been difficult at times, but it hasn’t impacted my racing too much. At Union College, we’re on a trimester system, which is awesome for racing bikes. The classes are a bit smaller, so I’m able to connect with my professors and reach out for help pretty easily. I also commute to school from home. I don’t have to worry about storing my bikes in a dorm or an apartment, eating questionable dining hall food or wearing flip flops in the shower. It’s great.
Union creates a nice structure for me. Yeah, I’ve missed out on some of the normal college experiences. But you know what, I’ve gotten the chance to travel and race my bike all over the world and make money doing it. I have no regrets.
CXM: Where should we look for you this spring and summer?
CW: I signed on with Jelly Belly for this coming road season. I’ll be back out in California a couple times this winter and spring to get in some base miles, then into racing. Our racing schedule isn’t finalized, but I imagine it’s similar to last year’s. I want to do a couple of the big U.S. stage races this year. It would be great prep for ’cross, but I also want to show up in good form on the road to see what I can do.
For more about Reno, see our dedicated 2018 Reno Cyclocross Nationals page. Also see our dedicated 2018 Cyclocross World Championships page.