Emma White played a starring role in our Rumors & Rumblings series this summer. The New York native won the GC at the North Star Grand Prix and then won the Women’s U23 Time Trial and Road Race National Championships in Louisville. White picked up where she left off at the start of cyclocross season, finishing third in Sunday’s race at Rochester.
I had been trying to connect with White to talk about her road success, and we were finally able to chat last week as White prepared for the start of her trimester at Union College in Schenectady, New York.
Below are some excerpts from my conversation with White. Please listen to the audio for our full conversation.
Cyclocross Magazine Interview with Emma White
Cyclocross Magazine: I know you kind of wrapped up your road schedule in Colorado a few weeks ago, have you had some time to kind of chill and relax?
Emma White: Yeah, a little bit. Definitely the second half of the summer I’ve kind of been in transition mode, but a little bit of relaxation came with that. The first part of the summer was so crazy. I seriously took my last final in June and went right to the airport, did a training camp in Minneapolis and then went to North Star and then Nationals and right over to Europe, so it was really crazy. When I got back in July it was a chill couple of weeks before Colorado.
CXM: I can only imagine. It was kind of exhausting following you with all the races you were doing and all the success you had. Did you do a family vacation or something like that?
EW: You know, it’s so hard because Curtis, my brother, is also going in all kinds of directions. Now my little brother [Harrison] is too, so it’s kind of hard to get the whole family in the same place at the same time. But my sisters and my mom and I got away for a couple of days to Cape Cod, so that was really nice. My sister’s birthday and my birthday are pretty close, so that was our excuse to get away.
It’s funny, our family vacations are just around races now, it’s pretty sad. But it’s pretty fun at the same time.
CXM: We talked back in December, I think, and you talked about how you and Curtis kind of get the band together for races. Do you do a similar thing for road as a family?
EW: With road, I think all of us are headed in different directions, especially this year. Curtis and my schedules were pretty different, so I think the only race we were at together was Nationals. My little brother is racing with HotTubes, and he was over in Ireland racing and doing training camps with them. My sisters are at home and doing their own thing, but not with cycling.
We definitely train as a family and see it as a family sport, but now more than ever we’re all in different directions. ’Cross is really our chance to do everything together. We do everything together with ’cross. We’re always traveling and racing at the same time.
CXM: Is Harrison going to be 17-18 this year?
CXM: You’re getting old by the way. Your little brother is growing up quickly.
EW: I know, it’s scary. He’s only 15 right now, but he turns 16 in late November, so race age 17. He’s definitely on the younger end, but yeah, it’s so weird to think about.
CXM: So that means he’ll be joining the crew this year, right? For some of the races when you guys pack it up and travel around?
EW: Yeah. He’s always stuck with us when we were in New England, but I think he’ll start to do races like Cinci and Louisville. He started to do that a little bit last year, but definitely not to the same extent. Maybe he’ll try and get over to Europe one of these years. Maybe next year will be his year.
CXM: That’s kind of cool. I would say he probably has a couple people he could lean on for advice on how to do that and what to expect?
EW: Yeah, I think so. I don’t know if he thinks Curtis and I are great people to take advice from, but… There are plenty of people.
CXM: Earlier in the summer I wanted to talk to you about how your road season went. You did a trip to Europe, how was that the same and how was it different than what you’ve experienced for cyclocross?
EW: I actually did a trip last summer too, so I knew what to expect a little bit. Of course, it’s a different group of people and different staff and everything, but we weren’t even at Sittard. It was kind of crazy because in the fall during ’cross we kind of camp out at Sittard in the team house and don’t travel very much from there.
But for road, I flew into the Czech Republic and was there for a week and then drove to Germany and were there for a week. It’s kind of a lot more moving. There are a lot more moving parts and there’s no rest time at all. Whereas for ’cross you race, you rest for a couple of days and then you race again. It was definitely a very different experience.
CXM: I saw I think it was the first one in the Czech Republic you were having health issues? Was that related to jet lag or something?
EW: You know, I’ve done the whole flying over and racing quite a bit now, so I’ve never had a problem with jet lag, but I definitely think I caught something on the way over. I’ve been asking a lot of my body throughout Nationals and North Star, so to do all that and jump on a plane and spend a day in an airport, I think I maybe asked a little bit too much from my body. It took me a couple of days to get over that. It was not pretty.
When I finally felt healthy again, I was ready for the Germany race. It was good. I was a little concerned for a little while and it was a bummer to not finish the Czech Republic race because it was fun. I did that one last year too. But I came back in time for Germany.
CXM: Being over in Europe, is the racing different than your experience over here in the States?
EW: Absolutely. Just right off the bat, it’s just so much more aggressive. It’s fast and it’s very punchy. People really race their bikes and it’s hard. It’s really hard racing. And then I saw it differ from country to country. Czech Republic racing was so much different from the racing in Germany. It was night and day. Germany was flowy; it was so much fun. I think that was one of the most fun international races I have ever done. Flowy and fast.
In the Czech Republic, you really had to stay on your toes. It was a little bit sketchy. They definitely had a riding style I was unfamiliar with and you just had to keep your head up and really expect some movement in the peloton. It was hard to stay up near the front. I spent more time that I’d like to admit at the back of the peloton and it was so much more dangerous back there. That was a huge, kind of, wake up call of what European racing is. Then I got to Germany and it was a little bit more safe and a little bit more comfortable. It was still really fast and technical. You really had to have a lot of skills you don’t necessarily need all the time in America.
CXM: Are more people more friendly in the U.S.? Is it because you guys know each other and travel around to race against each other? Do you have your finger on why it is different? Because it seems like it’s the same for ’cross too.
EW: I’m not really sure. I just think Europeans are known to be a little bit more aggressive. But it’s also that way on the Men’s side. So no, I’m not sure. I don’t know if we’re nice to each other; we definitely all know each other, but I think they all know each other in Europe. It’s not mean, they’ve all accepted that they’re racing and they’re competing and it’s serious. I don’t know. I’m not really sure.
CXM: I would argue you are a pretty nice and chill person, at least from what I’ve seen, is there some part of you inside that comes out or do you have to dig deep to race like that?
EW: I don’t really consider it mean when I, you know, toss an elbow in Europe. I’m just doing what everybody else is doing. I think you just kind of have to fight for what’s yours. If I did that here in America I would definitely have some enemies, I think. Everyone just accepts it. It’s funny because you race Americans over there as well. UHC [United Health Care] was over there, Tibco. You change your style of racing when you go over there.
CXM: You’re on Rally Cycling, and UHC always kind of seems like the New York Yankees of U.S. cycling teams. Is there a pretty good rivalry there?
EW: I think we all kind of want there to be one. UHC is a great team. It’s fun when there’s a little bit of a rivalry. We definitely went back and forth a little bit this year. It’s just a healthy competition. I respect them 100 percent and I think they’re a great team and they work really well together. It’s really fun when we can compete against them and really show our cards as well.
CXM: You’re from Upstate New York, would you want to be compared to the Red Sox? If you have allegiances for baseball would they lie with the New York teams?
EW: Actually I consider myself a New Englander on the sports side. I definitely like the Red Sox and the Patriots. So no, I don’t mind being compared to the Red Sox.
CXM: So the analogy works. They’re the Yankees and Rally is the Red Sox.
EW: Yeah, and the colors are almost lined up, I guess.
CXM: Speaking of races and being aggressive, at the Nationals Road Race you won the U23 race, but you were also in contention to win the race. It seemed like the last couple of kilometers were kind of insane. You guys were attacking the living daylights out of each other. Did that prepare you for racing in Europe a little bit?
EW: We had some good riders there. Coryn Rivera from Sunweb was there. Also Amber Neben. There were definitely people there who are used to racing in Europe who came over just for the race. It was hectic, and it was the same thing, everyone was willing to put whatever out there to win the bike race. That’s fun. It makes you really happy to be a part of the sport and it’s exciting. Amber, who won, she deserved it. She put it all out there and it was a fun race to be a part of.
CXM: She’s what 42? So literally twice your lifespan from now, you can still be winning national championships.
EW: That’s pretty crazy to me. You see a lot of that these days. There are a lot of younger people coming in, but there are still people who are going strong. That’s super cool.
CXM: I think one of my other favorite follows from this summer was Katerina Nash because she was just ripping mountain bikes across the West. She’s 40 and is still doing really well.
EW: Did you see the picture of Georgia Gould riding around with her belly? She just had a baby.
CXM: No, I haven’t seen that one yet.
EW: It’s a great one. The baby’s been born, so the picture is a little bit old. That’s pretty exciting to me too. There are a bunch of really really cool people in this sport and a lot of people to look up to. I’d like to be doing this for a while longer.
CXM: That actually leads to two questions I had. One, what is your relationship like with some of the older riders? Especially in terms of, say, equal pay. You’ve benefitted from the work they’ve done, so what’s the relationship like with some of those older riders?
EW: I started racing when I was nine years old, so a lot of these older riders were people I ran around looking for autographs from at Gloucester and all the local New England races. To see them at races, to talk to them, they know who I am. I think it’s pretty clear I’ve always looked up to them. It’s really cool what they’ve done for the sport. Someone like that may not be part of the sport in 10 or 15 years, but I hope at least they are doing what they are doing for people like me and those women younger than me. I really think they are. I just think they’re doing some really great things for the sport and it will benefit me and people younger than me. It’s super cool.
CXM: And then, by that same token I did an interview with Lizzy Gunsalus a couple weeks ago, and I was like, “Have you talked to Ellen and Emma?” and she was like, “I can’t wait to talk to Emma! I have so many questions to ask her.”
EW: She’s awesome. She’s so fast too. The next couple of years, she’s going to be crazy. She’s a great girl and she comes from a great family as well.
CXM: You’re in your early 20s and you have riders looking up to you. What’s it’s like being a role model?
EW: It’s a little bit surreal to be honest. I still feel like I’m not done looking up to Georgia Gould and Helen Wyman, you know. When I see younger girls looking up to me, I feel like it’s a big role. The influence of the people I looked up to, that’s why I’m still racing. I feel like I have big shoes to fill.
“When I see younger girls looking up to me, I feel like it’s a big role. The influence of the people I looked up to, that’s why I’m still racing. I feel like I have big shoes to fill.”
CXM: Also at Nationals, the criterium was kind of crazy as well, right? Didn’t it stop for like 30 minutes or something?
EW: Yeah, there were a couple of big crashes. I think it was with like six laps to go and they neutralized it for like half an hour. My teammate Erica was up the road and there was just a lot going on. We all came back together and chatted and let them do their thing.
CXM: Had you ever experienced that before?
EW: Yes, actually. At North Star. The second stage we also had to stop for a little while to clean up some crashes.
CXM: How did you handle that. You still ended up doing quite well in the crit, but for 30 minutes, did your legs tighten up? How did you guys stay loose?
EW: It was really hot too. They actually allowed us to get some water from our team and relax a little bit. I think it’s more of a mental thing. My coach would say, “It’s all between your ears.” Just to not overthink it. The race will finish.
You have to put a lot of trust in your teammates at that point. We were trusting our teammate up the road because there wasn’t much we could do for her then. We just kind of had to relax and not overthink it and just wait for things to get started. There were a lot of people panicking. I think that stuff puts people back in a situation like that.
CXM: And in the crit, it seems like you have a nice rivalry going with a Wisconsinite, Skyler Schneider.
EW: I love Skyler.
CXM: Have you been getting on her to race cyclocross again?
EW: She’s going to come to the World Cup [in Waterloo], but I think she’s just coming to watch. I think she’s pretty happy with road. We’ve definitely had the conversation about doing cyclocross, but I don’t think she’s interested.
CXM: That’s kind of a bummer. I was just looking at a race, and her and [her sister] Samantha used to race all the time here in Wisconsin. Finishing first and second, of course, in like every race they did.
EW: That’s awesome. Maybe she’ll do some local ones, I hope. That would be so much fun. She was one I went over to Europe with, so I had a chance to be on her team for a little bit. She’s great.
CXM: So moving into cyclocross, you’ve spent a good deal of time on the road, how do you get your cyclocross training in? Especially working on your bike handling skills?
EW: A lot of the fitness really carries over, but it’s the bike handling skills that I haven’t done much of during road season. We had a team camp pretty early this year, early August, so we worked on them a lot then. I’ve really been on the ’cross bike since doing handling skills. I’m pretty comfortable with where things are.
CXM: Do you ride singletrack? Do you have a course in your backyard? Do you mountain bike? What’s your approach?
EW: We’ve got a local park, and Curtis, my dad, my little brother and I have really figured that out. We’ve got a couple of tracks and trails with a little bit of everything, I think. I don’t want to give away my secrets, but we’ve got a couple different technical parts we train on. There’s a little bit of singletrack and we make our own little off-camber hills and run-ups and stuff like that.
CXM: Fitness-wise, do you take a break in August before cranking it up for ’cross season? What’s your plan for this season in terms of staying healthy and fit throughout the season?
EW: I’m working with my coach Kristin Armstrong, and also Geoff Proctor a little bit. I took a break after Europe and I plan to take another one before the end of the season.
CXM: Does Geoff have you doing some of the drills from Montana Cross Camp?
EW: You know, I have never been to Montana Cross Camp. Curtis has done a lot of that. I don’t work with Geoff one-on-one just because of location, so I don’t do the camps. But Curtis has done a lot of the drills, so we do them as a family.
EW: Yeah. We had a great program earlier in the summer at the school we go to, Union College. We were on the rugby field doing plyometrics and all sorts of things he has learned from Geoff. It’s a good setup. It’s fun doing it together, but I definitely couldn’t do it on my own. I needed my brother next to me skipping through the rubgy field on campus.
CXM: For this season, coming up, you’re still a U23 rider, are you going to be targeting the World Cup? What are your goals for this season?
EW: With school, I am not going to be able to do all the World Cups. I think really my goals for the season are Pan-Ams, Nationals and the World Championships.
CXM: Are you hoping to do the Euro Cross Camp, or are you going to wait until Harrison is there so you can spend Christmas with a different brother in Sittard?
EW: For me personally, school gets out at Thanksgiving and we have all of December off, so that’s definitely my opportunity to go over. I’ll go over with USA Cycling and do a couple of those World Cups, but it will just be for a couple of weeks in December.
CXM: Sweet. Thanks for taking the time to chat with me. I’m glad we finally were able to connect to talk about the season you had on the road.
Need something to listen to during your trainer session or morning commute? Check out all of our audio interviews.