Canadian Maghalie Rochette is quickly making a name for herself as one of the top young cyclocross riders in the world. Rochette capped her 2016/17 season with an impressive fifth-place finish at the World Championships in Luxembourg. This summer, she has been catching a bit of the mountain bike fever while racing against Clif Pro Team teammate Katerina Nash at races across the Western U.S. and Canada.
Cyclocross Magazine has been following Rochette’s exploits (and reading about them at maghalierochette.com) in the weekly Rumors & Rumblings segment, so I reached out to Rochette to talk about her summer of mountain biking and her plans for the upcoming cyclocross season.
Excerpts from Interview with Maghalie Rochette
Cyclocross Magazine: I was looking at the socks you have for Cyclocross Fever. Where did the pimento come from? There’s gotta be a story?
Maghalie Rochette: Actually that is a good question because I don’t really know. I started, I guess, two years ago. I wanted to make a t-shirt, a Cyclocross Fever t-shirt, and I had the CX Fever logo, but I didn’t have anything else to put on the shirt. I was using Custom Ink as a platform to make custom shirts and then I was like, oh it’s kind of looking a little bit bland with just the CX Fever logo, so I started looking in their image bank and I was typing stuff like “fiesta” and “fever” and stuff like that. Then there was one Mexican pimento that popped out and I was like, oh my gosh, this expresses exactly what I’m feeling about the Cyclocross Fever, so I need that guy.
The first t-shirt I made had the pepper on it, and then when I wanted to make other stuff, I couldn’t use the Custom Ink pepper, so I had one made up that’s a little bit different. So there’s no real reason for why there’s a pimento, but I feel like that little guy expresses the Cyclocross Fever pretty well, so that’s why.
CXM: I gotta look for these. I have to say, those socks, it’s pretty tempting to go ahead, and they’re supporting a good cause, I was like, man, I might need to get a pair of these socks for this upcoming season.
MR: Oh, I think you do. I think you do. But there are also new socks coming. Maybe you want to wait, or maybe you want the whole collection, who knows?
CXM: I have to admit, it’s been a lot of fun to follow you and Katerina and you guys have been all over the place racing mountain bikes and chugging beers and stuff, and I want to ask, it sounds like you guys are really tight. The friendship that comes across via social media also extends to your personal relationship?
MR: It does. We are pretty close. Katerina is like, it’s funny because in a sense she’s totally my mentor. She teaches me pretty much everything, and since I got on the team three or four years ago, she’s really kind of taken me under her wing. But I guess through these years we also became friends. She is my mentor, and I learn a lot from her and she’s teaching me all the time, and we’re also really good friends and we hang out outside of races too. We met up to go skiing this winter, and we are really close. It’s been really fun training with her this summer.
CXM: One of my favorite stories from following you guys was, I think it was the race in Bend, the Blitz was it?
CXM: [Katerina] was talking trash about your beer-drinking ability, have you improved on that?
MR: I have not improved on that yet. But her and everyone who was there at that race is teasing me about it all the time. That race is really awesome. The way it works is it’s like a one-hour mostly downhill race, but there’s still a lot of pedaling. You’re really pushing hard for like an hour and then it finishes on a golf course. Your timer doesn’t stop until you chug a beer. You get on that golf course and there’s like a thousand people watching you and watching you chug the beer.
I knew Katerina was going to be good at chugging the beer. She’s Czech and she drinks a lot more than I do, so I was like, eh, not sure I should leave it to the chug-off. But I couldn’t drop her, and she couldn’t drop me, so I was just trying to be relaxed, and I remember in the last couple of minutes I got a sip of water and was like, okay, I will rinse my mouth and get ready for the chug-off. I was really trying. I was like, who knows, maybe I’m good at this? I’ve never ever tried, so who knows?
I was following her and taking my breaths and rinsing my mouth and was like, okay, let’s do this. And then I just couldn’t do it. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried chugging a beer when you’re kind of out of breath, but it’s not easy. It was pretty funny. Even half way through her beer, she stopped for a moment, looked at me and then started laughing. It was pretty funny.
CXM: Haha, that’s awesome. I will say, for myself, as an amateur cyclocross racer, and I know a lot of our readers are amateur cyclocross racers, some of us have a little more experience, you know, chugging beers during races. I know you’re not allowed to do that. If you want to sandbag at a local race or something, you can work on your beer-chugging skills for next year.
MR: I totally have to because I lost a thousand bucks just like that.
CXM: Are you serious?
MR: Yeah, that was the difference between first and second place. It was a thousand dollars, and it ended with a chug-off, so I need to work on it.
CXM: Another thing I’ve really enjoyed, I love your post-race write-ups. I didn’t discover them at that point, is there one I should go back to?
MR: There is one, yeah. I can send you the link if you want because there is one.
CXM: Excellent. I think that would be a great one for the post-race rundown.
MR: There was a person who was taking photos at that race and there’s a pretty cool series of pictures of the chug-off. That’s a cool one. It’s on the website, so I will send you the link.
CXM: Has writing been something you’ve always been into? How did that start? You have a pretty impressive blog on your website.
MR: Well thank you. Actually, it’s never always been writing. English is not my first language either, so I just thought writing a couple of blogs would be good. For one, I’m not home very often, so I think people, like my family and friends from home, like following what I’m doing, so that’s one of the reasons I like writing it. And also, it helps me to become better in English, I think. That’s one thing I wanted to do. I’m not in school anymore, and when I decided to quit school to be a full-time racer, I decided I had to keep learning, and I had to keep kind of challenging my brain. Writing is one way of doing that. I also have a newsletter I write in French for people at home that I send out every month. I just try to keep reading on a bunch of subjects to make sure I keep learning a bunch of stuff even though I’m not in school. That’s kind of why I’m doing it.
I’ve been reading a lot of blogs, and I think some of them are awesome and others are kind of really really long, and you don’t need that many details about a race. I just kind of challenge myself to try to make it interesting for other readers. Maybe sometimes it isn’t and I’m glad that it sometimes is. That’s the reason I’m doing it, to keep challenging myself and learning stuff. That’s pretty much my only reason.
CXM: Personally, I think they’re pretty good. At Cyclocross Magazine we get a lot of rider diaries and you read race reports and they’re like, and this happened and this happened and this happened, and it’s like alright alright, for whatever reason, the way you do it is pretty good. You offer funny insights that keep it pretty engaging. during the course of the seven-day race up in British Columbia, it was fun to follow that one.
MR: Cool, well thank you. That one was actually challenging in a way because I was cracked after those. It’s a stage race, so it’s pretty much full-on during the whole week. You’re traveling and moving around and all that. That was my boyfriend’s idea. He was following me around with the RV, and he told me, “It would be awesome if you did a blog post after every race,” and I was like, “Oh yeah, that will be great.” I did it the first day, and then on the second day I was like, “I give up. I’m not doing it.” And he was like “Come on, you have to keep doing it.” And then I kept going for the whole time.
The funny thing is most of the time these blog posts, I would write them and read them again because I was too tired. You really have an uncensored and super-honest version with probably a bunch of mistakes, but I guess that’s kind of what made it interesting to some people, because there’s no filter at all.
CXM: I also saw you have the Faces of Cyclocross, is that yours? Are you also getting into some journalism?
MR: Yeah, that’s mine. That was last year’s idea, and I think I will start it again this year since ‘cross is approaching pretty quickly. I just thought a lot of content out there is on the racers, and since, I guess, I’m a racer, I kind of know that part of cyclocross really well, but sometimes I was curious about what happens in the pits, or what is it like to be a team manager and what do you do and stuff like that. So if I was interested to know it, maybe other people would be. I just thought I would interview a couple of people. I’m lucky I know most of these people at the races, so people who I felt like I wanted to know about. I imagine other people were thinking the same thing, so I just thought it would be cool to kind of get to know them more and ask them questions. That was the idea behind that.
CXM: So it’s kind of like taking the camera or the microphone and turning it the other way?
MR: Pretty much, yeah. I was just going to say you might be my next interview. I’ll flip it around and you can be the next Faces of ’Cross.
CXM: I think what I’m going to have to do is get the Bucky Badger costume so you can’t miss me. Alright, I’ve seen Zach at like three races now, he’s that guy. He looks like a giant badger walking around.
MR: If you’re from Wisconsin, I imagine you’re going to be at the World Cup?
CXM: Oh I’ll be there. Are you racing at World Cup Waterloo?
MR: Canada hasn’t officially announced the team yet, but I’m pretty sure I will be selected, so yeah, I’m planning on being there.
CXM: Excellent. I live 30 minutes away. Another question, you finished off last season pretty well, fifth-place at Worlds, huh?
CXM: Has that changed your approach for this season at all in terms of what races you’re going to do and what you’re gunning for?
MR: First of all, that time I got fifth at Worlds was my last beer-chugging practice before the race I did this summer. I’m just kidding, I’m just saying it’s the last time I drank alcohol before the beer chug-off.
CXM: So you celebrated huh?
MR: I did celebrate. I was pretty pumped about that end of the season. Maybe it did a change a little bit how I’m approaching this season because I think it gave confidence to our team that I can do well on the World Cup Circuit. So it changed the upcoming season in a way that I am going to be doing more World Cups than I did in the past.
However, for my personal preparation and the way I see the upcoming season, of course I have big goals for myself, but I’m trying not to have any results-based goals because I think sometimes there are too many things you can’t control. Maybe half of the field will come back way stronger than they have ever been before and I won’t be doing well or whatever. I’m just trying to focus on the basics. I’m trying to focus on how I can prepare the best I can to arrive there. Of course it gave me confidence, but I don’t want to have too big of expectations, if that makes sense.
CXM: I just kind of wonder, I know personally if I had a great result like that, I might change my plans. Like Katie Compton is looking at a longer stint in Europe, so I was just kind of curious as to what you’re gunning for. The long and short of that, I’m assuming we’ll see you at Jingle Cross and Waterloo?
MR: Yeah, I will be at those two. Then I am going to try to follow the new US Cup series that they announced, but I’m not going to be spending a whole winter in Europe. The thing is, since I’m racing both mountain bike and cyclocross, it gets to be a bit much if you’re doing full seasons of the two disciplines. I think you really have to balance which races you’re targeting and how you take your breaks and stuff like that. If you wanted, you could start racing in March, early March and then race all the way to cyclocross Worlds in early February. I think that’s really hard to do.
Katerina has been helping me a lot with that, and my boyfriend, who is also my coach, David, is smart about it. What I realized last year, one of the reasons I finished the season so well is I was able to prepare really well. I had a six-week period where I really trained hard. I had a couple of races, but no traveling at all and then I just got there and I was fresh and fit and ready. I think I am going to keep that same approach. I picked like three blocks of racing in the season that I really want to be good at. I will just prepare really well and then hit the first block, and then take a tiny little break. Prepare really well again and hit the second block and so on. That’s kind of how I am approaching it.
CXM: It seems like that’s one of the big challenges and everyone has a different approach to it, but being fresh throughout the cyclocross season. It’s a little bit different than road racing, huh, where you can target one or two events. Do you ever find that a challenge to keep the hunger up throughout the cyclocross season?
MR: It is. Sometimes it’s not even like you want to, you’re still hungry, but your body just doesn’t follow at some point. It’s not just the racing, but it’s the traveling that goes with it that gets tiring. Definitely, even if you think you’re motivated, when it’s time to really dig deep and close that gap, you just can’t do it because your body is like, I’m not sure I can and your head is not quite right. You said the right word, you’re not quite as hungry and you can’t dig quite as deep, even if you want to. Also, there’s the health factor. Traveling so much and racing so much, at some point you just get sick. That’s never a good recipe to have a good result. That’s another thing you have to take into consideration.
CXM: Last season was it difficult for you to go Luxembourg [from Arizona]? It was pretty gross in Bieles. Was that a shock for you?
MR: I would say it was a concern, I was kind of worried about that. I was worried I wouldn’t be technically strong enough, but we really practiced some skills. Every day we would build up courses in a park, and I have some barriers I made. Just practicing different kinds of skills. I felt so comfortable on my bike, and then once we got to Europe I had about a week to prepare. So I had a week to prepare to race and ride in the mud and the cold. It ended up being totally fine. I guess it was okay. It was a shock, but at the same time I’ve been living in North in Canada for so long I am used to the cold.
One of the things that made it easy last year when we were preparing for Worlds, I was with Eva Lechner and Katerina and the atmosphere in our group was so positive. That’s one thing. It was so positive that every time it was like minus ten outside and snowing and I had to go for a ride, we all had to go for a ride, so it was like, yeah this is awesome, let’s go for a ride. We would do these awesome rides together and challenge each other technically and stuff. That made it pretty easy.
The second thing is, these two women are so good technically and in the mud, that pre-riding the course with them and just training with them really made me comfortable. They just don’t touch the brakes. Some times we would hit a section and I’m like, oh my gosh, this is so fast, but then I would think, but if they can do it at this speed, it means it’s physically doable, so I guess I can also do it. I guess that helped me a lot. In the end, it ended up being good. It’s totally a different climate and temperature and all that than Arizona, but it worked out.
CXM: I was going to say, looking at how this season played out and you and Katerina were racing against each other pretty much every race, it kind of makes sense that maybe part of why you did so well at Worlds was wanting to be close to her. It was kind of the natural order of things for 2017.
MR: I guess it was, yeah. She has always been really helpful to me. One of the anecdotes that kind of explains how much she helps me is just before Worlds last year we were pre-riding the course one last time before the race, and that was like maybe 30 minutes before the race. I was just following her and I’m trying to not be too much of a pain and not be in her way because I knew she had big goals for that race, and I didn’t want to mess up her preparation. I was just following her around and some point she stopped on the side and is like, “Hey Maghs, stop on the side,” so I said, “Okay.” So I stopped and she’s like, “Did you see how I got like two meters on you on that corner?” and I was like, “Yeah.” So she said, “Let’s do it again. You have to keep pedaling through that corner and just make sure you keep pedaling because your wheel still has traction.”
Then we did it again. I was like, man, the race is in like 30 minutes and she has a chance to win, and she still takes the time to show me around. She’s just kind of awesome in that way. It was kind of precursor. That Worlds race kind of set the tone for the 2017 season, I think you’re right.
CXM: That’s actually a good segue into the Cyclocross Fever thing. Are you feeling kind of that same desire to help out young riders? Are there any other chances you’ve had to work with younger riders on getting better?
MR: I told you my boyfriend is also my coach, but he also coaches a young Canadian rider. Her name is Ruby West, and she races for the Cannondale Cyclocrossworld Devo team. Ruby and I are pretty good friends. It’s been pretty cool riding and training with her. Just for the preparation before Worlds, she came over to our house in Tucson for three weeks just to prepare for Worlds together. It’s been pretty fun. She’s super-receptive. Sometimes I am hesitant because I don’t want to give too much information because she’s already pretty good and we’re kind of competing, but I think it’s a really healthy and friendly competition. I’m trying to help her out as much as I can. Every chance that I can, I do a couple of clinics here and there. For a long time, I felt like I wanted to help out in a certain way, but I couldn’t really figure out how.
I guess the Cyclocross Fever grant, the way it’s done, the Clif Pro Team was really supportive of it. I feel like so many people helped me out during my years of starting to race, and people still help me out, so I felt it was still my turn to help out a little bit.
CXM: Anytime anyone does anything to support Junior cycling, we love to help out. If this goes well and you have other plans for reaching out to Junior cyclists or you know of other women looking to do so, let us know. My boss was up at Montana Cross Camp and he interviewed all the Juniors there and it was just so awesome to hear their responses. Kind of remembering what it’s like to have that love of the sport before life gets in the way.
MR: I know, it’s so cool. I’ve been receiving some applications for the grant, and it’s so awesome to read what they’re writing on there. For one, they’re super-passionate and you can really see it in how they write. But then, as you said, there’s no filter. There’s one that said, “I really love to hang out with my two dogs, Bill and Bob. When I’m not riding I’m walking in the woods with my two dogs. As much as my dogs love the woods, they love being at the race venue even more.”
And you’re like, that’s awesome. This is great. It’s just really really cool to read what they’re writing on there.
CXM: I can only imagine what it’s like for you to see that excitement.
MR: It’s great.
CXM: I like how you billed it as “the intern.”
MR: That’s how it is. She’s going to be an intern on the team and maybe one day we will be real teammates. It’s fun.
CXM: Sweet. Take care good luck with your training and we’ll see you in Waterloo and Iowa City.
MR: Thank you. Have a good evening.