Head down, pushing the power © Matt Haughey

Katie Compton, head down, pushing the power © Matt Haughey

by Jamie Mack

[Update: Katie Compton, after pre-riding the course, has decided to skip the race and rest her legs for Worlds]

Katie Compton has had the most successful season of her, or any American racer’s, ‘cross career. Compton won her sixth consecutive U.S. Cyclocross National Championship and has a pair of World Cup victories to her credit already this season. For the second time in her career, Compton also has led the World Cup this year, a position she held since the beginning of the season in Treviso.

Unfortunately for Compton and all her fans, the leg cramps that have plagued her over the last few seasons returned just prior to the Roubaix World Cup this past weekend. The missed start in France means that Compton has relinquished her historic lead, but it also leaves her participation in the final World Cup in Hoogerheide and, perhaps more importantly, the World Championships in Tabor in doubt.

We checked in with the National Champion and found she’s facing the adversity like a true champion, looking to the future and relishing the site of Katerina Nash taking her first World Cup victory in Roubaix. Regardless of her ability to race, Compton told Cyclocross Magazine, “I’ll be there watching and cheering from the sidelines. As hard as it is to watch a race I should be racing, it was pretty fun to watch Katerina win last weekend. Even though she’s Czech, I still see it as a win for North America.”

Through all the races this season, Compton and husband Mark Legg-Compton have been working with changes in the travel routine, riding schedule and race prep in order to manage her leg cramping disorder. Compton doesn’t seem to be dwelling on the missed race but rather is thankful for the races that she has made this season. “I’ve been battling the leg cramps all season and have been lucky to get this far,” Compton said. “I feel like I’ve dodged that bullet for many races and it finally came to a head now.”

The racing and travel schedule, added to a bout of bronchitis that Compton battled in December and January, likely began to tip the balance that she was trying to maintain. The final trigger for the cramps may have been the recent travel back to the U.S. after the Zolder Wold Cup, though they may also have been caused by a crash during a pre-ride of the Roubaix course. Compton recounts the incident, saying, “I was good after the travel back from the US, I was able to ride the day I got here as well as the morning of the pre-ride. It wasn’t until I crashed on the steep downhill that my legs cramped up.” She’s uncertain of the actual trigger though, and explains, “[I’m] not sure if it was from the trauma of the crash or the travel, but either way, it was too severe to push through it and start the race.”

Compton has cited the cramping as the most stressful issue connected to her racing, but she and Mark have worked through the possible causes and had been managing the issue so well this season that it did not have an adverse impact until Roubaix. Through careful management of travel and training, Compton is dealing with the problem as well as she can while she and Legg continue to seek out a specialist with more concrete solutions. Previous episodes have set back Compton two or three weeks, and with the timing of this episode so close to the final World Cup and the World Championships, a lot depends on a quick comeback.

Compton is staying positive, telling Cyclocross Magazine that’s she’s still hopeful to be able to race this weekend in Hoogerheide [Updated: Compton will not be racing Hoogerheide as she rests her legs for Worlds]. She remains focused on Tabor and is optimistic that the cramping issue will have passed by then. Given the time away from the bike, the only question will be how much of Compton’s World-Cup-leading form remains.

Compton is not training right now, taking time to rest and seek out doctors in Belgium that may have some answers. Massage and stretching are also part of the recovery routine as she works to get back on the bike. With all that she has learned about the disorder, and herself, through these episodes, Compton’s hopeful that the bronchitis may have been a blessing in disguise, and she’s optimistic that the recovery time of this occurrence will be shorter. “Generally my cramping is a direct correlation to the amount of days of intensity I have prior to the onset of the cramping, and I was only able to do two hard days in that two-week period, so that may be a blessing in disguise.”

As the nation’s top hope for a rainbow jersey, Compton handles both the pressure and setbacks with optimism and a realistic view. It’s clear, though, that after her best season ever, she shares the rest of the nation’s dream that she can bring back a Worlds title after two podiums in the last three years. But in 2008, she could only complete half a lap due to the leg cramps. To have that dream disrupted by her cramps again would be a major disappointment that would be all too familiar.