Katie Compton leads the pack © Matt Haughey

Katie Compton leads the pack at Nationals © Matt Haughey

by Matt Haughey

Katie Compton is the six-time US Elite Women’s National Cyclocross Champion and current UCI World Cup Cyclocross points leader. With the two remaining World Cup events and the elusive World Championships taking place over the next three weeks, Compton stands poised to not only take a World Cup series but finally best her previous second and third place finishes at Worlds with a victory. I caught up with Katie this week as she trained at home for her last three major events while also recovering from bronchitis. In this interview we cover how the current season has gone, what racing in Europe is really like and finally what it’s like to be the number one ranked cyclocross rider in the world while at the same time trying to make a living. This is Part One of a two-part interview. Part Two of the Compton interview is here.

You’re one of the most tenacious athletes I’ve seen race ‘cross – even if you have a two-minute lead, it never appears that you sit up. Is there a strategy at play when you go off the front from the gun and attack the whole way vs. some racers sitting behind a rival the whole race until the last lap?

It all depends on the race and how I am feeling. If I have good legs, I’ll keep pushing the pace and go hard the whole time regardless of how big or small my time gap is. If I am tired or have heavy, crappy legs, then I’ll sit in a little longer or wait and see how things go before I decide what to do. I like to use races as training too, so there’s no benefit for me to sit in and go easier than I want to if I have a lead.

I read about the unfortunate sponsor woes last summer, so I think fans would love to know: Is the Planet Bike/Stevens/SRAM/Zipp sponsorship carrying over to the next 2010-2011 season?

That’s funny you should ask that. We’re working on that right now since my Planet Bike contract is up at the end of January. There are some changes going on with the company so we won’t be continuing with Planet Bike for the 2010-11 season. We’re keeping Stevens/SRAM/Zipp though and are currently looking for another title sponsor.

World Cup racing in Europe looks pretty intense. A few weeks ago I was watching the World Cup feeds and noticed on some of the run-ups when you were neck-and-neck with Marianne Vos, she did things like put her hand on your headtube to keep you from passing her while running. While racing is racing, that seemed to be a little bit dirty tactics at play. Do you feel that European racers are any rougher on you as one of the only Americans at the front, or was I seeing typical rough and tumble World Cup racing action?

That actually happened at the race in Niel after the Nommay World Cup. Daphny [Van Den Brand] was the one to grab my bike and push me back on the run-up, it was a little dodgy but it doesn’t bother me. I move on from that stuff pretty fast since sometimes it’s just racing and not done to be dirty. Daphny generally isn’t that type of racer, so I don’t hold it against her. The Euro girls are generally more aggressive than Americans, it’s just the way it is over there and it’s nothing personal. There’s a mutual respect there so it’s just healthy competition.

Katie Compton, full speed ahead © Matt Haughey

Katie Compton, full speed ahead © Matt Haughey

As you go into the World Championships at the end of the month, do you expect to employ any team tactics with Amy Dombroski and other Americans leading you off the front the way the Belgians often team up to help their strongest rider in the Men’s Elite champs?

No, it doesn’t work that way with women’s racing at the world champs, it’s not like the Belgian men’s team that has 8 of the top 10 ‘cross riders in the world on the start line. We’re all pretty much racing for our own result and the team card most likely won’t be played.

Have you figured out anything more about your leg cramping condition? Like what the causes or treatment might be beyond always spinning a bit each day? Have you kept the cramps at bay all season?

I’ve managed the cramps all season and have been able to race around them. The problem will never go away, but I am getting better at knowing my body and how to change up my riding and race prep to avoid the issues. So far, so good this season. The cramping is always in the back of my head though and causes me and Mark [Legg-Compton, husband] the most stress of anything.

I’m always happy to see cyclists take up internet technologies like Twitter. Your Twitter stream is a great insider view on what racing is like, what your non-racing time is like, and how things are going. What made you start using Twitter, and what has the experience been like over this season?

I finally caved and got on Twitter because I had to, not because I necessarily wanted to. Mark actually signed me up and started posting tweets for me and then I eventually took over. I actually kind of like it now and enjoy following other people too so I can keep up with what’s going on. I find posting things keeps people interested in the sport and me, and I try to give people a little idea of what we’re up to. I also started getting tons of friend requests on Facebook and it’s just too much, so I decided to save Facebook for people I know and use Twitter for people who just want to follow what I’m up to.

Over the barriers in Portland © Matt Haughey

Over the barriers in Bend © Matt Haughey

How do you feel going into the Worlds this year? I imagine you’ll stay in Europe for a few weeks to get the two preceding world cup races in, but is there any strategy to ride the World Cup races any easier to save your energy for the Worlds at the end? I guess what I’m really asking is how important is winning the World Cup series vs. winning the World Championship?

I feel ok, not great at this point, but I think I’ll come around by the end of the month. I can’t race a World Cup easy in order to save energy for Worlds, but I do plan on training through the last two World Cups, as best I can at least. I need to get some good rides in prior to Worlds since I’ve been sick with bronchitis since ‘cross nats and haven’t been able to get any real training in while trying to recover from that as well as travel and race. The World Cup overall is still really important to me, but I really want to win a world championship too, so they are both important to win. I just need to get my strength and speed back in general if I want to win Worlds and also bring home the World Cup overall, so that’s what I’m trying to do this month.

I loved reading about the story of your paralympics tandem medals in 2004, and was perplexed and a bit dismayed about the UCI rules that don’t let you do it when competing in World Cup ‘cross.

They have that rule to prevent pros from jumping on a tandem and racing Paralympic competitions, it keeps things fair.

I can’t even imagine the logistics of racing across the Atlantic. So how do you do it? Are bikes shipped over or do you have Europe-only clones of your stateside bikes?

That’s always a hassle to get equipment where it needs to be without paying ungodly amounts of money to the airlines. This year, I’m lucky enough to have three full bikes and enough wheels to leave in Belgium and also have two full bikes and wheels to leave here, so we don’t have to bring stuff back and forth. The biggest issue is having enough wheels with a big enough tire selection on both sides of the pond so I have options. Zipp has been awesome this year in providing enough to supply five bikes with extras so I can leave wheels in Belgium and also still have a couple sets here for my US race set up. It’s tough when you have tubulars and need different tire options for each race. Hell, the Elite Men in Belgium show up with three station wagons full of wheels just for one rider.

Do you rent a house when you’re there for two to three weeks at a time? Do you always end up in the same central place or do you stay near the World Cup venues?

We have a family we always stay with in Belgium and they have the full race-day set up so we don’t need to take that back and forth. And when I say race-day set up, that’s a van with two tents with sides, power washers, rollers, bike stands, full support, hot water for clean up, heater if needed, etc. Pretty much everything you need to spend the whole day in the cold rain. We’ve also gotten very good at taking the least amount of stuff possible to get the job done. I have a set of light weight rollers that I travel with and they fit easily in a Pika travel bag with a bike. And we limit ourselves to one rolling duffle bag to check so we just pay for the bikes if we travel with them. We weigh all our bags before leaving so they are under weight or even and we don’t take much casual clothes, just wool stuff we can wear over and over again. It’s all about being efficient with the packing and taking only what you will actual wear and use. If we can drive to a race then we of course take everything we need and want.

Katie Compton through the off-camber grass © Matt Haughey

Katie Compton through the off-camber grass © Matt Haughey

How does training go when you’re over in Europe, do you ride with local pros or other Americans? Is it mostly road work along their bikeways or is it a lot of indoor trainer work? Do they have ‘cross parks or places you can hone dirt skills?

Mark and I do most of our training together and sometimes we meet up with some local fast riders for training, but that doesn’t usually work into my schedule very well. My legs are so damned delicate that I have to be super specific with the training I do when I get to Belgium and what I can do between races and travel. And that usually means that I do my own thing and ride on the road or go into the forest for training if the weather is bad. I don’t have a trainer in Belgium so I either ride the rollers if it’s raining and I have a recovery day or I suck it up and go outside in the cold crappy weather if I have intervals to do. That’s the good thing about the forest we have close to our house, it’s easy to pop in there for quality training if it’s raining or the roads are covered with snow. It’s also sheltered from the wind so that helps. And the forest can be super fun when the trails are dry so we do look forward to riding there.

Do you notice a loss of fitness when you go from Colorado’s high altitude to mellower elevations in Europe?

I live in Colorado Springs and I do notice a drop in fitness after spending more than 2 weeks in Belgium. I don’t think it’s the altitude though, I think it’s the rain and lack of hills that make me slower. I like climbing and the terrain in Colorado is better for training in general since we have so many options. I just get tired of riding flat roads all the time and need some variety.

I’ve spent a week in London before but as hard as I tried to adjust, I could never force myself onto Greenwich Mean Time. When you have an upcoming race, do you plan on getting to Europe a week early to begin adjusting? How long does it take you to feel good on the new timezone, and how long does it take to adjust when you get back?

No, I don’t even bother trying to get there early in order to adjust. I’ve found I do better if I do a “touch and go” and use sleeping meds to get some rest since trying to get on Europe time takes at least 10-12 days and then you just get super tired from not sleeping for 2 weeks. The first few days are easy because we’re running on adrenaline so I can race within that time, but I get slower and slower as those few days turn into five to seven to 10 days, and by the time I actually get on the time change, I am so damned tired from not sleeping well that I feel like shit for another week. It’s really a painful cycle. Even after my three and a half week stint there in November, we still never got used to the time change; as soon as I got back to the States after that one I fell into the US time zone immediately and finally started to sleep well again. Since I got sick soon after getting home, I was at the doctor getting checked out and he looked in my eyes and asked if I’d been sleeping well (the dark bags gave it away that I wasn’t), so he gave me some sleep meds and I’ve been using those for all the back and forth now and that makes a big difference. I can finally get some sleep when I need it. I think the lack of sleep for so long is why I got sick too. Your body just doesn’t recover like it should without the proper sleep.

Part Two of the Compton interview is here and stay tuned for a more in-depth profile of Katie Compton in Issue 8 of Cyclocross Magazine, just about to ship!