She's won four World Cup rounds, taken silver and bronze in 'cross World Championships and five consecutive US titles. Yet even with her vast palmares, Katie Compton wasn't sure she could race a full season of UCI World Cups this year since she was without a sponsor until Planet Bike stepped forward in August.
With the new team and a stable full of Stevens bikes, Compton will head to Italy for the first round of the cyclo-cross World Cup this weekend, and is focused on hitting all of the rounds in the series en route to the World Championships in Tabor, Czech Republic, at the end of January.
Compton was looking relaxed and lean as she took time out from a hectic Interbike schedule to chat with Cyclingnews about her upcoming season. Later, she showed that the peace of mind of having solid support is good for the psyche by hammering out wins in CrossVegas and both USGP races in Wisconsin.
"Planet Bike and [owner] Bob Downs have just been really great," Compton said with an air of both relief and excitement."We've been in talks with Stevens since February, and also talked to some other custom bike builders. But without a cash sponsor, we had to go with one of the bigger bike companies, who can do more support - and Stevens came through. They're great bikes, I'm really happy with them. The geometry is really good."
"We also brought Zipp on as a sponsor, SRAM and Dugast - it's important to have good tires!"
Another important factor for Compton is the support of new clothing supplier, Pactimo, who outfitted her with skinsuits as well as their thermal 'cross suit: something that might come in handy for those frigid winter events.
"The kits came out really great. I'm actually really excited to have some women's specific stuff that fits well."
At the same time her male counterparts in Europe are earning nearly 10 times as much as the women, Compton's experience at the top of the sport has been decidedly different. A lack of sponsors nearly curtailed her season goals when she was left looking for support after Spike Shooter pulled out at the end of June. After a few tense months, Planet Bike came through and now her plans are back on track.
"I had planned on doing a full World Cup season after last season, but that was kind of on hold until Planet Bike came through as a sponsor. Now that Bob's supporting us, I'll be able to do the full World Cup season," Compton said.
Even with her team, Compton and her husband Mark Legg do everything they can to keep costs low when going overseas. The bike sponsor was of particular importance given the high airline fees for traveling with bikes.
"Stevens gave me five bikes - I keep three in Europe and two in the US. Once they're over there you leave them there - but getting them over is a lot - $200 per bike." Thanks to lightweight wheels and frames, Compton said they can avoid charges for overweight bags. "We're not even close [to the 50-pound weight limit]."
"Once we're over in Europe our costs are really low. We have a host family that takes good care of us. They have a van, we have a place to stay - wonderful support. It's like going home and hanging out with mom and dad: they cook, clean, take good care of us. It's awesome."
The women have seven World Cup rounds this year: the first in Treviso, then in Nommay five weeks later and Koksijde at the end of November. The series hits a peak in December, with Kalmthout and Zolder coming toward the end of the month and then the build-up for worlds comes at the end of January with races in Roubaix and Hoogerheide.
Having bikes in both places is important, since Compton's season will involve several trips back to the US in between World Cups. After this weekend's World Cup in Treviso, she will return for a three-day UCI race weekend in Ohio where she will also hold a clinic on October 7 at Harbin Park.
At the end of October, Compton will take part in the North American Cyclo-cross Trophy races in Colorado before heading back over to Europe for the next World Cups. It's a hectic but carefully crafted schedule.
"It's hard to get everything in and do it well - I just have to pick and choose the races I want to do well in."
Take a deep breath...
Compton has to plan her travel carefully because she has found that flying too close to a race causes her to suffer debilitating leg cramps. But that isn't the only health problem that has affected her racing. This summer, while racing on the national mountain bike circuit, she had some frightening episodes due to asthma.
Compton attempted to race without her asthma medication while she was awaiting a Therapeutic Use Exemption from the UCI and suffered a severe attack that landed her in the hospital after a race in Alabama. She also had to withdraw from the US Mountain Bike National Championships while racing for a podium spot.
Finding the right medication and getting the proper paperwork for the anti-doping authorities took the better part of the summer, but going into the 'cross season Compton said she believes her problems are behind her.
"My asthma has gotten worse in the last year. I've been trying to play with the medicine a bit. I have used a long-acting and a short-acting [medicine], and I finally got the right long-acting medicine.
"I've always been good for less than an hour, my short-action inhaler works. But for the mountain bike races, I hadn't done enough at that level and that intensity, so I hadn't had enough time to dial in the medicine - I was using the races to dial in the long-acting medicine which isn't ideal."
Fortunately, cyclo-cross races are short enough that her asthma shouldn't be a factor, but looking down the road toward a possible 2012 Olympic bid on the mountain bike, it is increasingly important to control her asthma.
"I used the mountain bike season to find out what I had to do to be a better mountain bike racer, to do well at the World Cup level. I've always raced or ridden the mountain bike a bit and done local races. [I used this season] just to get experience and find out what I needed to do to train for it. It's a different effort than 'cross.
"I will only try to qualify for the Olympics if I think it's realistic. I was sort of testing the waters this year to see if it's something I can do, and I think it is. I had a good result at the Bromont World Cup [she finished 6th]. Now that my asthma is taken care of, I just have to dial in the training and I think I can do well."
In search of rainbows
Compton has come close to snatching the world championship title in cyclo-cross on two occasions: first in 2007 as a relatively inexperienced international racer when she took silver behind Frenchwoman Maryline Salvetat. In the 2009 race, she found herself in the unenviable position of having to battle Marianne Vos and Hanka Kupfernagel - both past champions - in a three-woman sprint and came home with the bronze medal.
She expects the same women to be her main competition at the worlds in Tabor, and will need better luck in order to claim the rainbow band jersey.
"To beat Vos, it has to be a different course. She's so fast in the sprint, she has an amazing acceleration. To beat her, you have to make her suffer and take the power out of her legs during the race, so by the finish she's either dropped off the pace or too tired to sprint well. Going head to head against her when we're both feeling well, she's going to come out on top, probably.
"Hanka is beatable in the sprint - it depends on who is feeling better that day and who had to do less work during the race. It depends on who played the race the smartest with her.
"We can't forget Daphny [van den Brand] - she's always really strong. She struggled at worlds, but there's going to be a year she comes out and has a good race.
"It depends on the conditions - whether it snows, or rains, or if it's just cold and frozen. I hope it's muddy - it's a tough, technical course and I think there's some climbing. But you can prepare for any condition - whoever races the smartest is going to come out on top."
The World Cups are still a goal, and Compton is hoping to find success again on her favourite courses in Roubaix and Koksijde.
"Roubaix is such a classic finish, obviously from Paris-Roubaix, and the velodrome is just classic. The course is really fun. Then Koksijde, too - I like the sand.
"They're two very different courses, but mud skills and sand skills are very similar - you need a lot of power and some good skill to get through it. So if you know how to ride the mud, sand comes along pretty easy. Koksijde has a lot of running, and that's always a challenge for me, but I'm getting better at it. Hopefully it won't be so painful this year."
Compton's first World Cup race takes place this Sunday in Treviso, Italy.