Top US 'cross racer Katie Compton had a rollercoaster of a season last year. Though she posted some fantastic race results, there were also plenty of setbacks: her mysterious leg cramping issue returned, her previously manageable asthma suddenly worsened (a particularly severe attack after a mountain bike race in Alabama prompted a trip to the hospital), and the sudden withdrawal of her title sponsor in June left a troublingly uncertain future ahead.
That has thankfully all changed now, however. Compton and husband/manager (and training partner) Mark Legg have learned to manage the cramping issue, she received a Therapeutic Use Exemption from the UCI for her asthma in July and has since dialed in her medications, and not only did she land both a title and equipment sponsor, she ended up with full support from Planet Bike, a new teammate in fellow American Jonathan Page as a side benefit, and a veritable fleet of bicycles from German company Stevens with three bikes stationed in Belgium and two in the US to ease travel and cut down on transportation costs – quite a turnaround to say the least.
"Everything crystallized in about a week," said Legg. "We went from having one sponsor and a clothing sponsor and then everything just came together with Planet Bike and then that same week we talked with Stevens in Germany. We started talking about geometry and US distributorship because it would have been incredibly difficult to be sponsored by Stevens but not have any bikes [in the US]. But that crystallized with Sinclair Imports and then suddenly we had bikes."
Compton's new full-carbon Stevens Cyclocross Carbon Team is one of the lighter chassis in the field at a claimed weight of 1,240g (2.73lb) – and a complete weight of just 7.0kg (15.43lb) – but Legg says the most appealing performance attribute is the forgiving ride quality mixed with very good drivetrain rigidity.
"This bike is super compliant. We've ridden on some really bumpy courses in Colorado Springs and in up in Golden and it's just amazingly comfortable," he said. "But the bottom bracket – you don't need anything stiffer. It's just super responsive."
The quick handling is also to Compton's liking with its 71.5° head tube angle, low bottom bracket, and relatively short wheelbase that fosters aggressive cornering and quick transitions from turn to turn.
According to Legg, "We have this one corner [at home] exiting a bridge under a bike path that we kind of use to test how well a bike handles – kind of the litmus test for how hard you can put the bike into a corner and we just haven't really found the point of how sketchy the bike is yet. You just shove it into a corner and it holds up. It's very, very reliable. And even when you put it into a slide, it catches really well."
Compton's equipment sponsorship situation also took a turn from spotty at best just a few months ago – even when she was 'sponsored' she still purchased a lot of her gear – to a comprehensive array of top-level kit that includes SRAM Red transmissions, VumaQuad cranks, 303 carbon tubular wheels and SLC2 carbon bars from Zipp, and Dugast tires. Carrying over are her familiar TRP EuroX cantilever brakes, Crankbrothers Eggbeater 4Ti pedals, Thomson stem and seatpost, and WTB Silverado saddle.
According to Legg, the SRAM sponsorship was perhaps the most pleasant surprise of the bunch. Compton used Campagnolo in the past but decided to switch this season and fully expected to pay for it since that was what she was used to.
"We went to SRAM and actually emailed them asking, 'Hey, can we buy this stuff? We really like it,'" said Legg. "And then we get an email back saying they'd like to talk about component sponsorship. I couldn't be happier; it's a dream bike."
A closer look reveals a few clever tweaks and modifications, too. We've seen similar pedals under other riders in the past wrapped in heat-shrink tubing or duct tape but Compton's pedal bodies are covered with an unusual gritty coating. So what is it?
"Super glue and Colorado sand and it works really well," Legg confessed. "We wanted to slow the foot movement down on the pedals and people have done that with duct tape and it doesn't last. [Without it] it's like standing on ice and you're forcing your lateral muscles to kick into action. We're not sure if we'll run the system for heavy mud courses – probably not."
Keen readers will also notice that Compton's VumaQuad crank is fitted with 34/44T chainrings – a combination that Zipp doesn't currently offer for its proprietary 4x110mm spider. Indeed, the outer ring is a custom bit specially made just for Compton by WickWërks and allows her to take advantage of the crankset's fantastically low weight while still retaining her preferred gearing.
Finally, to help combat the mud, Compton's bike is fitted with Gore Ride-On's new Professional sealed cable system, which it developed in conjunction with SRAM last year. But even here Legg wasn't content to leave well enough alone. Typically the gap in between the main liner and the nosed ferrule on the rear section of housing is closed off from the world with Gore's rubber 'grub' seal but he instead overlaps the pieces and wicks in some more super glue for a watertight bond – and a clean look.
The new gear and the various mods seem to be working, too. Compton put in a dominating performance at CrossVegas at this year's Interbike show (after having been on the new bike just two and a half weeks), she then pulled away from her Luna chasers for the win at the first two US Grand Prix of Cyclo-cross races in Wisconsin, and again crossed the line solo at this season's first UCI Cyclo-cross World Cup in Treviso, Italy.
So far, so good.