Katie Compton (Planet Bike-Stevens Bikes-Kenda) is best known for her exploits on the 'cross circuit but in recent years has been dabbling more heavily in the mountain bike scene.
Compton says she feels lucky that her bike sponsors, Stevens Bikes, can provide three distinctly different carbon fibre machines to suit any particular course – a 26" hardtail, a 29" hardtail, plus a 26" full-suspension rig – but even so, she still reaches for the traditional 26" hardtail for World Cup-type courses that feature lots of climbing.
"When it comes to going uphill, it's all about power to weight – the lighter you are, the faster you go," says husband and manager Mark Legg. "She's able to get out of the saddle and attack more."
As for the wheel size debate, Compton says weight is still a major determining factor in her decision on race day but also the differences in maneuverability between the two – and the full-suspension rig is strictly reserved for only the roughest of courses.
"I'm a big fan of the 29er on open trails and places where you can let the wheels roll," she explains. "Although, after riding the 26" wheels again, I've found that I really enjoy being able to toss the bike around and get through tight technical trails better as well as having a nice light bike for steep climbing. I feel I can accelerate the little wheels easier and place the front wheel where I want it to go a little better.
"However, I still have lots of fun riding my 29er on some trails here in Colorado and like the way it handles and absorbs rough terrain and breaking bumps as well as riding loose gravel with more control."
Indeed, Compton's 26" Stevens Scope hardtail is feathery light at just 8.34kg (18.39lb) – lighter than some of the road bikes used in Paris-Roubaix. But what's perhaps more impressive is the surprisingly conventional build used to hit that number.
SRAM comprises the lion's share of the componentry, including the RockShox SID XX World Cup fork, a complete SRAM XX group (with the exception of a KMC X10SL chain) and a low-rise Truvativ Noir World Cup carbon handlebar.
Thomson provides the Masterpiece seatpost and Elite X4 stem, WTB supplies the titanium-railed Silverado saddle, Crankbrothers' old-style Candy 4ti pedals are fitted to the narrow 156mm-Q Truvativ cranks, and ESI Chunky silicone foam rubber grips offer up a light-yet-cushy hold.
Wrapped around the surprisingly durable Stan's NoTubes Podium MMX wheels are the only major concession made in the name of weight: a pair of narrow and fast rolling low-knob Kenda Kozmik Lite 26x2.0" tyres converted to tubeless with Stan's NoTubes latex sealant and run at just 24psi front and rear.
Spoke lacing on the Stan's NoTubes Podium MMX rear wheel is a somewhat unusual one-cross driveside, two-cross non-driveside.
Other small touches include some bits of Colorado sand glued on to the shift paddles with cyanoacrylate adhesive to reduce the chance of slippage, and the omission of the upper headset cup cover to reduce the bar height. Why not just go with a flat bar, you might ask? Legg says it's because Compton simply prefers the feel.
"She loves the bend of the Noir Riser," he says. "She has a lot of problems with her hands and these seem to help."
After finding so much success on the 'cross bike, though, one can't help but wonder why Compton would even bother racing mountain bikes but it seems that she just wants to expand her horizons a bit – and interestingly, she doesn't think it helps her 'cross racing that much, either.
"We have to work a lot harder to be better at mountain bike racing and we still have room to go," continues Legg. "She doesn't find that mountain bike racing complements 'cross that well – 'cross is a lot more explosive, more power, more speed and you just don't get those elements in mountain biking."
That being said, she's obviously pretty good at it regardless, especially in disciplines that more closely mimic the pace of cyclo-cross. Compton won the US national short track championship this past July and in dominating fashion, too, lapping the entire field save for Georgia Gould (Luna Pro Team), Heather Irmiger (Subaru-Trek), and Mary McConneloug (Kenda/Seven/NoTubes).
Despite the success, though, Legg says mountain bike racing will continue to be secondary to 'cross. "'Cross is always going to be the number one focus because that's what she's really, really good at."