It is the first time the UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships will be held on American soil, and although Katie Compton has been a perennial contender for the rainbow jersey and is the season’s World Cup overall winner, she’s feeling remarkably relaxed and excited about racing in Louisville, Kentucky for Sunday’s elite women’s title.
Compton, 34, has struggled over the past few years with a variety of health issues, but says that since discovering that low thyroid function was behind many of her problems and getting her treatment dialed in, her sporting life has become much smoother.
Also contributing to her positive energy levels has been her new sponsorship from the Trek Bicycle company. “The equipment has been great, the support has been great – it has made this year go much smoother,” Compton said.
The result was a season on par with 2010-2011, when she was narrowly defeated in the World Cup overall after winning five rounds, and came second in the World Championships.
Speaking to Cyclingnews from her home in Colorado, Compton said it feels strange to be sleeping in her own bed just a few days before the race. “Normally we would be traveling for two days just to get there, but on Wednesday I fly for a couple hours and I’m there. It has been really nice – the weather here has been great for training and I feel rested and relaxed. Mostly I’m just happy and excited to race.”
Compton’s main competition comes from defending champion Marianne Vos, who got the better of her on the fast World Cup course in Rome, Italy. But Compton learned something that day by racing in second position – what it was, she would not let on before race day – but is something she hopes may give her the edge.
“I got a good start in Rome, and just wanted to go hard from the start and cause a split,” Compton said. The strategy was aimed at holding off her closest challenger Nikki Harris, and securing her mathematical advantage in the penultimate round.
Exiting Rome with no riders able to overtake her in the standings meant that Compton could skip the final round in Hoogerheide, The Netherlands, which was raced in a snowstorm.
“I was really, really happy that I didn’t have to go back for that race,” Compton said. “I don’t like that course anyhow, but not having to go over and race in that was a big relief.”
Compton says she will not only have to worry about Vos, who won that Hoogerheide round, but also two competitors with whom she is very familiar: the Luna duo of Katerina Nash (Czech Republic) and fellow American Georgia Gould. The three have gone head-to-head in the domestic ‘cross USGP series, and all are familiar with the Louisville course.
“Katerina has been riding really strong after recovering from her mountain bike season, and Georgia is always a threat. There’s also Sanne van Paassen [who beat Compton in a two-up sprint in the Tabor World Cup] - so there are plenty of riders to watch.”
What disappoints Compton is the size of the women’s field, which will consist of just 32 riders, whereas most years there are more than 40.
Especially strange is the fact that the French federation is sending only two riders, Lucie Chainel-Lefevere and Christel Ferrier Bruneau, while Caroline Mani and Julie Krasniak have been racing stateside and were willing to pay their own way to race.
“It’s sad that the French won’t include two riders who are capable of competing and were already here. The US has always sent full teams to Worlds, even though it’s expensive, and we have to pay part of it since it’s not an Olympic sport.”
The solution may be to lobby the International Olympic committee to include cyclo-cross in the Winter Games, something that might not come during Compton’s career.
“You never know,” Compton said, not quite ready to give up on the dream many ‘cross racers share. The competitions are already set for the next Winter Games in Sochi, 2014, but will she still be racing in 2018?
“If you had asked me that last April, I’d have said no way. But I’ve had a lot of fun this season – and I’m enjoying racing again. If it keeps on like this I could keep racing another four or five years. I’m not quite ready to think about getting a real job - I’m enjoying traveling the world and racing my bike.”
Come race day on Sunday, Compton will be carrying that re-found sense of joy on the bike to the hometown fans, hopefully to step up and become the first American to win a ‘cross world title in the elite ranks.