American mountain biker Kate Courtney is looking forward to the challenge of moving up from the junior ranks to the under 23 ranks. The Stanford University student signed a contract last month with the Specialized Racing team for 2014.
"Joining the Specialized family has been a dream of mine for a long time. I have always looked up to the incredible athletes that make up the team," said Courtney, who is the reigning junior cross country national champion and a collegiate mountain bike national champion.
"After being on the Whole Athlete-Specialized development team for four years, moving up to Specialized feels like an exciting step and a good fit for what I want to accomplish in the future. With the support that the team will provide and the mentorship of my new teammates, I am hoping to make a successful transition to the U23 ranks."
It can be difficult for many young riders to make the leap to U23 or to elite ranks. The competition is tougher, the learning curve is steep and sometimes physical and mental maturity lag a rider's mental ambition, but Courtney is optimistic.
"Transitioning from the junior to U23 category is a very significant step in my career, and I am excited to start racing at the next level," she said.
"While racing in the professional category in the domestic races will definitely be a challenge, I believe that I can benefit a lot from racing harder and against more experienced riders. I am approaching this season with an open mind and reasonable goals and will be ready to enjoy this new racing experience and learn from the talented riders that I will be racing with."
In 2014, Courtney will target US Pro XCT races and the US National Championships as well as several World Cup rounds, including Albstadt, Nove Mesto, Windham and Mont-Sainte-Anne.
2013 was a successful season for her, giving her a good foundation heading into next year.
"I had an incredible 2013, and I am so grateful for all of the opportunities and support that I received this season. With the Whole Athlete-Specialized team behind me and the support of USA Cycling, I was able to attend many Pro XCT races, almost all of the World Cups and world championships in South Africa."
"For me, the highlight of my season was undoubtedly being called up first at the world championships in South Africa. This top ranking was a testament to a long season of hard work and consistent racing. I was only leading the World Cup rankings by two points, which really made me feel like every race I had finished and every spot I had fought for this season mattered and made a difference. Standing alone on that line was magical and made me feel as though I had earned that top spot with a lot of work."
Courtney is a rider who earned her reputation and success, in part, on the junior World Cup circuit. However, for 2014 and beyond, the UCI is discontinuing junior World Cups and switching over to a European-based series as the top series for aspiring juniors. Courtney commented on the change and what it might mean for the next generation of junior mountain bikers.
"I find it really unfortunate that there will no longer be junior races at the MTB World Cups. Racing a World Cup is a completely different experience than any other race, not only because of the rigor of the course and competition, but because of the atmosphere. For logistical reasons, I absolutely understand why they removed the event, but as a rider I definitely benefited from early exposure to World Cup racing and find it unfortunate that junior riders in the future won't have the same opportunity."
Read a recent interview with Kate Courtney, who is also a former NICA student-athlete.