Chloe Woodruff didn't expect to find herself in the lead of the US mountain bike national series, the Pro XCT, this season. Yet she is there, topping the standings after three of nine rounds.
The Crankbrothers racer has had excellent national-level results in the past, but in 2013, she's been racing better than ever.
"It's been about consistency. In these first three Pro XCT races, everything came together," Woodruff told Cyclingnews. "I've had good solid races in each one. Consistency has been something I've struggled with over the years. This year, my equipment has been flawless, and my support has been flawless."
Woodruff opened the Pro XCT with a fourth place finish in the Mellow Johnny's Classic. She backed that up with another fourth at Bonelli Park and a second at Fontana. In addition, she won the Bonelli super D and short track events and finished third in the Fontana Super D and second in the Fontana short track.
She is a bit surprised to find herself in the Pro XCT lead.
"It's pretty exciting. That wasn't a goal coming in," she said. "This year, we've got so many Pro XCT races on the calendar. I think most of us will have to pick and chose certain races. It's neat how I've been able to make it work."
Compared to recent years with four, five or six rounds, this year's Pro XCT has nine rounds. Some elite mountain bikers have said in advance that they won't compete in the entire series, but will instead focus on the World Cups.
Woodruff, on the other hand, is going to make as many rounds as she can. "We're looking at all the UCI races on the calendar and they hold more significance," she said. "If I could get to every Pro XCT event, I will. Currently, I'm not writing any off right now."
Woodruff is aware that some of her competition has been absent from the Pro XCTs this spring. "I think some riders - due to 'cross Worlds - are starting their seasons later, so it's a great opportunity for me to be there and go for it." Others are only doing the UCI rounds or sitting out certain rounds to give them some more training and/or recovery time during the season.
Because there are so many Pro XCT rounds and all of them count, Woodruff hadn't targeted the series, but she values the results nonetheless. "I think some of the US Worlds team selection looks at the Pro XCT standings, so it is important and significant."
"However, I think it would strengthen the series if you were allowed to drop one or two results. Each one of these Pro XCTs are worthy of being on the calendar. It's exciting to see the Bump and Grind coming back. There's a race in Vermont this year. It's great to see more regional diversity on the calendar, but it would make it a better series to be able to drop a few."
When asked to name her competition for the overall, she said, "For the Pro XCT, I think any of the women who've been in top five or six could still win. Lea [Davison] or Judy [Freeman] or Emily [Batty]. Erica Tingey is riding well and is fifth overall in the standings."
Since joining Crankbrothers in the fall of 2011, Woodruff has been pleased with her situation.
"Crankbrothers Race Club has been phenomenal the last couple of years," she said. "They've allowed me to race and train full time. Both Judy [Freeman] and I are racing on the team again this year."
The more racing, the merrier
Not afraid to race frequently, Woodruff appreciates when promoters offer more than one event to a race weekend. "I'm always one to jump into however many events I can for the weekend."
Woodruff's consistency has shown up not just in cross country races this year, but across super Ds and short tracks.
While she considers herself primarily a cross country rider, the excitement in her voice is impossible to miss as she talks about short tracks.
"Cross country is what I focus on and train for. The other events are a great opportunity for the team and sponsors to get some more race starts."
"I've always loved racing short track. We don't have as many opportunities to race it as we used to. I kind of miss racing short track. I really want to win US short track nationals."
Getting to the point where she can win short tracks has not been a quick and easy journey for Woodruff, who has put in her time learning the ropes.
"For years, I've been getting dropped from the lead group in short track... since 2007. It's in the last few years that I've figured out how to stick into the last lap, and it's fun because I know I can win them now. It's been a fun transition. The last two races have been really exciting."
In the last race, Woodruff and Davison sprinted to a photo finish, although there was no camera. Neither racer was quite sure who won, but officials called the race for Davison.
What she has learned about racing short track is that "you have to race aggressively, you have to get yourself in the race. The key thing is that I've been able to get myself up there and get a feel for the speed. Every year I was able to hang on a bit longer. Certain courses suit me better... like the flatter, faster ones. It's about making the efforts count. Short track can be very tactical."
Woodruff is planning to participate in some World Cups again this year. She's targeting the Val di Sole World Cup in Italy and the round in Andorra. She'll also race the first two rounds in Germany and the Czech Republic.
"I've been doing more and more World Cups each year," she said. "The first time I did any was two in 2010. I did two in 2011. Last year, I did four."
"The jump is so massive in terms of the level of racing. Simply making the trip over there... there is a lot to figure out how to do. There are a lot of pieces of the puzzle... to figure out how to go over there and race. I'm doing going over there just for the experience. I want to go over and have a good race."
Not surprising for a short track race lover, Woodruff is psyched about the World Cup eliminators, too.
"The eliminators made it more exciting. Last year, I had a few top 10s. I just barely missed making the final round in Nove Mesto. Those are also something I will be racing in. I have a chance of being competitive in those two."
When asked if she'd like to see more eliminators in the US, where they are practically non-existent, she noted the practical difficulties of running such an event.
"There are challenges with the new format. In the US, we don't have the numbers to fill out an entire bracket."
In addition to World Cups and the Pro XCT, Woodruff is aiming to do well at US Nationals and other select events like the Whiskey Off-Road. Living in Prescott, Arizona for the summer, rather than her usual rest-of-the-year residence in Tucson, Woodruff is excited for the Whiskey event.
While some riders are having to sit out the big money, big crowd mountain bike event, the Crankbrothers team is looking forward to it.
"Our team is not registered with the UCI, so we aren't falling under the enforcement umbrella that USAC is holding some teams under. It is unfortunate that a handful of riders (like Georgia [Gould], Teal [Stetson Lee], Lea [Davison], Todd [Wells]and Mitch [Hoke]) are unable to compete in such high profile events as the Whiskey Off-Road. It can only strengthen the event and the impact of the sport on the local community to have them participate."
Before the Whiskey Off-Road, her next major event will be the Sea Otter Classic in Monterey, California in mid-April.