While Katie Compton's domestic and international cyclo-cross palmares are better than any other American in history, both man or woman, this season she intends to cement her place in the sport's pantheon with two titles which have thus eluded her: the overall World Cup plus the world championship. Added to the mix is the special opportunity to earn the rainbow jersey on US soil as Louisville, Kentucky will host the world championships on February 2-3, the first time that they've been contested outside of Europe since their inception in 1950.
Over the summer Compton parted ways with the Dutch Rabobank squad and signed as the marquee member of the new, US-based Trek Cyclocross Collective, providing the 33-year-old American with the means to focus solely on cyclo-cross for a season very special for any American.
"I was just tired of doing mountain biking and 'cross, it was getting to be too much," Compton told Cyclingnews. "The mountain bike season is long, there's tons of travel and I didn't really have an off-season. I decided I needed to focus my energies on 'cross because I'm better at that. I'm ok on the mountain bike but I'm never going to be a top-level mountain biker.
"It was a happy parting as Rabobank wasn't getting what they wanted, they wanted more of a mountain biker, and I wasn't getting the support I wanted on the 'cross bike. I signed with Trek in August and it's been really good. I can focus on 'cross, train at what I'm good at and work at that."
As usual, Compton has come out swinging domestically at the beginning of her 'cross season, convincingly winning both days of the US Gran Prix of Cyclocross (USGP) Planet Bike Cup in Wisconsin, the Gateway Cross Cup in Missouri, as well as a brief hiatus onto the velodrome to claim the US Madison title with race partner Cari Higgins.
This coming weekend the USGP leader will contest rounds three and four of the US's national 'cross series at the Smartwool Cup in Fort Collins, Colorado, then it's off to Europe for the first two rounds of the World Cup, hosted by the Czech Republic: Tabor, October 21 and Plzen, October 28.
For her career, Compton has won 12 World Cup races, has worn the World Cup leader's jersey and has placed 3rd, 2nd, 4th and 3rd overall in the prior four seasons, but this season the Trek rider intends to capture the elusive overall title and for the first time will contest the full schedule to make it come to fruition.
"I know I can win it, it's a matter of doing all the races, performing well and being consistent," said Compton. "That's something that I really want to do, I want to have good races all season and win the World Cup overall.
"I'm heading over to the Czech Republic next week for the first two World Cups. So I'll come back to the US from the Czech World Cups, race a little bit in the US, and then at Thanksgiving I'll go over for the next World Cup and just stay in Europe through the first week in January. Then I'll come back for nationals."
Compton's base in Europe will be a familiar home in Kalmthout, Belgium, with her "second family", providing the support and stability needed for an extended overseas stint. "It's 20 minutes from Antwerp and a really good location," said Compton. "It's near Holland, I've got plenty of roads to ride on, and it's next to a huge forest to train in. It's really great for my skills and there's people there to train with."
Compton has three world championship medals in her palmares, silvers in 2007 and 2011 plus bronze in 2009. and on February 3, 2012 the eight-time US 'cross champion will have the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to claim her first world championship in the United States. Compton eagerly awaits the event.
"People think just because Worlds are in Louisville there's more pressure, but every single year there's so much pressure anyway whether it's in another country or not," said Compton. "Here we've got so much support. I don't want to say motivation, we've got plenty of motivation no matter where Worlds are, but there's so much fan support and excitement for it that there's such good energy. It makes you feel good, it makes you feel confident and it just makes the racing more exciting to do.
"I'm excited. I think it's going to be a big advantage, it's going to be fun and it's nice not to worry about the logistics of traveling across the Atlantic."
The woman most likely to stand in Compton's way of claiming a rainbow jersey in Louisville is the sport's superstar, Marianne Vos, who's won five world cyclo-cross championships, including the last four in a row, in addition to numerous titles and championships in road and track cycling as well. Compton has beaten the Dutchwoman head-to-head before, just not on the day where a world title is up for grabs.
"It's definitely hard, it's definitely a challenge, but I like that part - that's bike racing," said Compton of facing off against Vos. "It just makes you work harder every day, train smarter, rest and do everything right. If you have that person constantly pushing you, making you think 'they're training hard today, they're doing the right thing now - eating right, resting right' - it kind of makes you do better too.
"As much as I love winning races, I also know it's the fight - putting your heart, soul and emotion into it - that's part of bike racing. Sometimes it turns out really well and sometimes you're disappointed but I think that's part of why we love the sport so much. She's going to have a bad day at some point, I just want to be having a good day."