Emma White to forgo cyclo-cross season for track focus

The USA Cycling Pro Road Championships last week in Tennessee provided plenty of headline-grabbing results, from Coryn Rivera's road race win after coming second three times, to 43-year-old Amber Neben's repeat performance in the time trial, and relative unknown Leigh Ann Ganzar's surprise triumph in the criterium.

Riding consistently beneath those headlines, however, was 20-year-old Emma White (Rally Cycling), who claimed a clean sweep of the U23 titles, which took place with the elite women but were scored separately.

Along with her U23 results, White also finished third among the elites in the road race and time trial. She just missed the elite podium in the criterium, winning the field sprint for fourth after a trio of riders sneaked away on the penultimate lap.

In all, White spent more time on podiums last week in Tennessee than any other rider - by far - and she added three more championship jerseys to her already impressive collection, which - going back to her first junior cyclo-cross championship in 2010 - now adds up to at least 13.

So far all of White's jerseys have come in cyclo-cross and on the road, but now she's setting her sights on the track as well.

The 20-year-old from Delanson, New York, announced today via social media that she's forgoing the upcoming cyclo-cross season to focus on the USA track squad with hopes of earning a spot with the reigning Team Pursuit world champions at the 2020 Olympics Games in Tokyo.

Emma White takes part in the USA Cycling track talent ID camp in April

Chasing Olympic gold

White got her first taste of the track in April when personal coach Kristin Armstrong and USA Cycling track endurance head coach Gary Sutton convinced her to attend a talent ID camp in Colorado Springs along with several other riders from different disciplines.

Sutton raved about White's potential after the camp, especially for a rider who had never been on the track before, while White admitted she enjoyed the speed, science and technology involved with her new challenge. An increased focus on the track and stepping up into racing didn't seem too far off at the time.

Over the ensuing months, Sutton told White he was looking for riders for the next couple of years leading up to the Olympics, and he believed White had the right stuff to be a part of USA Cycling's run at Olympic gold after the team lost out to Great Britain in the Team Pursuit in 2016.

"That was kind of hard to wrap my head around," she told Cyclingews Tuesday evening. "I still can't believe that's an opportunity, but it's possible.

"The Olympics has always been a dream since I was a kid; it's been a recurring goal of mine. So if I have an opportunity to get there, I want to see what's down that road."

The commitment to the pre-Olympic track program comes with just one drawback for White, who is also a student at Union College. It means she'll have to forgo the 'cross season and focus on the upcoming UCI Track World Cup series that starts in October and runs through the heart of cyclo-cross season.

That's a hard barrier to clear for a rider who cut her teeth on the New England cyclo-cross scene, where she's raced over the past six years on the Cyclocrossworld-Cannondale team with her brothers Curtis and Harrison. For the current American U23 'cross champion, the 'cross community is family - both literally and figuratively.

"I have nothing but the utmost love for cyclo-cross," she said. "It's so much fun and that's what got me into cycling to begin with. When I think about it, I think about my family and weekend trips.

"That will never go away, but the Olympic draw is pretty tempting," she said. "After hearing I have a fairly good chance at making the team, that's something that I couldn't turn down. It was a big decision, but I'm looking forward to it."

White said she's also looking forward to returning to 'cross racing once her Olympic pursuits allow it, but her return will have to wait until after the Tokyo games at least.

"We'll see what happens after that," she said. "I know I will at some point. Whether that is two, three or 20 years, I will return because it's fun. It's just something that I love to do, and I love the New England scene of cyclo-cross, especially my Cannondale family. I was on that team since 2012, and they really helped me grow into the person that I am, let alone the cyclist.

"It definitely is a family," she added. "They've supported me so much, and with this decision they've supported me so much. That's all I can ask for. It's really been a great experience, and I wouldn't trade it for anything."

Emma White (Cannondale) battles Ellen Noble (Aspire Racing) on the US cyclo-cross circuit

Sweeping roads in Knoxville

White's performance last week at nationals was dominant among her U23 competitors, which admittedly lacked Twenty20-Sho Air's Chloe Dygert while she recovers from a concussion suffered in May at the Amgen Women's Race.

Nevertheless, White shined in all three disciplines, starting with her podium performance in the elite individual time trial. Her third place overall, 38 seconds behind winner and defending champion Amber Neben, was more than two minutes better than the next U23 rider.

In the following night's criterium, White narrowly missed the elite podium, winning the bunch sprint for fourth ahead of Rivera after a three-rider breakaway got away at the end of the race and upset the favourites. The next-best U23 was Skylar Schneider in a close sixth, followed by Daniele Morshead in 12th.

In Sunday's 114.7km road race on the lumpy Knoxville course in hot, humid conditions, she again stuck with the very best to the finale, where in a reduced-bunch sprint she finished one second behind winner Rivera and runner-up Megan Guarnier, a two-time champion.

"I definitely had high hopes for the U23 races, and I've been working hard all year," she told Cyclingnews Sunday in Knoxville following the awards ceremony. "I also had high hopes for the elite category. I'm really, really happy with three top fives, two podiums. I don't think I could ask for more."

After a brief stop in Colorado Springs to work out on the track with USA Cycling's Sutton, White will hit the road again next month at the Chrono Kristin Armstrong in Boise, Idaho. From there she'll head overseas with Rally for a block of European racing.

"I go over about once a year," she said. "I've done junior World Championships, of course, and then had a couple of trips with USA Cycling in the past couple of years. I don't spend too much time over there, but I like to go over at least once a year and race a couple races. It' so much different. It's really fun. They race differently over there, so it's good."

White said she's looking forward to returning to Knoxville next year and stepping up a few spots on some of the elite podiums, but her goals for road racing don't end with an elite stars-and-stripes jersey, either. She also dreams of Olympic glory on the road and fighting it out with the world's best in the European peloton in WorldTour races across the Atlantic.

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Growing up in Missoula, Montana, Pat competed in his first bike race in 1985 at Flathead Lake. He studied English and journalism at the University of Oregon and has covered North American cycling extensively since 2009, as well as racing and teams in Europe and South America. Pat currently lives in the US outside of Portland, Oregon, with his imaginary dog Rusty.