Nash strikes balance between mountain bike and 'cross racing

Katerina Nash is the only original member of the Luna Women's Pro Cycling team still racing. The elite Czech racer competes regularly in mountain bike races and cyclo-cross and is in her 10th year with the Luna squad. Cyclingnews recently spoke with her to talk about her 2011 mountain bike season just as she was kicking it off.

"It's amazing - hard to believe," said Nash when asked about her longevity on the squad. "People ask me why I've been on the same team so long, but I say, why wouldn't I? The fact that I'm starting the 10th year, I think explains everything."

When Nash started racing in Luna colors, she was teammates with former world champion Alison Dunlap, Marla Streb, Kelli Emmett and Gina Hall.

The 33-year-old Nash has kept racing fresh and interesting by mixing competition in several disciplines: mountain bike, road and cyclo-cross. She's best known for the off-road disciplines, which she says compliment each other, but uses the road races mostly for training.

"At the end of the day, it's still about pedalling your bike," said Nash. "Of course, mountain bikers have an easier time jumping in the 'cross races and road races because we bring the skills from the dirt, but it's the other way around, too. Plenty of roadies come do 'cross races and mountain bike races. I think you just have to ride your bike hard and the technique and the terrain will also play a role."

"Cross and mountain biking go hand in hand. There are a lot of overlaps in technique," said Nash. "In 'cross you get to use tactics a bit more just because you stay with a pack a bit longer. That helps in short track or in cross country courses that have a lot of pavement."

Nash spends summers in the northern hemisphere racing her mountain bike in World Cups, Worlds and other major events. In the late fall and winter, she switches to cyclo-cross. That often means a slightly later start to the mountain bike season in the spring, compared to some of her competition.

"With cyclo-cross going so late, I essentially miss one-third of the mountain bike season. Sea Otter was my first mountain bike race back this season," said Nash, who finished second in the short track behind teammate Georgia Gould and third in the cross country. "There is plenty of racing to go. You have to pick your battles and Luna is such a strong team that I didn't have to go to the first few US Pro XCTs. My team gave me time to get ready for this mountain bike season."

Nash said the Luna team is concentrating on World Cups again in 2011 as it aims to repeat the honor of being the number-one ranked team in the world according to the UCI.

When she's not racing around the globe, Nash will do local races in northern California, near where she lives in Lake Tahoe. "I've done the Nevada City Classic, and I'll do some road racing - the local stuff - rather than travelling to all of the US Pro XCT races. I don't do the short track or cross country overalls any more. I go to races that make sense for the team. I'm trying to stay at home more and focus on the mountain bike World Cups."

During the 'cross season, Nash spends time in her native Czech. "I had dabbled in 'cross for a few years, and then I got excited to go race 'cross in Czech the winter before last because Worlds were there."

"I spend less time in hotels in the winter because I can visit family. It's fun to have a home cooked meal from mom and then go off and race," she said. "If I only raced in the US, I wouldn't see my family as much. It's a good balance."

2010 was her first time at the UCI cyclo-cross world championships and she finished fourth in Czech. She returned to cyclo-cross Worlds again in January 2011, when they were held in Germany, and won a bronze medal.

Given that she still wants to be successful on her mountain bike, she does not race a full 'cross season either. "You have to look at your schedule carefully. I don't do the full 'cross World Cup, but I pick enough races to get enough points and to be competitive when I go to Worlds. It worked out perfectly this year, I had the front row, and I walked away with my biggest race ever."

Nash takes her off season after the 'cross Worlds each year in February and March. "It's not your typical cyclist's off season. I do backcountry skiing for a month and a half. I was out on my skis hiking for about five hours a day. I get a good mental break from cycling yet I get a lot of exercise."

Nash loves to ride her mountain bike on singletrack and said she is looking forward to riding a "big bike" with lots of suspension around the trails near Lake Tahoe, when she's not off racing. "It's more suspension than I've ever had, and I'm excited to try that for training and local events."

Big bike or not, an event she won't get to do is the Downieville Classic, one of her favorites. It conflicts with the World Cup round in Windham, New York, in mid-July.

Looking ahead, Nash is the rare elite mountain biker who is not focusing on the Olympic Games. It's not that she wouldn't like to go, it's just that she's not emphasizing the Olympics as an objective.

"Maybe it's related to what happened with the last Olympics? - not making the team (in 2008). I got hurt and the only two weekends I didn't do well were our qualifications. But it's sport and that happens."

"I haven't made that commitment to the Olympics," she said. "Let's just say it's not my only goal. I enjoy just racing and trying to do well at all the events I go to rather than just picking one race far out in the distance."

Nash emphasizes finding a balance in her racing, and it may just be that poise that pays off and gets her to the Olympic Games anyway.

"I always say that if I happen to be at the Olympics, great, and if I don't go, that's ok with me. But then on the other hand, I'm the person who's been on the same team for 10 years and I'm probably not going anywhere, so chances are a year from now, I'll be more serious about it. I think I'm probably doing most of what I need to do to get to the Olympics, I'm just not thinking about it that way."

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Sue George is an editor at Cyclingnews.  She coordinates all of the site's mountain bike race coverage and assists with the road, 'cross and track coverage.