At first glance, cyclo-cross and track racing appear to be on opposite ends of the cycling spectrum, but US cyclo-cross stars Katie Compton - a 14-time national champion - and Emma White recently attended a USA Cycling track talent ID camp to hone their form and test their skills on the banks of the indoor velodrome in Colorado Springs.
Both riders told Cyclingnews their presence at the camp was more about training for their primary disciplines rather than getting into track racing, but USA Cycling track endurance head coach Gary Sutton said he was impressed with both riders, and he believes White could have a big future on the track if she wanted.
Providing mentorship and sharpening the legs
Compton grew up racing on the track as a junior and has velodrome experience as a tandem driver on the Paralympic team, and so she couldn't pass up the chance for a week of training on the velodrome when USA Cycling's Kristin Armstrong extended an invitation.
"She reached out to me during 'cross, just to see if I wanted to try it since they're looking for more Team Pursuiters but also just strong track riders," Compton said.
"I think she got me at a weak point where I was like, 'OK, sure. I'll do it,' knowing it's going to be hard because track, in general, is hard. Since it was in March and in Colorado Springs, it was just an easy thing for me to do. I find it to be really fun, and it's always a challenge. I just thought it would be a good thing to do, so I said yes."
Compton, however, was quick to add that she doesn't expect to get back into track racing anytime soon.
"It was kind of just to see where I am," she said. "I wasn't fast enough to do Team Pursuit stuff, which I kind of knew. I've been really good at 'cross, but 'cross suits me better than track events do.
"I mostly did it just for the training factor and the fun factor, and then Gary Sutton is working with the national team riders on the track, and I've always heard good things about him, so I was kind of just curious to see his coaching style and what I could learn from him too."
Sutton was equally impressed with Compton.
"For me, personally, you know I've only been here since the first of October, but it was an honour to have Katie Compton here," Sutton said. "I was amazed at how good she was on the track. Katie was the ultimate professional, just to see the way that she presented herself and looked after herself at the camp and committed. That was passed on to the younger ones when they could see Katie and how professional she was."
Compton embraced the role of an experienced hand providing insight, knowledge and a level of confidence for the younger riders who were brand new to the track.
"It's always a good idea to have experienced riders in the group," Compton said. "There was definitely a variety of abilities. I think we had some girls who had never been on a track bike before, some girls with more experience and some who are really good on the road or mountain bike. So it was a variety of skills, where it helps to have somebody kind of talk you through something while you're actually out on your bike on the track. I think that really helps sometimes."
A new discipline for White?
White has been keeping a busy schedule between cyclo-cross, road racing with Rally Cycling and completing school at Union College, where she will be a senior next year. Nonetheless, she showed a great aptitude for the track for someone who had never before ridden on the velodrome.
"I actually flew into the camp one day later than everyone else because I had a Rally training camp, so I definitely hit the ground running," White said. "But I really liked it and I like to think that I got the hang of it pretty quick. I don't know, Gary might think otherwise, but I definitely liked it. It was fun, fast-paced and everything. It's right up my alley."
"It would be fair to say at this stage that for me, Emma White has an enormous amount of talent," Sutton told Cyclingnews after the camp.
"She's still got a long way to go, but she was certainly one that put her hand up last week when you look at testing in the lab and her technique on the track," he said. "She'd never been on the track before, so I was very impressed with her."
White is currently coached by USA Cycling's Armstrong, who believes that track workouts are a great way to gain leg speed and strength for both road and 'cross. The inherent intensity of track workouts are great practice for sprinting and finishing races, and Armstrong has been urging White to try it out for some time.
"It's my spring break right now, and I got to do my Rally road team camp, and that ended and I flew right there, so the timing couldn't have been any more perfect," White said.
"Racing isn't on the table quite yet. It's hard to think about adding another discipline, so we'll have to see where that goes. I can't really say right now. It's hard to even think about it, but also with school, my senior year is next year and I'm definitely focused on that. But I had nothing to lose going to this camp and everything to gain."
White experienced a little beginner's jitters, jumping into the flying 500 metres and getting used to the fixed gear and spinning the pedals completely through the banked turns without the ability to coast, but she said once she got comfortable with it she started loving it.
"I kept wanting more, so I'm excited for the future," she said.
"On the road and in time trials I'm comfortable on the bike and being close to the person in front of me, but that was a thing that took me a while to get used to on the track because with no brakes it's hard to trust the people around you," she said. "But by the end of the camp, I got the hang of that, too. It's amazing how much different it is."
The technical side of the sport also intrigued the academic in White.
"Every second - every hundredth of a second - counts, and that was really amazing, all the science and technology that's going into it," she said. "The student in me is super interested in that. There's just so much that can be improved with little tweaks. That was all eye-opening to me.
"I think that's what I liked most about the track is it's such an honest sport," she said. "You can't really fake any of it. You have to be so aero. You can't make any mistakes I like that. It's super cool. I have a newfound respect."
White also found another level of respect for the Team Pursuit, an event in which the US women are two-time and reigning world champions.
"Just watching the track team the past couple of years, I'm definitely intrigued by our Team Pursuit team," she said. "We obviously have the strongest team in the world right now, and I love the girls. I'm teammates with Kelly [Catlin] on Rally and I was teammates with Chloe [Dygert] in the past with USA Cycling and at our junior world championships.
"I respect those girls a lot and I love seeing them on the track so that one to me is really cool. I also like team time trialling on the road, so I think that's pretty similar."
For now, however, White will continue to focus on school, road racing and achieving more in cyclo-cross. But she may have been bitten by the track bug and an opportunity to compete with her current and former teammates at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. At just 20 years old, time is on her side.
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