Kat Carroll is embarking her fourth year as professional rider, and once again in 2009 will race with the TIBCO team in North America and with the US National Team in Europe.
As as member of the U.S. National Team, the 28-year old Carroll has won sprint jersey titles at the Tour of New Zealand, Tour de Berne and Tour de Ardèche. She also finished 2nd in Stage 7 of the grueling Tour de l’Aude and won a stage at Tour de Ardèche in an 80 mile solo breakaway. Racing last year for what would become Aaron’s last season, Carroll won the Charlotte Criterium, Stage 1 of Redlands and was on the podium 11 times in UCI and NRC races. As a strong sprinter and equally strong climber, Carroll can play many cards in both one-day and stage races.
I caught up with Kat the day before the flew to Europe for a short stint of racing with the US National Team.
This is your third year of racing in Europe with the US National Team. Tell me about your previous trips.
I got to do two trips in 2007, one was kind of a trial run where they threw me in and I must of shown some survival instinct because they brought me back in the fall. And so, I did a couple of one-day and two stage races at the end of 2007, the Tour of Holland and Ardeche. I did that tour in 2007 before committing to what was a semi-residential program that Carmen McNellis , Lauren Franges [now Tamayo], Alison Powers and I did last year.
Last year, I did three different trips, went to New Zealand and Australia which is not Europe but with that group. And then went back to Europe twice, once in April-May block and for the whole month of July.
Go back to 2007. What do you remember from your first races in Europe, what were the differences?
I think the general speeds are one of the things that are so much different than in the US. You tend to ride hard all the time and when it gets harder, you’re just going faster, there is not the big swing in speed like you might see in a US road race. And the spaces are tighter, the roads you race on are much smaller and so people are just riding so much closer than they do in the US. I remember coming back to Nature Valley last year after doing Tour de l’Aude and feeling like I could just move into any space I wanted because the gaps between people are so big, whereas in Europe, you’re constantly having to protect your space and move forwards, otherwise you move to the back so fast without realizing it’s happening.
When you went back in 2008, did you notice a difference in your racing? Did it get easier?
I don’t know if it ever gets easier. Didn’t Greg LeMond say that it never gets easier, you just go faster. So I think there’s a little bit of that, it wasn’t a surprise, the constant stimuli. Maybe I felt better but there were still times last year where I would have a great day one day and then just feel that I should give up on bike racing the next day. I think the conditions – how hard the races are – that if you have any weaknesses on any racing day they get exposed so much more. I definitely felt more comfortable and I know going into it this year, I know what to expect and hopefully how to prepare for that. I’m definitely encouraged going back this year.
How hard is it, both mentally and physically? And didn’t you just get married? Isn’t it tough on relationships?
Yes, I got married to my partner Janelle in October. There’s always the challenge especially here in California, there’s a 9 hour time difference, now that the time has changed, so that makes it challenging, just to connect and maintain your relationships back at home. There’s home and the comfort you have at home that you get to enjoy and then when you’re on the road, you try to create that as much as possible but it’s never the same. It’s just part of the job to deal with that.
Much harder physically, efforts on the whole are much harder throughout the whole race. Like the race that we did in Beaumont at Redlands this year, with the winds and the way the race played out, that ended up being similar to a Europe stage in terms of total energy output, but most stage in Europe are like that.
What makes it so different? Is it the depth of the field?
Yeah, I think the depth, you have lots of teams which instead of having a handful of riders with a support cast, have six riders that can win a race on any given day, and the riders are racing hard from the time the gun goes off. Overall the field probably is a little deeper and then those racers over there, another difference between Europe and the US, most of those girls are full-time, a lot of them are younger and they’ve been doing it for years. In the US, you have women that are balancing their career and family life. Typically we come into the sport so much later over here that even from a relationship, most women in the US are married or connected or have some sort of stable homelife – not to say that the ones in Europe aren’t married – but typically because we’re older and come into the sport a little later that it changes, it’s different for us.
At Redlands, I saw both the Beaumont Road Race and the Criterium. Beaumont was raced very aggressively and then honestly as a spectator, the crit was boring. In your opinion, does it hurt the sport when women don’t race as aggressively as they do in Europe.
I think that day at Redlands was pretty unusual, normally that’s one of the most aggressive crits that we do all year. I think the way that race was playing out, some people just were content to race for a podium made it all stay together. Our hope, and I know that Jim Miller’s hope, is that the more girls get over to Europe and get the opportunity to race in harder races and against deeper field then when we come back over and get to race with our trace teams such as TIBCO, Webcor,… we’re going to help bring the level up so that the rest of the peloton is having their level raised. It’s not going to be an instant process but even if you look at Redlands, if you look at the people on the podium, those people in the last two years have gotten a decent amount of European racing and so maybe it hasn’t trickled down to the top 10 or top 20 or the entire dynamics of the race but I think you can see that the people that are getting the experience in the tougher racing is paying off for results in the US.
Have you noticed a difference in the level or style of racing in the US in the past 4 years?
Yeah, I think it’s getting better. Every year is different and it’s probably a bit too early to say, we’ve only had one race and for a lot of teams that was their first race together for 2009. I know that TIBCO with as many riders that we have, the National Team experience and just the style that we have, we want to be aggressive, we want races to be as difficult as possible because I think that gives us a better chance to win. You’ll see hopefully as more teams come together that they are ready to race that aggressively and to have races be harder. I thought Redlands was a good race.
It was, I was just surprised by the Crit.
I definitely think that the level will continue. My experience in the women’s pro peloton has only been since I’ve been doing it and since that time, I think I’ve had a certain ascension or improvement so it’s hard to say, what’s the peloton and what’s me? (laughs) Is the peloton improving with me? I hope so and I think so but it’s hard to say, hard to separate it from my own experience.
Where do you think you’ve improved the most?
It’s hard to say. Maybe I’m better prepared for the harder races. The harder it is, the longer, the better it is for me. Maybe if that means more matchsticks in the book, I can do more, I can bring more matches and still be there in the end, then maybe that’s the difference. At some point, you wonder how much better am I going to get a sprinting, time trialing, climbing and I hope I can get better in all those aspects but I think so much of it is receiving the benefits of the accumulated efforts and putting more miles in and I think that’s where I’ve seen the most improvements, just doing it longer.
It’s interesting. I remember when you started, everybody called you a sprinter. But you can climb, you can time trial so are you moving into a GC role and an allrounder. What are you?
I don’t know, Lyne, what am I? (laughs) It’s tough, in the US depending on the type of race I can be a GC rider, In Europe I see myself probably more as a one-day racer or go for stage wins in a stage race but it’s tough not one area has really jumped out. I feel like it’s equal in all the areas, equally strong. I was told ‘you’re good at everything but you’re not great at any one thing’ … ‘is that a compliment, okay, thank you’. It was an evaluation for the Olympic development program. I don’t know if it’s a good thing or not, but look at Ina [Teutenberg], it doesn’t hurt to be good at everything.
You get in a lot of breakaways. Did you have to work on that skill or was that natural for you?
I definitely like racing aggressively, something that I like with TIBCO this year. That’s good , it’s nice when you have a team that endorses that. I think a lot of it is instinct, a lot of it is trying over and over, I probably tried way more than I succeeded to attack and make breaks stick. You learn every time you do, sometimes the dynamics of the race are not going to let you, there’s plenty of times I’ve found myself off the front, by myself going ‘oh geez, I wish someone was here with me’, but that’s part of my job too because it puts pressure – I’ve been successful in some of the solo moves and now it forces the field to chase me and set up my team for something else. Riding off the front is a lot more fun than riding off the back, that would be the preferred spot for me.
What is it about these hard one-day races that you enjoy doing and suffering at?
Sometimes in stage races that are equally hard and grueling, you have different tactics that come into place, you have GC positions, teams having different goals. I think one-day races you just get to see who’s stronger and I’ve had some success in at least making breakaways, in stage races it’s going to be a lot more difficult than the one-day races. But I’m just anxious to see, last year there was a couple of times where I made the second group and sometimes you’re just happy to be there. This year, my goal is to make the front group and not just be happy to be there but figure out how can I put myself in position in this race. That’s the progression that I’ve been focusing on.
What is your goal with this block of racing in Europe?
When I’ve gone in the past, there are some days that you go ‘alright I can do this’ and then some days when you’re fighting to just survive. So I hope to have, if nothing else, consistency because I think I’m definitely capable of racing over there, I’d like to race consistently and to make it to the front group and see if I can pull out a result while I’m over there. I’d love to try and win a race. I would happy with a podium, depending on the race a top 10. It depends on the day and the luck that I have, the rest of the team and how it plays out. I know that I’m going to be prepared to ride as hard as I can and see what happens.
How do you get ready for these longer, more intense races?
It’s probably the work that was done in December and January, I just trust my coach and hope that I’m ready. The length of theses races is probably not much different that a Beaumont, between 100 and 130 kilometers, it’s just being prepared for the harder effort the entire time.
Will you be going back to Europe with the National team after this block of racing?
I hope so, the schedule is yet to be determined. I just take it one trip at a time.
How do you juggle both calendars?
Luckily the TIBCO management, both Linda [Jackson] and Jeff [Corbett] are understanding of the opportunity that we have with the National Team. It can be difficult especially now with the economy the way it is, and the sponsors definitely want to get the most bang for their buck and we’re definitely appreciative to have sponsors that recognize that us getting the chance to race at that level is going to make us successful, it increases our chances of winning races here so we get the leeway to go and do some of these races. I’ll miss the Southeast Crit Series which the rest of the girls are going to be doing, which I’m bummed about but there are so many races on the schedule and even if I was here I couldn’t do them all. You just have to say ‘I’ll join you guys the next time and I’ll be ready to go’ and you can’t stress about it because you just can’t make everybody happy. Luckily, like I said, the management is supportive and understanding of us getting this opportunity.
Lastly, what is your goal for 2009, in general.
I’d love to just help TIBCO to score a major goal this year. We’d love to win Philly [note- this interview was conducted before the financial difficulties were known], we’d love to be successful at every race we go to. I think we have a decent stage race team so personally, Nationals is a goal and making it to the Worlds Team and be able to contribute to the US success there.