When you see Katie Compton (Planet Bike/Stevens) line up for a UCI cross race in the US, you can be sure of two things, first she will attack and second she will get away from the field to win. She did it in December to win her sixth US National cyclocross title, and she did it again at the opening weekend of the Greenware US Gran Prix of Cyclocross and at Cincinnati’s UCI3 Cyclocross Festival this year.
Make no bones about it, even though she is solo off the front she is still racing.
“You still have to focus.” Compton explained. “The thing is if I slow it down, my timing is off. Your turning timing, your exit speed, all your timing is off and it’s such a subtle difference from race pace to backing it down a notch so that’s when you make mistakes. And I need to practice going hard for World Cups. Even if I have a comfortable lead, I still race.”
And the fans love watching her. “People like to see it. And they heckle me a little bit,” she laughed, “but that’s fair enough, I like it.”
Following a knee injury sustained at the Mountain Bike World Championships, Compton had a slow start, for her, to the season – meaning that she waited a few laps before hitting the gas and powering way. Once she’s solo off the front, Compton is poetry in motion really, taking the correct lines around corners and over the sand, knowing when to press and when to relax. It’s a cross clinic watching her.
But what do her competitors think? They all agree, her presence at a race is good for the sport and is good for their own personal racing growth.
“I would like to race against Katie more because in the past, I haven’t been really been able to race against Katie,” Meredith Miller (CalGiant/Specialized) said while emphasizing the word race, “and I don’t know that I’m quite at that level yet either where I can still race against Katie. But having her at a race, obviously just ups the ante.”
Miller continued with a laugh, “Now I feel that I can be in a position where I could at least follow her a couple of laps before she drops me. Where you try to stay on Katie’s wheels as long as you can, and hopefully you stay on her wheel longer and longer for each race. And so, eventually you’re sticking with her for most of the race. “
Sue Butler (Hudz-Subaru) agreed, and added Katerina Nash (Luna) to the list. “I appreciate having the fast people here, it’s always better because you improve too. So having the top end people like her, Katerina, I never want them not to be there. It’s kind of an empty victory if you win without them here, it’s good because it does, it makes us all faster.”
It’s also about learning from Compton, and sticking to her wheel as long as possible.
“We all aspire to be able to race with her for many laps.” Laura Van Gilder (C3 Athletes Serving Athletes) smiled. “I think maybe some day we’ll get there. Obviously, there’s people who do if not myself. I respect it, I’d like to think that each time I race with her, I can improve. What would be really fun would be to just ride her lines. Like I often say that I’d love to be with the leaders to see what it feels like to take things at speed. Still obviously, I wouldn’t be a contender but just to be a part of that but I think it will come. She’s perfected the sport and all the best.”
Miller does approach a race differently if Compton is lining up. “I suppose if Katie was there, you know that she is going to be the one to follow, so really I’d probably be looking to see what she does more than trying to take the race into my own hands which might be a backwards way of thinking. But I think I would learn a lot from her just by following her, the lines that she takes, how she approaches different sections. I’m not going to out-ride her so I think I would learn more by following her as long as I could than I would be being in front of her. I’m sure it would push me more to be riding in front of her but then if she’s not at a race, that’s kind of where I would be able to take the race into my own hands a little bit more, be at the front and setting the pace.”
So what is like to race against Compton? Kaitie Antonneau (Cannondale p/b Cyclocrossworld.com) laughed and replied “It’s cool.”
That it is. Doubly cool for Antonneau who is not only racing against Compton but is also being coached by her.