Words || Gary J Boulanger
American cyclocross racer Katie Compton has repeatedly defied the odds of European tradition by winning ginormous UCI Elite World Cup races on European soil. In fact, she’s the only American to win the cyclocross World Cup series, a feat accomplished for the second time earlier this year prior to the world championships in Louisville.
The 34-year-old Colorado resident takes great measures to hone her body and mind, but relies on her New Zealander husband Mark Legg to keep her machine and confidence humming. Compton has been involved in cross since 1999.
“I got started in college and raced a bit for fun then got more serious in 2004,” she told me earlier this summer. “Friends of mine encouraged me to do my first race; they told me I would be good at it since I was a power rider with good mountain biking skills. It turned out they were right and I loved it it from my first race. I just kept racing from there. I’ve gotten much better since then!”
Legg started racing cyclocross in 1995 after returning from racing the road in Belgium. Cyclocross was growing in Santa Cruz when he was living in California and he really liked it, starting on a Trek 520 touring bike converted for ‘cross. He’s been involved with ‘cross ever since, from racing to organizing a mid-week evening ‘cross series in Missoula, Montana when he lived there. Legg raced at the UCI Elite Men’s cyclocross world championships in Zolder, Belgium in 2002. The 45-year-old has been coaching cyclocross riders for the last 10 years or so.
1. Prior to amassing individual titles and podium finishes on the ‘cross bike, Compton raced internationally on the track as the sighted member of a tandem team. She traveled to the 2004 Paralympics in Athens, Greece, where she collected four medals and set a world record in the three kilometers pursuit along with her tandem partner, Karissa Whitsell.
2. Not much was known about Compton when she showed up at USA Cycling’s cyclocross Nationals in 2004. Because the Paralympics prohibits racers with UCI points from competing, Compton was unable to race in any race where she might win UCI points. Then, at ‘cross Nationals, she won the champion’s jersey and was hooked.
3. Compton suffers debilitating leg cramps caused by an enzyme depletion that can cancel race plans for weeks at a time. “I’ve been dealing with this since I’ve been racing,” she said in a 2010 interview. “I think my first episode was when I was 18. I deal with it all the time. I just think how much easier this would be if I didn’t have to stress out over my legs. I wish I could just train and travel like a normal person, but I can’t. We’re constantly trying to figure it out. We’re managing it better. I used to have episodes that would last three to four weeks at a time, every eight weeks. Now it’s down to once a year, or even every 18 months. It’s actually much better, but I don’t like looking at it that way. It still sucks.” She pulled out after one lap at the 2010 world championships in Tábor, Czech Republic.
4. No slouch on the mountain bike, Compton was also 2008, 2010, and 2011 USA Cycling Pro Short Track mountain bike national champion. For good measure, she became the 2012 USA Cycling Elite track madison national champion with Cari Higgins.
5. For all her top podium finishes, the nine-time U.S. national cyclocross champion has yet to win gold at the world championships. In 2007, Compton became the first American woman to earn a medal at the UCI Elite cyclocross world championships, grabbing silver. She’s earned two more silvers and a bronze since then. Former Rabobank teammate Marianne Vos grabbed gold to Compton’s silver in Louisville.
Compton has won 18 UCI World cup races since 2007. The Trek Cyclocross Collective rider has raced on several teams since her world stage debut, contributing key product evaluation to her sponsors.
“Mark and I love everything about cyclocross,” Compton explained. “The racing is fun, mentally, physically and technically hard, and a mechanical challenge. It keeps us on our toes since we’re constantly thinking about ways to get better and how to improve the mechanical side as well as the physical aspect. It’s not boring, that’s for sure. I also like the fact that the training is entertaining and different than just riding your bike since you have to work on the technical side (on/off bike) as well as riding through mud/sand and being able to run stairs or sprint up hills fast. I’m far from tired of cyclocross racing and feel I still haven’t accomplished everything I want to yet, so that keeps me motivated to continue working at it to improve.”