Crankbrothers: Kate, congratulations on a great rookie season! Can you take us back to how your year began?
Kate Courtney: I did some things differently this year and took some risks. On my Olympic plan this was really the year to make a big increase in endurance so I did the Cape Epic. That was pretty brutal.
I’d never done anything like it before. The longest race I’d ever done was the Whiskey 50 which is maybe 4 hours, and it’s only 1 day! I think some people were skeptical about how I would hold up in such a long race. I took preparation for it really seriously so going into the first World Cup I was pretty loaded with training. It meant that first World Cup was pretty tough, but we knew it wasn't meant to be the target.
“Anywhere from 18-25 hours on the bike and then 2-3 days a week in the gym. I also go to yoga. And take naps.”
CB: What were your expectations going into the first race?
KC: I think it was interesting how my attitude changed throughout the season. At the beginning of the season I went in feeling ready for the jump and confident that I could make a smooth transition. That was obviously not the case. That confidence is important but maybe it was a bigger jump than I had anticipated. In the middle of the season I had a lull in confidence where I wondered if I’d be able to rise to the occasion but by the end of the season I learned so much and felt that confidence build until I started racing like I really belonged in the Elite Women's field.
CB: And after finishing 24th at the first World Cup, did any concerns set in?
KC: The week between the first World Cup and Cape Epic was challenging because I was really hoping that I had done the right preparation for the Cape Epic. I had to trust my coach in that time and he was confident that I was really strong and stronger than I’d ever been before.
Once we won Cape Epic it gave me a little reprieve in the season because I knew I had put in so much hard, high quality training. It was a huge block so after that I just recovered and then sharpened the swords before the next two World Cups. By the time I arrived to race at the World Cups, I had plenty of time to recover and also do some US racing to work on my top end. After that, I felt like more of a complete rider and more focused on cross country style efforts.
CB: Talking of training; what does an average week of training look like for you?
KC: It changes throughout the year. They are never quite the same. But on average, anywhere from 18-25 hours on the bike and then 2-3 days a week in the gym. I also go to yoga. And take naps. People don’t really notice how much recovery time you need, especially once you hit 20 hours of riding in a week. The amount of time you need to spend sitting on your couch or sleeping drastically increases so that keeps my schedule pretty full.
CB: Refreshed and ready to go, how were the next two World Cups?
KC: The placings were great (10th in Albstadt and 9th in Nové Mesto) but I cared more about how I was racing and how my training was going. Those are the things you can control and track over time. The critical part for me in those races was that I was starting really well. I started to build my confidence and not get distracted by the talent in the women’s field.
CB: You mention the Women’s field. In 2018 it seems like women’s racing took a jump in excitement and was taking much of the limelight, especially the last two races to the year.
KC: Oh yeah! The women’s field is really competitive in a really awesome way. I think it makes all of us better but it also makes the racing more exciting.
CB: As the season progressed, did you start to achieve results more in line with your expectations?
KC: It’s hard to know. I was hoping to get one podium this year so being in the top 10 was a good step towards that goal. I was really excited with the progress and the consistency. If you’re up there every time, you can be on the podium. I was looking to make the jump to Elite definitively.
CB: Moving onto World Championships, what was your approach like heading into the race?
KC: Worlds is the best race to have your best race and also the best race to have your worst race. No one remembers who got 4th through the end, whereas a World Cup there are valuable points and a DNF can drop you 10 spots in the overall.
"My dad watches it every day. He texted me last night saying, “I just watched your race again!”"
CB: Were you a lot stronger in Lenzerheide than at the races throughout the season?
KC: I’d say that is only somewhat fair. At MSA I was in 3rd until the last lap and then got a flat and crashed twice, ending up in 6th. My fitness was not far off in MSA what it was at Worlds. I trained really hard through La Bresse so it made sense that I didn’t feel great there. I had an extraordinarily medium race in La Bresse, finishing 7th racing on my own the entire time.
CB: What were your goals heading into Worlds?
KC: I set three levels of goals. I have bronze level goals, which represent a solid performance I would be happy with. At Worlds this year, that was a top 10. Silver level was a top 5 and gold level, which would be my best possible performance, would be to get a medal. I didn’t really think about winning. I think I was just focused on giving it my best effort and executing each step of the process and race strategy. Some people have said I was much stronger at Worlds but I think I just had the pieces of the puzzle come together.
“This is very interesting, you’ve somehow finagled your way into the lead, and she’s definitely chasing you down.”
CB: How did you feel like the race was going throughout?
KC: It always changes throughout a race. At the beginning, I got into 3rd and I knew I had done my job of putting myself into contention for a medal. That course doesn’t allow much time to move up so it was important to at least not be out of the game early on. The most important part of my race plan was pacing. I thought of myself as a little bit of an underdog and just really focused on executing my race plan instead of getting distracted by Emily and Annika and how fast they were going. I never dug myself into a hole I couldn’t get out of. If you watch past races on the Lenzerheide course, you can see it is a very physical course. If you overcook that first climb, for example, you start to make mistakes and it’s really difficult to keep momentum over the rocks and roots. For me sticking to that race plan and being consistent in my pacing allowed me to stay in the game and ensured that when there was an opportunity I had the fitness to try and take advantage of it.
CB: Have you watched the race back?
KC: I have, I watched it once. My dad watches it every day. He text me last night saying, “I just watched your race again!”
CB: On the last lap you got dropped on the paved climb but then reeled her in on the descent and through the technical sections. Are you able to stay calm in moments like that?
KC: The honest answer is in those moments I just focused on the next step. When Annika dropped me on the climb I thought to myself, if she’s stronger than me today, okay, but the race isn't over until it's over. I have to keep pushing my absolute best pace because something might happen.
CB: How did you feel when you made the pass, jumping for joy or remaining focussed on the task at hand?
KC: (Laughs) That’s stressful to even think about now! For the next few minutes of the race I was just really focused on riding the best that I could. “Okay, this is very interesting, you’ve somehow finagled your way into the lead, and she’s definitely chasing you down so if you want to be the best in the world you have to ride like you deserve it.” After I’d established that goal with myself I focused on executing it and I didn’t know at all where she was or how close she was until the very end. If you watch the video I look back maybe 8 times.
CB: Winning World Championships is obviously an enormous milestone in your career. Has it begun to set in now?
KC: It’s been really awesome. It certainly took some time to process. It’s a really big thing for me and something I’ve dreamed about my whole life but never really established that it was in the realm of possibility. I think it’s something that has given me a lot of confidence and really helped me reset this fall. I definitely needed a little more downtime to recover from this but I also think it’s really fueling that deep deep fire where all the best seasons come from.
I’m pretty excited about that jersey too.
Photos: Sven Martin