You return to the US after a busy World Series schedule and complete a clean sweep of both the Cross-Country (XC) and Short Track (ST). Walk us through the build-up to your weekend and what being able to capitalize on those events means to you.
Well, I skipped Val di Sole [World Cup] to come back and just put in some training. The spring was super busy with racing and a lot of travel back and forth to Europe, so I missed a bit of training. I wasn't having super great races at the World Cups at the beginning of the season, so I just felt like I needed to focus a little bit and train. So, that's what I did leading into the race.
The National Championships
It was super hot, super humid, and unlike any conditions that I've ever really raced in – very different than last year's nationals. Honestly, I really didn't know what to expect. I knew that I'd had a solid couple of weeks of training, but the way that my early season had gone, I didn't really have the confidence that I had before. I was just there to do my best and trust that I'd prepared as well as I could.
The course was awesome. I was super excited when I saw it [because] it was really naturally technical for the first time (for a National Championships). I felt like it was a really big step up for the US and especially a Nationals course to have so much natural tech in there and it made it challenging; you really had to know how to handle your bike on those long descents. For the race, I mean it’s Nationals – there's a title on the line, so I feel like your pacing strategies and all of that kind of go out the window and race with your heart more than anything.
Kate [Courtney] and I kind of took a gap from the first lap and we were battling back and forth.
She would get a little bit of distance on me on the climbs but then I would always bring it back on that long descent and I knew that if I could keep it between like 15 to 20 seconds by the top of the final climb that I could bring it back on the descent. So that was kind of my strategy [but] I was focusing on just being really present and balanced on my bike and riding well. Also, fueling, hydrating, and cooling because it was super hot. I think in those conditions, if you let that get ahead of you then you can't ever get back on top of it.
Then, it came down to the last lap.
She had a bit of a gap on me by the top of the final descent, then I brought it back about halfway down the descent and made a couple of mistakes where she actually got another five bike lengths or so and I thought, “It was over”. But, then I brought it back again and it came down to a sprint (which, as you know now, she won). I was so stoked to defend my title, but also to be feeling like myself again more than anything. That definitely brought a lot of motivation and excitement into the rest of the season.
What is your fueling strategy typically for an XC race and did you change anything up given the conditions?
I kept it the same as I always do. During the week leading into the race I was really on top of hydration and electrolytes, maybe a little bit more than a race where it wouldn't be so humid. Just in training, I noticed that I was sweating so much and that it was just a little bit out of the norm. During the race, I kept it all the same. I used NEVERSECOND gels for my race with the hydration in the bottles. It was really hard to eat during this race, but the drinking I could do and the laps were long.
So before I was thinking like, “I might want to have a full bottle of water”. Normally, I will take half [bottles] or something but for this, I filled that whole thing up and I was happy I had it. I just took one gel in the race but I start always with the caffeinated gel in the beginning, kind of in the first 20 minutes of the race. I think with the heat it was super hard to eat and you're just taking in carbs through your hydration. So it was, it was enough for me [with] being totally topped off the day before. In an hour-and-a-half race, I know that if I skip a gel, it's not the end of the world if I am fully topped off the day before.
You said you were just kind of racing off of like feedback more than anything. Given the course and demands, what was your strategy during the race? Did you have any specific tactics in mind, or did you adapt your approach during the race?
I would say I was just doing everything I could to stay at the front. I've been working a lot on my mindset and some mental strategies and I felt like this race was where I really executed what I'd been working on. That's refocusing throughout the race every time you're a little distracted or maybe your mind drifts to the competition or to something on the course or the nature of the track…just bringing it back. Also, racing [while] focusing on riding my bike really well. It's so easy, especially when you're racing with other people, to just be distracted by staying on their wheel and then you start messing up and not riding as well.
I was really proud of how I mentally raced it. I also knew that this was a race that was not over until the finish line because there were so many places to make mistakes and puncture. I was just really working on believing in myself.
You were on the road for a while racing the World Series, how do you manage to stay in a healthy routine during the busy racing months?
Yeah, that's a great question. I've been noticing the importance of finding ways to make those transitions from North America to Europe or from race to race as smooth as possible because there's just been more and more of it. I know that will just come with the sport. When you travel over there, you miss a week of training because you're trying to get over the jet lag and everything. So it's super challenging, but for me at least, it’s taking small things or little pieces that like make you feel like you're home [along] with me.
I actually have this Himalayan salt lamp that I leave in Europe because it has like a European adapter, but Cole [Paton] got it for me and it's so nice. It's so “extra” but it's nice when you're in this little hotel room at a race and you just plug it in, you set up your things, and it's like home. That's really important for me because I'm constantly in different beds, different places like every other weekend, and carrying a few of those little homey comforting things really helps.
Are you looking forward to taking the stars and stripes to the World Champs next?
Yeah, I'm super excited. The beginning of this year was tough and it's always harder when you're wearing the stars and stripes and you're having a rough time. But we have a nice like block right now (to train), which is unique because we normally don't have a block of no races mid-season like this. So the focus right now is just training and getting ready for basically August – October where we'll be racing full gas. I'm really excited to rep the jersey and hopefully come in with a little more fitness.