For readers who missed Quinn Welsch’s article in the spring issue of Mount Baker Experience, cyclocross is the fanatical love child of road biking and mountain biking. It pits racers against each other and themselves in an “hour of power” that tests the limits of their endurance and bike handling skills on a 2 or 3-mile circuit with obstacles. It’s a hell of a good time for both racers and spectators, with a tight-knit following that loves to party. That might help explain why cyclocross is the fastest growing discipline in cycling.
Since turning pro two years ago, Northwest Washington native Courtenay McFadden has rapidly gained elite status in the cyclocross world, with consistent top-10 finishes in national races. Her racing took her to Belgium last year, where she participated in races put on by the International Cycling Union (UCI). McFadden took a moment out of her busy pre-season routine to chat with MBE.
MBE: Tell us a little about yourself.
CM: I am 29, I live in Bellingham and I grew up on Mercer Island. I came up to Bellingham when I went to Western and then just never left. I started racing cross in about 2010. Did the local stuff, and then in 2012 ventured down to Vegas during Interbike and did the big cross race there, Cross Vegas. It was right after I got married and I thought it would be fun to go and race against a bunch of pros and see how it would go. I ended up doing really well, and that kind of started my venture.
In 2012, I started racing some of the bigger races in the U.S. Last year I decided to do it again. I knew I was having a great season last year; I finished almost all of my races in the top 10, I went and raced in Europe for a couple of weeks and that’s kind of where I’m at now. I’m looking forward to the upcoming season.
MBE: Cross is a mix between road biking and mountain biking. Which discipline do you relate to more?
CM: I started out road racing, and I got into mountain biking after I started doing cross and have been slowly transitioning over to mountain biking. I don’t really enjoy road racing anymore, so I definitely prefer mountain biking. I do a lot of training on the road, because it’s good for endurance fitness, but mountain biking is good for skills and handling. So I think it’s good to have a good blend of both.
MBE: Describe your training regimen.
CM: Throughout the year it goes in cycles. In the beginning of the year it’s a lot of base miles. Just riding, and nothing too intense. As the year progresses, I’ve been adding a lot more interval training, with cross-specific intervals. The race for women is anywhere between 40 and 50 minutes, so you want to find intervals that are going to equate to racing the best.
Cross requires other skills - dismounting, mounting, bike handling and running. Running is big. I think it’s important to get at least a day of running into your training because you might be going through six inches of mud where it’s faster to run than it is to ride. I’ll do stair sets during a run to build that strength. Going up stairs with your heart beating 185 beats per minute, then getting on your bike and going is a really hard effort. If you can gap somebody on the stairs or on a hill, it’s really advantageous, especially if you’re efficient at getting back on your bike. So it’s good to have handful of skills other than just pedaling.
MBE: What’s your favorite thing about cyclocross?
CM: I love everything. It’s just a silly good time. I love the intensity and that it’s really hard, but it’s so fun. I did my first race and I think I crashed about five or 10 times but I had a smile on my face. I was like, “That was the most fun I’ve ever had on a bike. I need to do that again.”
I think no matter what level you’re at, it’s a fun event. It’s kind of an all day thing if you choose to make it that way. There’s a big sense of community in the sport, which is what I really like, and I think that keeps drawing me back to it.
All the people I’ve met through the sport are my friends now and you look forward to seeing everybody at race weekends. It’s just a nice sense of community and family – a great way to meet people. Everybody supports each other, everybody hangs out together.
If you were to go to a local race you’d see people with all their tents lined up next to each other, and everybody just hanging out for the day, maybe people barbequing, drinking beer and just having fun.
MBE: Where have you raced?
CM: I have raced in Wisconsin, Colorado, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Kentucky, Iowa, California, Oregon, Washington obviously… I also raced in Belgium for two weeks last year.
MBE: What’s your favorite series here in the NW?
CM: I would say my favorite, which has been disbanded now, was the Seattle Series. They no longer exist because of some politics. The people who did it stemmed off their own race series called Cross Revolution. It will be interesting to see how that series goes.
Of course the races that Ryan Rickerts puts on in Bellingham for the Cascade Cross series are always a good time. He puts together really fun courses. I probably won’t do too much local racing this year just because I’ll be traveling to UCI sanctioned races. We’ll see how the season unfolds, but I was counting up my seasons and laughing because between September 10 and December 10, I’ll only be home for three weekends. My husband also races, so he’ll probably do most of the local races.
MBE: What’s your racing setup?
CM: I’ll be riding the Rock Lobster frames; I rode for their team last year. I’m riding American Classic wheels, Clement tires and the new SRAM force CX1.
MBE: Have any of your cross athlete friends inspired you or helped you out along the way?
CM: Yeah, I’ve made a lot of friends who have helped me out along the way. I would say the person who has helped me the most has been Nicole Duke. She’s just been super supportive. I met her a couple years ago briefly and then we reconnected last year on the east coast. She’s really helped me put together my own program, helped put me in touch with contacts, helped guide me in the right direction and shown me what I needed to look for and what I had to do.
MBE: Does cross culture differ greatly on the east coast from the northwest? Are there different flavors wherever you go?
CM: I would say the culture behind it, cross culture, is going to be kind of the same wherever you go because it’s going to attract the same type of people, but over on the east coast there’s definitely a bigger pro scene. There are a ton of UCI races there. We really don’t have a well-developed UCI scene on the west coast. To put on a UCI race is a lot of money, so I don’t blame promoters for not wanting to do it, but it would be helpful for UCI racers on the west coast to have
The UCI also places certain restrictions on courses. The course has to be a certain width to allow for passing, whereas promoters for unsanctioned races can do whatever they want. They might put in two minutes of single-track, which would never be allowed in a UCI race.
MBE: When is your first race of the
CM: My first race is Cross Vegas on September 10. From there it will be a huge whirlwind of a season, but I’m excited. Nationals are at the end of the season in mid-January. I’m definitely looking forward to it.
MBE: Good luck, Courtenay! x