Katerina Nash on The Long And Winding Cyclocross Season

The Clif Pro Team is a professional mountain-biking team. And a darn good one. A storied history of world championship wins, world cup series winners, more world cup wins then you can count and olympic glory. Mountain-biking is what defines the Clif Pro Team. It’s what they are paid to do. It’s their bread and butter.

All photos © Bill Schieken except as noted.

But every once in a while, the Clif Pro Team shows that they have some frites and mayo energy to go along with that bread and butter. For instance, the team, as a whole, dominated the CrossVegas scene throughout that event’s history, led by Katerina Nash, who won the event five times, including the year it was the first ever Cyclocross World Cup to be held in North America.

CrossVegas winner. © 2015 Bruce Buckley

Nash, who started her professional athletics career as a cross-country skier (she raced for the Czech Republic in the 1998 and 2002 Olympic games), first announced her presence in cyclocross with a podium finish at the 2006 Gloucester Gran Prix where she finished behind Lynne Bessette and her then-LunaChix teammate, Georgia Gould.

Starting around 2008, Nash dominated domestic cyclocross winning more USGP and North American UCI races then you can count on your fingers and toes. She similarly dominated anytime she traveled to Europe to race. But don’t take my word for it, go spend a few minutes on her CrossResults page and take in the breadth and depth of the podiums and victories spanning the past 13 seasons.

In the 2019-2020 season, Nash came out of the gates on fire, finishing second in the first World Cup race in Iowa City and winning an epic mud-fest in the second World Cup race in Waterloo, Wisconsin. She also took control of the World Cup overall series lead. This early success reshaped Nash’s plan for the season from maybe doing a few events here and there, to a full-blown season-long campaign.

Will this be the last season we see from Nash with this type of all-in schedule? She’s not ready to commit one way or another. Instead, taking some time to recharge as she gets ready for the quickly approaching mountain-bike season. Before the cyclocross season faded too far into the rear-view mirror, I wanted to get Katerina’s thoughts on her accomplishments and memories from the season.

2020 Hoogerheide World Cup

Before the season started, what was your plan for the 2019-2020 cyclocross season?

I was hoping to do few events and enjoy the discipline without too much pressure or focus. Maybe one race in Belgium or so. I was definitely excited about the US World Cups. Historically, I have done very well at the early season in the US and always placed on the podium. Not always at both events but at least one of them. I believe it’s quite easy for mountain bikers to do well in the early season. We come in with lot of racing in our legs and so the September races aren’t a shock to the system. The MTB World Champs is typically right before the early cross races which means MTB racers are extremely fit. Even though I no longer race the MTB World Cups or Worlds I race a lot from spring to late summer. My schedule, however,  allowed me to stay home for few weeks before Iowa and add some specific CX training as well. I was focused for those two rounds without having a focus on the rest of the season. I didn’t finish the last two seasons on a very high note and this was my way to get in the mix one more time. 

The US World Cups were special performances for you. With a few months to think about it, what are your thoughts about those races? And especially your win in Waterloo in unprecedented conditions for that venue?

I won Jingle Cross in the past many times. Both as a World Cup ( once) and as a cold November Jingle ( many times). It’s my favorite place to race and the course suits my strengths. I really wanted to win it one more time and I think I was pretty well prepared for it. Maghalie [Rochette] was a bit stronger on that day and it was exciting to see her take that win. I was happy about second but felt like the opportunity for me to win one more time slipped away and I would have to be ok with that.

2019 Jingle Cross World Cup

Then came the Trek World Cup. I didn’t picture that the venue would turn so epic after years of dry and fast conditions in Wisconsin. Of course, I was excited about it. I spent the entire summer racing MTB and lot of my events were at very high altitude and with extremely steep and long climbs. Needless to say, I spend my summers turning my legs at a very low cadence just barely making it up the hill. The muddy Waterloo World Cup felt just like that. I was in my element and really enjoyed the conditions. Slow, slippery and very physically hard. My ideal cross day.

Winner, 2019 Waterloo World Cup

Slightly on a side note here: As a more mature athlete I have been struggling with the vanishing ability to go out and “murder yourself” that I have been so good at for so many years. Knowing my body well, I hate the fact that I can’t push it that hard that often anymore. This fact makes me sad, but I do respect it at the same time. Anyways, this feeling of lacking this ability was a bit harder after Jingle. I just so wanted to see if I still have it or not. And then it came out during the Trek race. At first I was chasing Evie [Richards] and then was chased by her and Jolanda [Neff]. I completely collapsed at the finish. It felt so good to push that hard. Of course, I paid for it for a few weeks.

Evie Richards and Katerina post-Waterloo World Cup.

After taking over the World Cup lead and wearing the white jersey, did your plans change for the season?

Yes. I have been in the position before but due to my MTB commitments I needed to stay home. This time around I went for it and committed to at least another round in Switzerland. With my UCI commitments [ed. note: Nash is a member of the UCI Management Committee and president of the UCI athlete’s commission] I knew I needed to be in Europe for November meetings. That way I would race those as well. Not sure at what point I just said what the heck I’ll do as many as I can or most of them. I had the World Cup leader’s jersey until Zolder and it was pretty cool.

Any highlights or special memories from the rest of the World Cup Season? Or any of the non-World Cup races you attended?

Once I started to make winter plans I knew that traveling back and forth would be very hard. So instead of four trips from California I decided to stay in Europe for the November and December World Cup rounds. I was based at my parents place in the Czech Republic and got to do some Toi Toi Cup races which were a lot of fun. Czech fans were so cool and really thankful that I came to their local events.

There was actually a funny story where I was coming to a race by myself in my mom’s car. I was asked for a voluntary ticket that is sometimes asked from spectators. I paid a little bit of money because it was couple of young girls collecting it and I figured it would probably help their local bike club that was organizing the race. By the time I won the race someone put the two together and told the announcer. They made a big deal out of it. I ended up with a free lunch and a positive media story. I tracked down the girls to make sure they weren’t feeling bad about not knowing who I was. My name may be a bit more known than my face around the world so this is not the first time people don’t recognize me. That’s the way I like it. 

The Namur World Cup was the other highlight of the season. Namur was really the one race outside of Europe that I wanted to race one more time. It’s my favorite European venue. I was very excited to hit Namur still as a World Cup leader and especially excited about the front row start. Unfortunately, I got flat on the first descent and lost several positions. That was followed by a crash where I ran into another rider who was running down a section while I was trying to ride. I actually broke a frame as well (although I didn’t realize it during the race). After this somewhat disastrous first lap I started to move up and finished fifth. I’m sad I never got to ride with the leaders. I definitely felt like this was the place to fight for the podium. It still ended up being my best Euro World Cup and I enjoyed staying at the Chateau of Namur for couple of nights, taking in the Holiday atmosphere while hanging out with my dude. 

Memories or reflections after the final World Cup of the season in Hoogerheide?

The final race and the final push. I really wanted to keep my podium spot for the overall. I felt like I dedicated a lot for the overall with three trips across the pond and many race days with jetlag. I left my doggies behind for a big part of the fall and winter and I was quickly running out of energy given the long season that started in March. I was pretty solidly in third going into Hoogerheide, but so much can happen. The race started okay but once again it was dry, non-technical and very fast. The majority of World Cups this year were like that. Perfect for young and fast road racers. Not good for an older, MTB racer. Global warming is really messing with cross!

The Hoogerheide off-camber.

I started to lose the lead pack early on. Big groups were staying together and big groups means silly moves and silly mistakes with everyone rushing to the front and not enough space for all of us to fit in. It was pretty hectic early and then things settled. I had a small mechanical and lost my group, which made me a little nervous at first but since I just dropped out of the group I also knew that my two closest rivals for the overall were in that group and not winning the race. Therefore, they would not be getting enough points to catch me. I still pushed hard in the end and really enjoyed getting on the overall podium. This season was very cool, not only because I was successful, but also because I got to know the younger riders while hanging out at the podium or at drug testing. I really appreciate the personal connection with the riders that I’ll be watching and cheering for for many years to come!

Bringing home the hardware for third place in the overall World Cup series.

My final takeaway from my Euro campaign was that I got to spend lot of time with my parents. I’ve lived in California for 20 years now. Luckily my racing has always taken me back to Europe and I made many trips home even if it was a detour. Still, the visits were brief and hectic because I was always leaving for another race or catching up on many other responsibilities. This time around I had quality time with my family and friends and it made the season very meaningful. 

With a full season on a new bike, what are your thoughts/takeaways about the Specialized Crux? 

The bike is great. The whole set up with Shimano Di2 GRX was just amazing. I had all the gears in a perfect simple package. I didn’t have my own mechanic ( I was getting help from the National team at the events and little check up here and there from Scotty [ed. note: Scott Kelly, Team Canada cyclocross manager who makes celebrity cameo appearances as a Clif Pro Team mechanic] and still my bikes were holding up the whole season perfectly. I enjoyed getting back on a cross specific bike. The Crux handles really well and it’s been designed with cross racing in mind. Easy to pick up and place on the shoulder, quick to turn, stiff and fast. I’ve never had a better cross bike but we tend to say that about bikes every year because the bike engineers are doing such an amazing job and the components are so good and always getting better. 

The new bike at Hoogerheide.

Did you have to field a lot of questions about the bike change before the official announcement came out? How was it handling those curious fans?

It wasn’t too hard. I mainly had friends asking. I wasn’t posting many pics of the bike until January. I had no media requests at all. I think people were respectful and understanding of the situation. There are always equipment changes and it’s hard to fit everything perfectly in a given calendar year contract that involves multiple disciplines. I think we handled it well and I’m thankful for the support I got to switch earlier. 

What are your thoughts and takeaways from the World Championships in Dubendorf?

World Champs was bit of blur for me. I had to be at UCI Management Committee meetings the two days leading up to the race. I was able to skip the September meeting which allowed me to focus on World Cup racing and chasing the overall. That meant that this time around I really needed to be present and participate. There were some big decisions to be made that will be good for cycling and I’m at the point in my career that I’m not just a bike racer. So the prep wasn’t ideal but it wasn’t too bad either. I was able to see the course Friday afternoon. On Saturday I had all the time to focus. The course was very flat and very slow at times because of the saturated grass. I raced the Maxxis Speed Terrain file-tread tire. I would never think that I would race files in January!

2020 World Champs in Dubendorf.

I had a decent start but once again I couldn’t make contact with the lead group. I passed a few riders and a few passed me early on but there wasn’t much else going on. I just kind of a time-trialed to the finish and joked around about winning twice – 11th place (first and first together for 11). It was a solid ride for me and it really made me appreciate the season’s effort and outcome. I’m thankful for doing this big CX push and for another winter spent with the cyclocross community. 

The end of the road in Dubendorf.

Now back home, any thoughts on the future for you and cyclocross?

For the first time in a very long time I have no future thoughts. Every time in the past when I finished the season I would already be thinking about what’s needed to improve before the next. Right now, I’m too tired to even think that far ahead. However, the bigger piece is that my actual job starts this spring. My contract is for MTB racing with the team and I need to do that job first. I’m sure the thoughts of CX will creep in once again but for right now I need to rest up and do a good job on all the other bikes. It’s getting harder and harder to combine quality racing in all disciplines. I know for sure it wasn’t my last CX race but I won’t say that I’ll be back for World Cup racing right now either. 

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