A conversation with up-and-coming mountain biker, Kate Courtney


By Andrea W. Doray
Kate won the women's 17-18 cross country contest at nationals this year.
Kate won the women's 17-18 cross country contest at nationals this year.
Kate Courtney has not had a lot of time to establish herself as a major force on the international mountain bike circuit; after all, she is just 18, racing age. But Kate powered her way to the top step of the junior women's podium this month at round five of the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup in Mont-Sainte-Anne. Before that, she won a national title, won bronze in round one of the World Cup in Germany, was fifth in round two in the Czech Republic, and took first place in Argentina at the Pan American Championships.
Needless to say, Courtney will be a serious medal contender during the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships which start next week in South Africa.  
It was only last year that Kate burst onto the World Cup stage with a 10th place finish at Nové Mesto na Morave in the Czech Republic, a sixth place finish at Mont-Sainte-Anne, Quebec, Canada, and a stunning placement atop the podium in Windham, New York.
Marc Gullickson, USA Cycling's Mountain Bike and Cyclo-Cross Program Director, says he took note of Kate as he followed her performance in the 15-16 age category, when she placed first at the 2010 USA Cycling Mountain Bike Cross-Country National Championships.
“Much of Kate’s success comes from her focus and drive,” says Gullickson. “She is motivated and committed, even with the distractions of life for a juniors racer—high school, graduation, college.” Marc also says Kate’s ability to compete in world-class fields is her capacity to learn all aspects of the sport, from technical to traveling. “Kate is confident and also willing to work on improving her skills,” says Marc. “I anticipate that Kate will make a solid transition to the U23 ranks and continue to challenge for World Cup podiums.”
USA Cycling talked with Kate recently to learn a little more about her.
USA Cycling: How did you get into mountain biking?
Kate Courtney: I grew up in Kenfield, California, just 30 minutes out of San Francisco, where there is this mountain biking culture that’s almost a whole other world. People are passionate about mountain biking and we have great and beautiful trails right there. I started out on a tandem with my dad and we spent a lot of time on the mountain.
She also won the junior women's race at round five of the World Cup.
She also won the junior women's race at round five of the World Cup.

USAC: When did you decide to get into racing?
KC: I had never ridden competitively until my freshman year in high school when I joined NorCal (High School Cycling League). I was riding to train for cross-country running, and after my first race, I didn’t want to get off the bike. I couldn’t do it all, and my heart was definitely in mountain biking, so that’s where I stayed. I joined the Whole Athlete team at 14 and have been racing with them ever since.
USAC: You’ve had a couple of great years recently. What are some of the highlights?
KC: Going to Europe for my first World Cup races…the atmosphere is so different for international races. Also the Pan American Championships in Argentina were an unbelievable experience. It took us 24 hours to arrive from Houston, and I was shocked to see how excited the people were that the Americans made the trip. Of course, winning the race was a dream for me, but it was also exhilarating to see the support for us and for cycling in Argentina.
USAC: You just graduated from high school. What are your plans now?
KC: I’m going to Stanford in the fall, probably to study for a degree in some aspect of public health. In high school, I was interested in global health issues and I want to put my learning in practice, especially from an analysis standpoint. I’ll probably work toward public policy or microbiology.
USAC: Did graduating from high school affect your season?
KC: After a top 5 finish at Nové Mesto, I came home for graduation, and ended up getting sick from the stress of it all. I was really miserable then at Val di Sole in Italy for the third World Cup race. I placed 14th and I was happy to just finish at all. You can’t fake it on those steep climbs! But it’s all about learning and improving.
USAC: Tell us a little about how you learn and improve.
...And let's not forget how she started the season out with a bronze at the World Cup opener!
...And let's not forget how she started the season out with a bronze at the World Cup opener!

KC: It takes a lot of focus to compete on the international level. I think of it as layering, improving incrementally. I learned improved technical skills at USA Cycling development camps, how to ride the drops and rock gardens that you have to ride to be competitive and not get hurt. I’m also adding weight training to increase my power, especially for the sprint at the beginning of the race, the hardest part. My goal is to ride all A lines and be comfortable on the course.
USAC: What advice would you give young racers just starting out?
KC: Just be comfortable! Find a way to balance school and riding. There are so many other obligations for juniors racers. I would say to focus on biking, and use other activities, such as running or yoga, to strengthen your riding.
USAC: You also do volunteer work in the cycling community, right?
KC: Very unofficially. I like to mentor young riders and I’m excited to see a strong cycling culture re-emerging. I work on trips for kids who live in the cities, to help them understand healthy habits in sports. Some of these kids have never ridden a bike before!
USAC: What’s next for you?
KC: The World Championships at Pietermaritzburg in South Africa in late August. When I begin college in the fall, I plan to get involved with my school’s club cycling team and participate in both road and mountain collegiate cycling events. Collegiate cycling will be a great place to find training partners and get tons of racing experience as I work towards my goal of continuing to race on the World Cup circuit. Pro XCTs and World Cup races will be my priority as I move into the U23 category next year. 
GOOD LUCK to Kate Courtney and the rest of the USA Cycling squad at the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships next week!
About the author: Andrea Doray is a riding writer who finished second in her class for her one and only mountain bike race. Of course, she was also the absolute last racer to cross the finish line. Feel free to send her racing tips at a.doray@andreadoray.com.

This Article Updated August 22, 2013 @ 07:33 PM For more information contact: