The last two years have been ones of transition for Curtis White (Cannondale p/b CyclocrossWorld).
During the 2017/18 season, White graduated to the Elites and then graduated from New York’s Union College. This past season, White decided to go all-in on cyclocross, a decision that yielded a Pan-American Championship, second-place at Nationals and finish just outside the Top 20 at Bogense Cyclocross Worlds.
As far as we can remember, White has spent most of his springs and summers racing on the road for a professional team. This year, however, White is putting together his own road program, with an eye toward the fall.
“I will be racing on the road, but I’m looking at races that will be the ideal preparation for cyclocross,” White said. “This is an opportunity that I’ve never had before, and I want to make the most of it.”
“When creating a program built around what would best prepare me for my goals, gravel racing fit perfectly,” White explained. “I’m using the same equipment as I would for cyclocross, and it has been a motivating way to train through the wet and cold spring in the Northeast.”
White said he has enjoyed the scene and the challenge of the races that are, at times, quite literally a grind. The toughest part of the experience for the seasoned vet at all levels and in all disciplines?
“Trying to drop Anthony Clark,” White siad.
We caught up with White to ask him about his 2019 gravel season thus far.
Cyclocross Magazine: You get a nice break after Worlds? When did you start training again?
Curtis White: I did have a nice break after Worlds, it felt forced though. I didn’t want to halt the momentum and motivation that I had. I took four weeks completely off the bike. It was the longest break I’ve taken in a while, but it was absolutely necessary.
This is a big transition year for me, in that I just graduated college and am no longer racing for a professional road team. It’s an incredible opportunity for me to build the ideal program and schedule.
I enjoyed some skiing through February, but I started training on the bike again March 4th, exactly 4 weeks after Worlds. With no longer having commitments to a road team, I was able to get in the biggest base block of my career. Nothing was rushed, it was exactly how I wanted it. I was also able to get more time in the gym than I ever have pre-season.
CXM: It looks like you’ve really jumped into gravel racing this year. What was the thought process behind that?
CW: This past year, I committed to cyclocross being my main focus. Creating a program built around what would best prepare me for my goals, gravel racing fit perfectly. I’m using the same equipment as I would for cyclocross, and it has been a motivating way to train through the wet and cold spring in the Northeast.
Aside from the practical reasons, everyone that I’ve talked to has spoken very highly about their experiences racing gravel. I wanted to be part of the growth and see what the atmosphere was like.
CXM: Your last result on usacycling.org is Louisville Nationals, are you still going to be racing on the road this year?
CW: I will be racing on the road, but I’m looking at races that will be the ideal preparation for cyclocross. This is an opportunity that I’ve never had before, and I want to make the most of it.
CXM: With the growth of gravel, do you see a future path as a gravel specialist during the ’cross offseason?
CW: Not as a “specialist,” no. I’m really enjoying gravel racing, but it seems like there are so many interpretations for what gravel should be. I was drawn to it because it’s new, interesting and different everywhere. Every event is unique. For me, I see it as a great complement to cyclocross.
CXM: How is gravel similar and different from road racing?
CW: In the New York Durty Bikes Gravel Series that I did over the last few weeks, there were some aspects that resembled a road race. There was neutral support, and the races were short enough to where tactics were a legitimate factor. We were also fighting for KOM and overall series points.
But the atmosphere is where I’m noticing the biggest difference. It’s a more laid-back environment, everyone gets what they want out of it. The promoters are able to sell more of an experience, and I think that’s huge.
CXM: You’ve been battling with some other ’cross dudes. What benefits do you see of doing longer races with respect to cyclocross?
CW: This is the time of year where I’m focusing on building a solid foundation for the rest year. Most of these gravel races, or gravel grinders, are an actual grind. They don’t require the same sharpness that mountain biking, road or cyclocross would. Over the last few weekends, I’ve been seeing great 20’, 60’ and 90’ power in these races. My focus will shift as I gear up towards races that require sharper efforts.
CXM: Some of the races we’ve seen you at have been in the 60-70k range. Do you have plans for longer 100, 150, 200-mile races?
CW: At the moment, no. I’m definitely open to doing these longer races though. I think they could be very beneficial and a lot of fun. I will say that I am enjoying the Northeast gravel scene before I jump into some of the longer, more well-known races.
CXM: Kaitie [Keough] try talking you into doing the DK200?
CW: She did … But she’s tougher than me. I think I need another year to prepare. We’ll see.
CXM: I’m assuming you’re riding your SuperX? What tires are you running? 1x or 2x up front?
CW: I’m running my exact cyclocross setup. I’m riding my Cannondale SuperX with SRAM 1x, same gearing as I would for ’cross. I chose to stay with 33mm Vittoria Terrino Mixes. Just about everyone I know has been running 40mm tires for gravel, and I understand why. My goal is to become as familiar with my equipment as possible. I want to know where the limits are, so I’m better prepared for cyclocross.
CXM: What do you think about the gravel scene so far?
CW: I’m really enjoying it, and I totally understand why it’s grown so quickly. I grew up in a pretty rural area and have always loved exploring back country roads. You don’t have to worry about cars, red lights or any other distractions. There’s a real sense of freedom. It kind of touches on the true spirit of cycling and reminds many people of why they got into it in the first place.
Also, the promoters are able to sell more of an experience, in my opinion. I said it earlier, but I believe that’s the most important part of why gravel is growing and drawing people from other disciplines. I think there are a few lessons from the gravel scene that some road and cyclocross race promoters could take away.
CXM: Toughest part about gravel racing?
CW: Trying to drop Anthony Clark.
CXM: Yeah, what’s it been like duking it out with Anthony and JPows on gravel instead of the mud and ruts?
CW: It’s great to see each other outside of cyclocross. The entire cyclocross season is only six months, so we don’t really get the chance to race and train together outside of that window. There’s good camaraderie between us, we enjoy riding hard and pushing each other. Powers is a solid diesel, but Anthony is like a caged animal. Anthony attacks up almost every climb, but we are able to slowly reel him back in.
CXM: Most unexpected part?
CW: How much I would enjoy it.
CXM: Where should we look for you the rest of the summer?
CW: Aside from gravel, I’m looking to incorporate a number of mountain bike and road races into my preparation. I’ll take the start in a few of the Canada Cup and Bubba Burger MTB series races here in the Northeast. For road, I’m trying to nail down logistics for Tour of America’s Dairyland, Intelligentsia Cup and a few others. I’m trying to piece together logistics still, but the objective is to try and simulate a stage race effect with some sharp, intense racing.
I’ll also be coaching at Geoff Proctor’s Montana Cross Camp in July.
CXM: Awesome. Sounds like I will have to make the trip to Milwaukee to see you race at ToAD.
CW: Thanks. Looking forward to it.