Meet Kate Courtney, America’s Badass XC Mountain Biking Champion
Slideshow Photos (Respectively): Johan Badenhorst, Michal Cerveny, Paris Gore/Redbull Content Pool, Redbull Content Pool, Michal Cerveny, Paris Gore/Redbull Content Pool
This September, in Cairns, Australia, Courtney placed second at the U23 MTB World Championships (her first-ever World Championship title); this July, at the American National Championships in Snowshoe, West Virginia, she won her first-ever elite cross-country title; in 2017, she won three U23 World Cup races and four USA Cycling Pro XCT races. Those are just a handful of her most recent victories. Since her racing career began in 2012, Courtney has been a podium-regular. She’s now gearing up to dominate in the women’s elite category and qualify in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. We caught up with Courtney to talk life on the racing circuit, the importance of mental fitness, her brand-new, sparkly, hot pink Specialized mountain bike and more, as well as glean a quick mountain biking-specific workout.
Photo: Michal Cerveny
When I was racing in high school, the women who were racing were in their thirties. Now,  doesn’t seem very far off, but when I was 15, that was twice my age. It seemed so out of reach. I think it’s cool to talk to girls who are in the high school league and say I raced my first race as a freshman at 15 in the high school league. That’s been a powerful source of motivation for me.
It’s an expectation versus reality thing. With training, people think, ‘Oh, I have time, it will all go perfectly well.’ In reality, things are always adjusting. You have days when you’re more fatigued or days when you’re feeling better. Having the time and flexibility to stay on top of that — I think that’s what’s going to allow me to move up and feel confident in the elite field next year.
More broadly, Tokyo is really on my radar. I was a bit too young and not quite at the right level to make it in 2016, but that really galvanized my interest in going to the Olympics. I worked toward that goal all year, but it was a little bit of a long shot. Almost qualifying in 2016 was the best thing that could’ve happened in terms of making me really motivated not just to qualify in 2020, but to go ready to compete, and to try to be one of the best at the Olympics — not just to get there.
Photo: Lucas Gilman/Redbull Content Pool
Kate Courtney’s 20-Minute Mountain Biking Workout
Indo Board Medicine Ball Squats: 1 set, 30 seconds. “This exercise targets balance, coordination and develops both core and leg strength,” Courtney said. “Mountain biking requires being strong in those muscle groups, but it’s just as important to be coordinated and balanced. This exercise can help you maintain a stronger, more stable foundation when descending a technical trail.”
Pull-Ups: 1 set, max reps. “Cycling uses primarily lower body muscles, making it very important to strengthen the upper body in the gym. I personally enjoy pull-ups,” Courtney said. “At the beginning of the offseason, I may struggle to get through a few reps — but by the end, I can see a lot of progress. This exercise functions in a few ways. First, it strengthens your ability to ‘pull,’ which mimics resisting the force of your handlebars as you climb or descend. Second, it requires a range of motion in your shoulders that is outside of the normal cycling position and contributes to injury prevention.”
TRX Push-Ups: 1 set, 10 reps. “I do TRX push-ups to work on my upper body strength as well as dynamic core stability,” Courtney said. “TRX push-ups look easy, but require a lot of functional core strength to stabilize your upper body and keep you from falling on your face. The TRX system also has two handles that you can place as far apart or as close together as you want — I choose to place them at a similar width to my handlebars to best target the muscles I use when I am racing. The lower you put the handles, the harder this exercise will be.”
Deadlifts: 1 set, 5 reps (heavy weight). “With proper form, deadlifts can be one of the most helpful exercises to developing the explosive leg strength required to excel on the mountain bike,” Courtney said. “The deadlift position is actually very similar to the position of your body on the bike. Deadlifts not only challenge my lower body strength but require a very strong grip as weight increases.”