Kate Courtney needs little introduction. The 23-year-old American has quickly risen to the top of the sport, taking the UCI cross-country World Championships title in her first year racing elite, making her the first American to land in that spot in 17 years. Kate's attention to detail and her work ethic make it likely that we'll see her on top of the podium for years to come.
This year, Kate sees a big change as she carries over the rainbow stripes from Specialized, where she has been on their team for several years, to the Scott-SRAM team. It's a pretty big change, but it puts her in good company, with none other than Nino Schurter as her teammate and fellow World Champion. Kate's mechanic, Brad Copeland, joins the team as well and they're undoubtedly looking to carry the successful formula they've established into the new season.
I had the chance to catch up with Kate and Brad last week in Sedona, Arizona, to get the lowdown on Kate's new bike and how the transition to new gear and the new team is going. I'd say that as good as it seems that things were last year, they're only better heading into 2019.
Kate's bike is a standard small-sized frame, but there have been several modifications made to it to suit her better. From custom dropper remotes to high-volume air cans, Kate's Contessa Spark RC is unique and it's obvious that every detail has been attended to.
Although Kate is on a stock size small frame, there are a number of things that are a little more than just "off the shelf" going on with her bike. There's a new RockShox RLC Nude shock on the back. In the past, the team had been running an unbranded Fox shock while RockShox was developing this one which has only been around for a short time now. RockShox has been working with the riders on getting the bikes dialed in, and this shock has the DebonAir large-volume can on it to get the most sensitivity out of it as possible.
The fork is also the new SID Ultimate. The internals have been revised to address some issues in the past to help increase the service interval time, and there's also increased volume in the air side to help with the sensitivity.
There are two tokens and 66psi in the fork, and out back there's one and a half spacers and 97psi in the rear shock. Moving from the Brain system on Kate's previous race bike to Scott's Twin-Loc has been an adjustment, but Kate and Brad both say that it's been a positive experience.
Kate explained she likes having full control over when and what is and isn't locked out on the bike. She says that as a lighter rider, learning how to use the suspension most effectively has been really helpful in racing and training and it has been helping her with getting back time on descents.
For tires, the Kate is now on Maxxis. Her current set up is a pair of Rekon Race 2.25" with EXO casings. With the new tires, she's been running lower air pressures than previously and has had a lot of success with that as well. They have opted to not use the lightest casing for durability as a flat would cost far more time than a few grams of increased puncture resistance.
Kate just got on the new SRAM AXS system and is happy with it, even though she hadn't touched or ridden it until about a month ago at their training camp. The thing that Brad says is one of the huge benefits of the AXS is that there's very little effort required to shift.
At the end of a bike ride, it's noticeable that you don't have to put much effort into the shift; it's like clicking a mouse on a computer and it's not something they considered being a benefit until now.
There's a SRAM blip button integrated into Kate's left grip for her dropper post. It's set up on her handlebar now but will be in the downtube as soon as longer wires are available. Kate's hands are small so having the dropper lever and the twin-loc on the bars was tricky. Having the blip integrated helped a ton with this, especially since she's using a dropper post more and more. The button works as easy as just squeezing the grip, and the transmitter is currently on the bar but there's a more integrated set-up in the works.
Slowing Kate down are SRAM's Level Ultimate brakes. The brakes on the bike look to be an updated version as there is no banjo from the caliper to the hose, rather a direct fitting. I would suspect this is to make for one less place for air bubbles to hide and to increase reliability.
Kate and Brad both seem very happy with the Syncros Fraser iC handlebar. It took a while to figure out the set-up with the sweep and design being quite different from a standard two-piece handlebar and stem, but they settled on a 90mm effective stem length with the sweep.
The paint on Kate's bike is "pretty sparkly," as she says. She claims to have had some influence on the "boys' bikes" as well and apologizes for the number of sparkles. Top level racers often have custom touches, and Kate says that all of the special bits on the bike and with her gear make her feel valued as a rider.
Kate says her spirit animal is a shark, and it's been incorporated on her bike. Kate has always been a huge shark fan and loves watching 'Shark Week.' It's a fun thing, she says, but it's also how she feels when she's racing - always lurking just below the surface but ready to go when it's time and attacking; just like a shark.
While a lot of the changes made have been big jumps from her last set up, they've been very smooth and she's settling right into the new bike. We'll soon see how these translate over to the race track as the World Cup season gets underway.