We visit Scottish racer Katy Winton to find out more about the life of an elite EWS racer on the Trek Factory Racing Team.
Today I had learnt something new, that the proper etiquette for saying hello to a horse is to blow on its nose. Now I’m no horse whisperer, but that seems like a sure-fire way to get a hoof to the face. However, as we stood in a muddy field in the Scottish Borders, my guide for the day was none other than Trek Factory Team racer Katy Winton, and if she knows as much about horses as she knows about racing, I was in safe hands.
I can still remember when I first met Katy Winton, it was the first ever round of the Enduro World Series in Punta Ala 2014, back where it all began. Driving from the airport, the then 19-year-old Katy was literally overflowing with excitement, questions were delivered as if fired from a machine gun and incoherent gibberish filled the van. As our crew tentatively sessioned the first ever Enduro World Series stages, Katy was riding like a maniac, connecting crash to crash via a series of wild sketchy lines. In fact, we were so worried we had to stage an intervention, “Katy, just take it easy” we reasoned.
While she did slow down a little, there was no hiding the fearsome determination in her eyes – she would be a professional racer one-day.
Fast forward just three seasons and the calm and focussed women sitting in front of me in the noisy cafe could not be more different. The youthful excitement and passion is still effervescent, but is now sharpened, controlled and harnessed. Still just 23 years old, Katy has already generated a lifetime of race experience from destinations all over the globe, now riding for one of the biggest teams in the sport, Trek Factory Racing. The 2016 EWS season left Katy sitting in 6th overall in the world, and she goes into the 2017 season stronger than ever.
Part of a bike-mad family, based in the bike mad Scottish Tweed Valley, it was almost inevitable that Katy would become fast on a bike.
Katy is noticeably humble about her achievements, but also carries the confidence of experience; she did not adopt the racing lifestyle, she grew up in it. Long before the EWS made enduro a ‘real thing’ she was competing at the highest level. Katy raced Junior XC World and European Championships, taking two British XC Championship titles and two Silver Medals at both the Scottish Elite road and Downhill Championships in the same year, but despite her success in the different disciplines, it was elite enduro racing that would steal her heart.
With such world class technical trails on her doorstep it’s perhaps no surprise that Katy was drawn to enduro.
“I moved to the Tweed Valley at 13 and having such a variety of trails and an amazing group of talented riders to ride with changed everything for me”. Even the geography gave her the iron-willed motivation to climb higher, surrounded as she was with hills. “I have always loved being on top of hills, I think maybe it’s because I am so short that it gives me a better perspective on things, haha”.
Speaking of perspective, when something becomes your job it can be easy to lose the love, but after three years competing at the highest level it’s clear that Katy is still loving every turn.
“I think I have always lived to race, it’s a part of me. Whether it’s a silly little mates running race or an EWS, I love to push my limits and boundaries. Recently, races like the Trans Provence have shown me another side of that relationship. Exploring and seeing and area by bike is something I have not done so much of, taking me back to basics and the essence of why I ride. It really opened my eyes, so now even if one of my races doesn’t go well I can still ride my bike and still do this cool thing. You have to appreciate the whole thing sometimes and see the essence of the sport, it’s something that you can do for fun, or professionally, that’s what makes it amazing.”
While racer’s Instagram feeds may convince us that the life of a pro racer is filled with travelling to amazing places and riding amazing bikes, while that‘s certainly true there’s more to it. “It’s easy to think of training as just the gym and the bike, and I guess that’s what I believed too. Now I understand that it’s much more than that. I have had to learn how to focus on the smaller things, like how much sleep I’m getting, injury recovery and what I’m eating. From one decision to the next, it’s a full lifestyle change, everything I do needs to be towards a progression, towards getting faster, there’s no knocking off at 5 pm”.
Katy is now struck with enviable position of choosing between two very capable race bikes. The Trek Slash 29 and Trek Remedy 27.5. Katy is keen to try and settle as much as she can on one bike for the 2017 season. Everything from brake lever position to suspension action has to become instinctive to a racer, when you are full gas in a rock chute after 10 minutes of to-the-wall-effort, there’s no time for thinking. While Katy is still testing, it’s clear she’s developing a favourite. “I love riding the Slash, it makes me feel more confident and I feel that I can keep on attacking hard at all times. You can take some crazy lines – it’s just amazing.”
For every aspiring racer, getting onto a winning team like Trek Enduro Racing is the dream ticket on the circuit, but it also brings a pressure to succeed.
“Trek have been so supportive, the team understands that I’m here for development. I told them straight out that I’m not going to turn up and start winning races – as much as I want that, it’s not realistic. Trek want to help me progress, they’re not expecting me to podium, that pressure comes from me.” After two seasons living and racing out of a camper van on a tight budget, Katy has excelled on the pro team, but still wants more. “I know I‘m getting faster, but in the women’s field, it’s tough. I’m a little disappointed with my rate through the field, the steps between places are large as the gaps in the field are so big.”
In contrast to Punta Ala, I know that if I were to race with Katy now, she would drop me like a stone. Working with Tracy Moseley and riding with countless other elites has not only supercharged her speed, but also taught her an important lesson.
“Tracy is a constant help; what she knows, where she’s come from and what she’s achieved, Tracy is the ultimate human. She is forever out there to help people, answering questions, helping and providing advice and she knows the industry so well. I owe so much to Tracy’s help. I aspire to be more like her, never mind her achievements, but like her as a person. When we arrived in Ireland at her first EWS race of the 2016 season, she wasn’t nervous or stressed, she was just there to go biking and have some fun. Obviously, she still smashed us all, but there was no worry – that’s what we have to aim for – that’s the secret.”
As I pick up the tab and we make our way out of the cafe, Katy stops to chat to some junior fans. It seems crazy that someone so young has already become a role model for the next generation of shredders. A local heroine in every sense, through her school visits, kids club coaching and workshops Katy has inspired and empowered an entire squad of junior pocket rockets, sharing ‘the secret’ that in the end, it’s all about fun.
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Words & Photos: Trev Worsey