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For Colorado Springs cyclist Katie Compton, age is no deterrent heading into Colorado Classic

August 8, 2017 Updated: August 9, 2017 at 6:29 am
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Cyclist Katie Compton rides through Garden of the Gods Park Tuesday, Aug. 8, 2017. The Colorado Springs resident will race for the ISCorp team in the first stage of the Colorado Classic women's race in Colorado Springs Thursday. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

In the demanding and unforgiving world of professional cycling, Katie Compton has reached AARP status.

The Colorado Springs resident is 38 and surrounded by the fresh, gung ho faces of riders sometimes half her age. And this new crop of cyclists is more than primed for its moment on two wheels.

But forgive Compton if she isn't quite ready to hop on her bike and ride into the sunset.

Not yet. Not when she still lives for the adrenaline rush that comes with competing in an elite race, as she will do Thursday during Stage 1 of the inaugural Colorado Classic.

Compton has no reason to give into a number, to wave a white flag because it's in some way predetermined that she is too old to succeed. She'll step away when the timing is right, and that time isn't now.

For more than a dozen years, Compton has been the face of American cyclocross. In January, she won her 13th national championship. So while she somewhat reluctantly admits to being in the twilight of her career, don't bother bringing up the r-word.

"I want to keep doing it as long as I'm riding well and feeling strong," she says. "So, yeah, I'd say it's definitely closer to the end of my career, but I'm not retiring yet. Part of me is like, 'Why would I?' I really enjoy what I'm doing."

Thursday will be a special day for Compton. She's riding in her hometown, along the roads she trains on, in front of her friends and family. That's been a rarity during a racing career that now spans three decades, as most of Compton's cyclocross schedule is in Belgium or other parts of the U.S.

There's also no pressure to win Thursday - another rarity for Compton. Her prized discipline is cyclocross, raced during the colder months on rugged courses of pavement, trails and obstacles with bikes featuring fatter tires. Cyclocross is an individual pursuit whereas a road stage race employs distinct team strategies.

Compton is riding for ISCorp, led by sisters Skylar and Samantha Schneider, and her team duties won't involve winning a stage in Colorado Springs or Breckenridge, site of Friday's finale.

"I'll be there doing work for other riders - riders who are stronger than I am," she says. "For me, it's up to doing work so the team can get good results, not necessarily so I get good results. It will be nice just to do a race where I'm not thinking about me.

"When you work for somebody else, yeah, there's still pressure to do well, but you don't have to win."

Winning has defined Compton's career, and she understands prolonged success often brings questions in a sport stained by doping. Compton doesn't dispense with those questions; in fact, she advocates for stronger, more consistent doping controls.

At a time when the Springs-based U.S. Anti-Doping Agency is smeared and criticized by all kinds of athletes, Compton praises the organization's effort and insists other countries should follow its lead. She wants to race on an even playing field, free of lingering questions and doubts.

"It's bad for cycling," she says. "I just wish people would compete clean. . It's not just cycling. It's a lot of the different sports, where you add lots of money and sponsorship dollars and people will do what they need to do to win.

"It's sad when you look at a sport and look at an athlete accomplish something great and you question it. You're like, 'I don't know.' And they could be 100 percent clean."

Compton knows that she and her fellow riders face an uphill battle when it comes to public perception. Mention cycling and doping is bound to follow. But she loves her sport and isn't about to turn her back on it. She currently is coaching two young riders and plans to add more when, well, that day comes.

But that day, Compton insists, can wait.

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