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Maghalie Rochette is having the season of her life, reclaiming her Canadian National Championship and Pan-American Championship titles on the heels of a World Cup win in Iowa earlier this season, followed by a fifth place in the Waterloo World Cup. And when it comes to domestic UCI races this year, she’s only lost one race — day two of FayetteCross. In the UCI rankings, she’s sitting top five, and in the World Cup standings, she’s currently second.
Right now, it’s good to be Maghalie.
Though she started her professional career racing for the Clif Pro Team, she has transitioned to a solo program in recent years, and now operates a one-woman show with Specialized and Feedback Sports as her title sponsors.
The 27-year-old seems unfazed by devoting chunks of her time to logistics like booking travel and dealing with sponsors. Before we sat down to chat in her small camper van prior to the race start at the Pan-American Championships, Rochette was busy battening down the hatches on the team tent as it threatened to fly away. And as we spoke, she efficiently mixed a pre-race meal (cornflakes, almond milk, banana) and prepped her gear—all while enthusiastically explaining her deep love of cyclocross.
Do you remember your first bike ride?
I don’t know that it was the first, but I remember one of the earliest mountain bike rides that I did with my dad. I used to ride with him a little bit, but that time, he took me on this new trail. It wasn’t far from where we lived, and I remember it was such a challenge. There was this climb, and at the time, I thought it was huge. But my dad said he thought I could do it. I tried to climb it, messed up, and fell in a ditch. But my dad is the kind of person where you crash and he’s like, ‘Oh, you’ve got to do it again.’ Because otherwise you’re scared of that thing. So we did it again and again and finally I got it. I just remember that because I was so proud I finally got up that climb. It’s funny—I still go there sometimes and it’s the tiniest climb ever. You can coast up it! But when I was seven, it was huge and a big accomplishment.
At what point did you decide ‘this is what I want to do?’
It came really early, as a tiny kid. I’m still like that, I’ve always been a huge dreamer. My dad told my sister and I that we could do whatever we wanted if we worked hard enough. And at some point, my sister flipped that switch and was like, ‘Dad, that’s not true! There are some things that you just aren’t meant to be doing!’ But he was right… as long as you find the thing that you’re kind of good at and super passionate about. My sister was totally right: I could never be a singer, my voice sucks. But cycling, I have that. In elementary school, when you had to write about what you wanted to be when you grow up, I wrote that I was going to go to the Olympics. That’s what I was writing down. Hasn’t happened yet, but I am still a professional cyclist. And there’s still time! I always kind of knew being a professional athlete was what I wanted, even when I wasn’t sure of the sport. I never thought, ‘I want to be a doctor’ or anything like that. Playing sports was the one thing I loved.
It’s a big deal to go all in on cyclocross—especially when your original childhood dream was to go to the Olympics! What prompted that choice?
For a few years, I’ve been doing both mountain biking and cyclocross, racing full-on all year long. And I realized I was having a hard time feeling like I was racing at my 100 percent. I was always a little tired. So I thought, ‘I’m going to try it.’ I wanted to see what could happen if I put my entire focus on cyclocross, what could happen there. What I really wanted was to be 100 percent responsible for what was happening to me. I wanted to eliminate all the possible excuses. If I did only cyclocross, prepared for it, and still didn’t perform, it wasn’t going to be because I was too tired. It would be my responsibility. Later on, if I do achieve my goals, I may go back and try another discipline!
Choosing cyclocross over mountain biking was the risky decision—there’s less support in cyclocross than most other disciplines. You’ve had to sort out your own program this season, so you opted for the harder choice.
You’re totally right! It’s funny, I never saw it that way. I think the reason is just that I just love it the most. There’s a deeper passion there, and it’s difficult to pinpoint why. This week, David, my boyfriend, and I were trying to figure out what made me love it more, but we couldn’t figure it out. Maybe because it’s more dynamic? It’s shorter, there’s always something happening, so it’s easier for me to stay focused and do my best. In mountain biking, I feel like I’ve had very few occasions where I’ve been able to bring my best.
You’ve also started to build out a career in cyclocross, with things like your women’s camp, #CXFever, things like the Ass-Savers and buffs and other merch. Is that part of the love for the sport, or are you thinking strategically about your future?
Honestly? I think a big part is because I have more time right now! Not traveling as much in the summer gives me more time to do these projects. But really, it comes back to the big passion I have for cyclocross. When you’re really passionate about something… I feel like there’s so much I want to do for and with the cyclocross community! And I have more: In my mind, there are so many other things I want to do. I struggle with how much I can do outside of the sport without it impacting my performance. It’s a fine line. There are things that give me energy and don’t take a lot of time and I love doing them, and then there are things I would love to do but I know that they would take too much time to do properly. I’m trying to balance that. I always remember for my team to work, for my relationships with my sponsors to work, the base of it is training well, being healthy, being recovered, and ultimately, racing well. If that falls apart, everything around it doesn’t work.
I see your life and career right now as a mind map with the word CYCLOCROSS written in the middle and everything branches out from it.
Basically, that’s it! It’s all about #CXFever and trying to spread it. Honestly, there are so many things I’d love to do in my personal life that I put energy into that aren’t related to cyclocross, but I don’t talk about them as much. I do love that I can use cyclocross to try other things outside just being a cyclist, though. I had the Faces of Cross series on my website and I have big ideas around that. I got really into amateur photography a couple years ago and I really want to make a book about all around the passion for cyclocross. I want to do portraits and interviews with people who are around the sport and so passionate about it and want to make it a career. We all know no one is getting rich in cyclocross, so to me, that’s means the passion is so deep and so important and I’d love to capture that. But when will I take the pictures? I’d want to at the races, but I can’t go around photographing everyone on a race weekend. So there are these ideas, and I have so many ways I want to feed this passion for cyclocross, but it does come back to racing.
What is the dream goal for cyclocross?
Big goal, big dream: winning World Championships. It feels kind of weird, having that kind of outcome goal as a dream, but at the same time, you have to have a goal like that. It would just be so cool, for no other reason but for me and for David. It’s the pinnacle of what you can achieve in the sport.
And realistically, that’s not a crazy outcome goal. You’ve won a World Cup, you’ve had a fifth place finish at World Championships in Bieles.
It’s true. We have a plan and I’m trying to get there. But still, I know that Worlds is a one day thing and everything has to go right on that one day. So I’m working towards that.
What’s your plan for the rest of the season?
I’ll go to Europe just for the Tabor World Cup, and then I come back, with that same goal [of World Championships] in mind. One thing that I’ve noticed in the past is that around the end of December, I start losing energy and being a little less fast. We’re trying to get around that this year, so I’ll skip Koksijde, take a few really easy days, then get into a three-week super-intense training block. Hopefully that will bring me back to where I was in the beginning of the season so that I can do well in Namur and Zolder World Cups and the races after that. The decision to skip Koksijde was hard, but I decided that I wanted to try to do really well by skipping one than to do average and start declining. So we’ll see how that works. Cyclocross is hard because we race a lot, so there’s not a lot of time for training, and that catches up with you. The training block before the end of the season should be really good for that.
What about 2020?
After Worlds, I don’t know! I’ll do some gravel events in the summer. I have some ideas in my mind but nothing is official yet. In general, I’m coming back to the same thing for 2020: Cyclocross is my focus, and any races I do in the summer, sure, I want to do well, but I’m not training for them specifically.