Maghalie Rochette and I first crossed paths six years ago. The Pro’s Closet was a fledgling eBay store consigning used gear for pro riders and Rochette was making a name for herself in the pro cyclocross scene. Since then, we’ve both gotten a lot bigger!
Now, Rochette is Canada’s brightest cyclocross star. She races for Specialized-Feedback Sports, is the current Pan-American champion, a three-time national champion, and just last weekend she took her first European World Cup podium. Rochette is on form, and with the 2022 World Championships set to take place in Fayetteville, Arkansas (only the second time they have been held outside of Europe), this season may be her best chance to take the rainbow stripes.
I caught up with Rochette to find out how her world champs preparation is going. She explained how she got into cycling, what she thinks about racing in Fayetteville, and what her plans for the future are. I also took the opportunity to pick her brain about her gear preferences. Does she prefer 1x or 2x? Read on to find out. And don’t forget to root for her on January 29, when she’ll go wheel to wheel against the world’s best ‘cross racers.
You started mountain biking pretty young. Is that how you got into cycling?
“Yeah, my dad was always mountain biking when I was young. I was kind of a tomboy. You know, I loved skateboarding and everything that was a little bit different. So when I saw my dad coming back from mountain bike rides all muddy, I was like, ‘Hmm, this seems like something I would love.’
Rochette still enjoys mountain biking.
“When I was seven, I started riding with him and racing locally. The funny thing though, is I stopped racing mountain bikes from around 12 years old through my teen years because I got more into triathlon. I didn't touch a mountain bike for like eight years. And then at 19, I got back into mountain biking and then cyclocross because of triathlon injuries.”
Oh, so you found cyclocross later in your life. Is there a reason you choose to focus on it now?
“So for years I was on the Clif team, doing both mountain biking and ‘cross. I was racing year round with no breaks, and as much as I loved it, I realized I wasn’t reaching my full potential. I was always tired and never fully committed to anything. So back in 2018, I decided to focus on cyclocross to see what I could achieve if I put all of my effort into one thing.
“I think the reason I chose cyclocross was because I had a little bit more success in cyclocross than with mountain bikes. And I just love it. It's hard to explain, but I really love the vibe. I love the shorter, more intense racing. For me it’s easier to focus and perform well with that format.”
What’s been the best moment of your cyclocross career so far?
“I think there are two. It's hard to pick one. The first would be the 2017 World Championships. I was a first year elite and it was my first cyclocross world championship. I got fifth place and that was a pivotal moment for me, a breakthrough race that made me realize what I could achieve. The second one would be when I won my first World Cup in 2019.”
When they announced that Fayetteville Worlds would happen in 2022, I decided I had to target it. I think of it as my Olympics.
The world championships are in Fayetteville next January. Do you think you have an advantage since you’re based in North America?
“Yes. There's a few different factors at play, but the fact that it's in North America is something really special. That doesn't happen often. The first year I raced cyclocross was in 2012, but I missed the 2013 Louisville World Championships because I didn't qualify. I remember watching it and thinking how cool it was to have the biggest race of the year in the U.S., and people I knew were there racing it. So when they announced that Fayetteville would happen in 2022, I decided I had to target it. I think of it as my Olympics.
Bumping shoulders in practice.
“It's a great opportunity for us. I mean, I'm not even American, I'm Canadian, but I still feel like there's a home field advantage. I can actually drive to the race, which means I can have all the equipment that I want. And I can have my little trailer to hang out in before the race. All these things make it easier.
“Then the other factor is age. Louisville happened when I was 21 years old, so maybe I wouldn't have had the same focus. But now I'm 28 and I have accumulated more experience in this sport. I feel like it's a great chance for me to do well. All these factors are coming together, like pieces of the puzzle. I really want to make the most of it.”
Have you ridden in Fayetteville? What do you think of the course?
“I rode it at the World Cup in October. It was extremely fast and dry when we pre-rode. Then, just before our race, it started pouring rain and the course changed completely. It became more of a slow, grinding race. If it’s dry on race day, it will be interesting to watch because it will be so fast and tactical. If it's a slow and muddy race, we've already seen what that’s going to be like, but it’s still going to be exciting. I think the designers did a good job. One of the coolest things was this super long and twisty downhill. It's not overly technical, but it's something that we've never seen in cyclocross before. So it's a very unique feature.
“Also, Fayetteville just has such a huge cycling community. When we had the World Cup there, it was on a Wednesday at noon, so it was the worst time to have a race, and a lot of dedicated fans still came. So I think it has a really cool vibe and it will be a really fun event.”
I feel like Fayetteville Worlds is a great chance for me to do well. All these factors are coming together, like pieces of the puzzle.
Do you have any other 2022 goals?
“I have a bunch of goals, actually. I think I'm going to do a few mountain bike World Cups, so I'm excited about that. I'll do some gravel events too. I'm actually in the process of creating the calendar right now so I'm not exactly sure which gravel events I'll do. Maybe Leadville too. I'm actually really excited for the summer.”
Testing out a Specialized Diverge gravel bike.
Have you done many gravel races? Can you see yourself competing in a big gravel race like UNBOUND Gravel 200?
“I've done the ones that are closer to where I live on the East Coast — Vermont Overland, Rasputitsa, so shorter ones. I really haven't done a 200-miler. They're so long! Like I said, I love the dynamic, short, intense stuff like cyclocross, or XCO mountain bike World Cups. I think the people who do well in gravel prepare specifically for that sort of effort. To me, the races are actually too long. I kind of dread it. In training I love doing long endurance rides, so maybe I could do well in a six-to-seven hour race, but I'm definitely not trained for it. It’s a completely different kind of racing.”
I love the dynamic, short, intense stuff like cyclocross, or XCO mountain bike World Cups.
Do you think gravel is overshadowing cyclocross?
“Maybe a little bit. Cyclocross is a sport full of really passionate and dedicated racers. So I think that our little group of dedicated cyclocross fans isn’t necessarily moving away from the sport. Actually, I think gravel could bring more people into cyclocross. A lot of people that I know were always scared of trying cyclocross, just because it seemed like such a foreign discipline. But then after trying gravel, they're like, 'Oh, I can actually ride like this.' So people might actually give cyclocross a try because of gravel. It's a double-edged sword though. Some people will just leave and go into gravel. But we'll see.
“The other thing too is racers like Tom Pidcock, Wout van Aert, and Matheiu van der Poel, who came from cyclocross, have exploded the road scene. I think that will bring a lot of new fans to cyclocross. I feel like there's a lot of things in place for cyclocross to actually gain more popularity.”
I know you’re working to bring more young riders into the sport. Can you tell us a bit about that?
“So there’s the CXFever Fund that I started a few years ago to allow younger riders to pursue cyclocross. In Canada, the way our funding and support system works, it's all centered around Olympic sports. There's a few great things about that, but at the same time, if you're a young racer who really loves cyclocross, you might see it as a dead end. But I'm making a really good career for myself in cyclocross. There is not a well defined path for you to follow, so it’s harder to pursue a career. So that's what I want to encourage.
“Helen Wyman used to say, ‘If you don't see it, you can't be it.’ I'm focusing mostly on Canada, because there really is nothing in Canada for cyclocross. I’m helping young riders fund trips to Europe, so they can gain experience. There is a path there, and if I can provide resources for young, passionate cyclocross racers, then hopefully, they can see how they can keep going in the sport.”
Rochette's Specialized Crux.
Alright, Maghalie, it’s time for my favorite thing: nerdy gear questions. Let’s start with a big one, 1x or 2x?
“I guess I’d say 1x for cyclocross and 2x for gravel. I love having the bigger range for gravel, to be able to put it on the big ring and not get dropped if you’re on a fast descent where you really have to pedal. For ‘cross though, I have all the range I need with the 1x AXS Group. It's just one less thing to think about. There's so much going on in ‘cross, I don't want to worry about shifting chainrings. And there’s one less mechanical thing that can go wrong too.”
Mechanical or electronic drivetrains?
“Electronic, definitely. In the mud, when everything, the derailleur and the pulleys are fully packed with grass and mud, electronic shifting never fails you. It's really reliable. So I really love it for that reason.”
Carbon frame with aluminum wheels? Or an aluminum frame with carbon wheels?
“Hmm, that's a tough one. So I'm lucky I get to have both carbon, but I would rather … hmm, what do you think weighs the most? I think I would go for the lightest combo. Maybe that means wheels? Aluminum is also getting better, so there are actually some light aluminum frames now. So yeah, aluminum frame with carbon wheels.”
Let me ask this a different way. Do you prefer carbon wheels over aluminum wheels?
“Yeah. They’re stiff, and you can actually feel it. When you're trying to sprint you really notice how your wheels respond. If they're not stiff enough you can feel them flexing under you. Good carbon wheels feel really stiff and responsive and that makes you feel fast.”
Dropper posts on cross bikes?
“I think no, it’s not necessary for ‘cross. It could be fun for gravel though.”
If a tubeless tire can be flexible enough to mimic the feel of a tubular tire, then it would be a no brainer. It’s so much nicer and much more convenient than tubulars.
Tubulars or tubeless tires for cyclocross?
“Right now I'm still racing on tubulars. I love the suppleness and how well they respond to the terrain under you. But I feel like we're close to being able to switch to tubeless. If a tubeless tire can be flexible enough to mimic the feel of a tubular tire, then it would be a no brainer. It’s so much nicer and much more convenient than tubulars. When we travel to Europe, we have to bring like, 10 sets of tubular wheels. That's a pain in the ass.
“I've actually been trying a bunch of tubeless tires and just haven't committed to racing them yet. But in training, tubeless is all I ride, so I do practice with them. They're actually really good, so that's why I think we're really not far.”
We both ride with the same head unit, the Hammerhead Karoo 2. So I'm curious, what do you have displayed on your head unit? Do you change anything depending on the situation?
“So I always use the same profile, but I change pages. So I have a dedicated training page with lap, lap time, lap power, lap heart rate, lap cadence, and then the current data for all of these. So that's my training page. For the race page, I actually don't look at it much during a race because I’m so focused, but it’s on there because I want that data. It has time, power, speed, cadence, and heart rate, I believe.
"And then I do have a page with average and max results. My favorite to look at is max power. I love that one. When I do sprints, like today I have to do a series of full gas sprints, I’ll look between each sprint to see if I hit my max power goal. I really geek out on that one. Also I just love that mapping on the Hammerhead. On adventure rides, I usually just put it on the map and have fun with it.”
Okay, last one. And this is probably the most important question. Coffee or beer?
“Oh! I love both. I would say coffee. I have coffee every day and I don't have a beer every day. But after a hard race? Beer. Definitely beer!”
Photos courtesy of Hammerhead.