The White siblings are setting the foundation for success and fun in cyclocross.
Words by Chris Klibowitz. Photos by Jake Hamm & Cannondale.
In mid-August, the riders on the 2016–17 Cannondale p/b Cyclocrossworld.com cyclocross team—four on the pro team, and seven on the development team—were assembled in Wilton, Connecticut, to receive their new gear, meet their fellow teammates and do a little team building—including a race at a weekly training series behind a shop in Pawling, New York. We all know that New Bike Day is the best day, and it might be easy to simply write off all the smiles to that, but the atmosphere around the Cycling Sports Group headquarters—Cannondale’s parent company—was more than just faux-Christmas-morning excitement.
As Scott Rittschof, the senior vice president of global marketing and product development at CSG, addressed the team, he had a lot to say about attitude. He told them all that while results and podiums are great and celebrated by everyone in the office, what is most important is that the team have fun, engage and be friendly, and be welcoming to new riders and fans at races. That is what the title sponsor was asking of the team, more than anything. Be inclusive, rather than exclusive.
At the training race, the drills that the staff run with the team seem aimed at taking the pressure off the riders, to force them to adapt and learn to laugh through any obstacles. Finishing a 45-minute race with a smile goes a long way toward that goal of being a team people look forward to seeing at the races. With the talent they have among them, the results will come. So the focus is on giving them the ability to succeed while staying true to Ritschoff’s mission statement for them.
Team dynamic is always a tricky proposition, but it’s safe to assume that this dynamic feeds from the top down. So it’s no wonder after listening to Rittschof—the top dog around here—talk about his early days in ’cross, where the team management, including stalwarts on the US cyclocross scene like Tim Johnson and the team’s general manager Stu Thorne, get their great attitude from, that this trickles right down to the team, who seem almost more family than merely teammates.
Of course, part of that could be because three of the eleven riders are family. Between the three White siblings, Curtis, Emma and Harrison, there is almost 30 years of cyclocross racing experience. Impressive, considering they are only 21, 19 and 14 years old, respectively.
The two eldest, Curtis and Emma, will be racing together on the pro team this season, a change for Emma. Harrison will continue duty on the development team, where Emma has ridden for the past few years before getting the call up to the pro team. While some sibling rivalry exists—Emma said: “Competitiveness is in our genes,”—they are quick to point out that they don’t actually race against each other in the same race. Not yet, at least, but young Harrison is nipping at Curtis’ heels. It is clear that their support for each other is next-level—they train together, travel together, and Emma and Curtis even race for the same road team, Rally Cycling (formerly Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies). Harrison has never known anything else, as Curtis has been racing ’cross as long as he can remember. “It’s very helpful for me,” he said, of having access to two pro-level racers 24 hours per day.
While the team dynamic is affected by the Whites, offering a positive example for everyone else, it helps that they are joined on the pro team by Stephen Hyde, one of the top-ranked US riders who spent a good portion of last season on a podium, and Katie Antonneau, who is currently ranked number ten in the world among the women’s elite, and no stranger to a podium herself. Despite impressive palmares all around, there is an equally impressive lack of ego among the squad. It’s often hard to discern the pro riders from the devo kids. Everyone is a team, everyone is family.
A big family, at that, with 11 riders total, in a time when most teams are paring rosters down to a minimum. When asked why not do the same, Thorne said: “The past four years, we’ve said, ‘Maybe we should tone it done a bit’. But it’s really hard, because there’s a lot of young kids coming up, whether it’s the Whites or whether it’s any other kid, it doesn’t matter. It’s just hard to turn kids away. I want to be able to give them the sport that they need.”