Kaitie Keough has been one of the leading American cyclocross riders over the past years. She won 13 UCI races, with the Jinglecross in Iowa being the most impressive one. She also stood on the overall podium of the world cup, and American national championships. However, 2 weeks ago she decided to call it quits, a decision that surprised many people considering she is just 29 years old. In an exclusive interview with cyclocross social she tells about the mental struggles that led to her decision to retire. The full interview is available as podcast on all audio platforms!
When she was 7 years old, Kaitie started her cycling career on the cycling track of Kenosha, Wisconsin . In the beginning she just road her normal street bike on the track, but when she was 10 years old, she was finally allowed to get onto a real track bike. She also started racing in other disciplines within cycling, road and cyclocross. Almost every weekend her parents drove her to local cycling races, even if they were 2 hours away.
When Kaitie became a junior, there was no such thing as a juniors category for women. She was immediately thrown in the deep end at cyclocross races. As a Junior she needed to compete with the likes of Katie Compton and Kateřina Nash. Nash, together with Erin Mirabella, was actually one of the idols that inspired Kaitie to start riding UCI races. As a second year junior she already started getting podiums in these UCI races. After that cyclocross season she also came to Europe for the first time, as she was selected for the junior women’s world championship road race in Offida, Italy. She ended 8th there!
She didn’t need to wait long for her first cyclocross world championship selection either. In 2011 she got selected for the cyclocross world championship in Sankt Wendel. When she raced there, she was all deer in headlights. The crowds and atmosphere were something that she had never experienced before. She learnt a lot whilst racing there, and would continue doing so in the following seasons.
Her real breakthrough came at the 2015 world cup in Valkenburg, where she ended second. Before that, she has already ended in the top 10 of multiple world cups, but that second place made her feel like ”she was kinda good at it” Moving forward from this, she started working with more goals in a season, and had higher expectations of herself.
In the years following that performance, Kaitie would keep traveling between The United States and Europe in the early part of the season, but staying in Europe for a longer time around Christmas. This wasn’t always easy, because she was away from her family and friends for a long time, and couldn’t celebrate the holidays at home. The difference in language was another factor that caused some issues for her. As everything around the cyclocross events was in Dutch, it made her feel a bit lonely from time to time. This made it hard for her to keep her head in the game.
But when she eventually sorted these things outs, she could focus fully on the racing. This could be seen in her results. The 2017-18 season would turn out to be the best season of her career. She started her season with 2 second places in the world cups of Iowa and Waterloo, and would collect another 2 world cup podiums throughout the rest of the season. These podiums secured her of the second spot on the podium of the overall world cup classification. Kaitie would also achieve her best result at a world championship that year. At the worlds in Valkenburg, she ended 6th, just outside of the top 5 which she hoped to achieve.
The following season started very well for Kaitie. After being ill in the Waterloo world cup, everything came together at the world cup in Iowa City. She road away from Evie Richards and Marianne Vos, and claimed the victory. This win was the absolute high of her career, but it was followed by the biggest low of her career. For years she had been dreaming about what it would be like to win a world cup, but reality felt nothing like what she had expected from it. She felt empty, and her motivation went up and down. Her results also went up and down, but she managed to repack herself for the end of the seasons finishing with a 6th place at the world cup in Hoogerheide, and a 7th place at the world championship in Bogense.
For the following 2019-2020 season Kaitie decided to commit to a full season in Europe. After the American world cups, she left for Europe to ride a bunch of races she had never done before. But a perfect storm emerged upon her. She put so much pressure on herself, that she cracked under it. In doing absolutely everything to get top results, she got overtrained. Despite still getting some top 5 places, it all was too much for Katie. Around the world cup in Namur she was experiencing so much anxiety, she decided to go back to the US, and reset herself. This was a very tough decision for her to make after all the effort she put in. Luckily she did get the full support from her team when she was resetting herself.
Despite the global pandemic, Kaitie managed to come to Europe the following season. The results might have been disappointing, but it was a personal win for her. She had proven to herself that she was capable of racing an entire season in Europe, in a healthy state. Around December that year, she also made the decision to retire after the world championship in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
Kaitie wanted to give it her all 1 last time in the 2021-22 season, but reality quickly set in. After the world cup in Fayetteville, she decided that it had been enough and it was time to retire. About her retirement she said: ”I had been grasping at straws for the past few years. I had this idea in my head that it would be great to end my career with a good performance at the world championship on home soil. But my decision to retire was long overdue, it goes back to that win in Iowa. I tried so hard to find that fire and motivation from within again. I did everything I could, but you can’t force it. In the end, I just don’t want to race anymore.”
Overall Kaitie has no regret about her decisions, and is very happy with the results she has achieved throughout her career. For now, she will be focusing on the company she started with her husband, Peak View Properties. Besides that, she will also start working for the KX3 coaching company, with which she will be coaching a bunch of junior riders.
You can listen to the full interview with Kaitie Keough in episode 19 of the Cyclocross Social Podcast, it is available on all audio platforms.