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On and off the bike, Curtis White of the Steve Tilford Foundation Racing team is a Classics guy. He prefers the classic cyclocross conditions of mud and snow. In college, he studied the Classics, wrestling with Greek and Latin to make him a more confident public speaker and ambassador as a pro athlete. Curtis keeps a busy schedule racing gravel and cyclocross and hosting his podcast, In the Red. We talked with him for this episode of the Zipp Speed Podcast as he readies for the 2024 UCI Cyclocross World Championships in Tábor, Czech Republic. Below are edited excerpts:

The Zippcast · Curtis White of Steve Tilford Foundation Racing
What is your background growing up?

I grew up in Duanesburg, N.Y., rural upstate New York. I went to Union College in Schenectady. I was a commuter student all four years; for me, that was to have a balance between sports and academics. I feel most of my journey through sport and my schooling was finding weaknesses to train. That is how my brain works. If I am not doing something well, I need to find a way to improve that skill. Through college, I studied Classics, Latin and Greek, and humanities. At that point in my life, that is what I needed to develop. I was not a very strong public speaker, not a strong reader or writer. I needed to develop those skill sets. Now, ten years later, being able to share the stories that I have sport is something that has really helped me develop as a person. 

What is your perspective now on being a professional athlete?

I am still young, 28, but I am old enough to realize that the gift we have in sports is a short window of time in our lives. I am very fortunate to be in this position, but I am also fast enough to be in this position. The minute I am not fast enough, it goes away. A lot of effort and dedication goes into the craft of the day in day out living for your sport, the training, the recovery, the nutrition, the sleep, on top of making sure we’re able to share our stories, the podcasting, the videos, the articles. I enjoy sharing my passion for cycling and cyclocross.

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Your father is a former rower and current rowing coach.

He found rowing back in his college years, and he competed at a fairly high level. He made the world championship team in 1988 and won a silver medal.

So, you grow up rowing?

I never grew up rowing. We grew up in a rural area, and the bike was the way for me to have a little more freedom. The roads were quiet. I could go where I wanted when I wanted. Rowing was my dad’s way of finding more endurance sports. He’s been the coach at Union College for well over 25 years. We grew up around the boathouse interacting with those athletes. Sport was always important to us. But with cycling, there was just a little bit more freedom. Gravel is big right now. You could take a bike with wide tires, and you could go where you want when you want, with very few limitations. That is just what attracted me to cycling.

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When you’re passionate about a sport, you pour every inch of yourself into this, and you shut out much of the world.

–Curtis White, Steve Tilford Foundation Racing

What was it like to win the 2022 USA Cycling Elite Men’s Cyclocross Championship? It was a huge breakthrough for you.

There were a lot of close calls. The previous three national championships to last year were all second places. To race in Hartford, Connecticut, it was one hour 45 minutes from where I grew up in New York and one hour 45 from where I live now north of Boston, the whole home community I grew up with for it to all come together with the snow in Hartford and the mud. That is something that I’ll take with me for the rest of my life, and I’ll always have that jersey hanging on my wall. The work is still there; the dedication is still there. But it’s a little less stressful. I’ve done it now.

How have you learned to evaluate and get the most out of your equipment over your CX career?

The most important thing for an athlete is to have a strong relationship with their mechanics. That way, you learn as much as you can about the products you’re using. This is my 11th season with SRAM and Zipp. Seeing the evolution – we were on mechanical SRAM Red and moving to disc brakes. This progression of the product over the years, SRAM AXS 12 speed. I have my gearing ratio set up exactly how I want it. I have a 44t on the front 36-10 in the back.

 How much have you looked at tire pressure on your Zipp 303 Firecrest Tubulars?

My standard is 26 psi in front and 27 in the rear. As my skill has improved, I’m gotten more comfortable riding lower tire pressure. You don’t have a suspension system. The only suspension system you have is a 33mm tire and your body. You need to have a stable core, back, everything about your body needs to withstand the impact of being on and off the bike multiple times, the conditions, the variables of the race. I train on the Zipp 303 S tubeless wheelset.

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