How long does a person have to do something for it to be considered a “career”? Most people experience excitement at a young age when it comes to the prospect of being able to live out their dreams and fantasies doing what the dream of; astronaut, ice cream van driver, doctor, whatever. Pragmatism has a way of wrapping and weaving itself around those ideas, constricting them and binding the magic out until one is generally left with a stable, dependable career with a straight-forward pathway of growth and a measured end.
This is not the case for cyclists, and this is certainly not the case for Katy Winton.
The enduro bug bit her early, in 2013 the young Scot made the shift from a primarily cross-country focus into what would ultimately become her primary discipline. In 2016, racing enduro at an elite level became more than a pastime, it became her full-time job. Signing with one of the biggest brands in cycling with full support meant a fortified home-base on the road, a springboard to launch a career on.
After 5 years of up and down racing – repeated flashes of brilliance and podiums, followed by injury and recovery, it ended. Abruptly. At the end of 2020, a year already ripe with its own turbulence, Katy got the news that her position on her team would not be renewed. Confused, frustrated and nervous, she scrambled looking for a new ride—deal—anything that would let her continue racing without the feeling that she had regressed, both professionally and personally.
Accompanying the search for a new team to call home highlighted some glaring issues in the industry, ones that her factory team position had kept at bay but were common for women in the privateer fields.
“For me, I didn't even consider contacting teams that already had a girl... which is silly, maybe they'd like two?! All the women on tour have a lot of respect for each other, we've all had to battle to prove our worth to get on a team in the first place - a lot of teams don't have and don't want a woman - none of us want to push any of the girls out of their spots with so few openings available. But sport is harsh, if you're not performing then you're out no matter your gender and your spot will be filled.”
The search often turned up positivity that was ultimately lip service in many cases. Teams were enthusiastic about the prospect of her representing them but unwilling to make the same commitment to her that she would be willing to make to them.
“Everyone liked the idea of having me on board and could see what I would bring to their team or brand, but no one wanted to actually make it happen. I was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and I take full responsibility for that, the ship had sailed, the budgets were gone. It was just frustrating. I was lucky SRAM had my back the whole time and were not prepared to see a top 5 racer go without support.”
Reassessing what it meant to be on a team meant a need to reassess what she valued in a team. Since being a young privateer racer, much had changed, things that seemed so important had shown their true colors, while other things that weren’t considered had reared their heads and established themselves as paramount to success.
“When I look at a team, I'm considering - do they have good bikes and components? Being a small human, I'm looking at will the bike actually fit me? Who is on the team? Is there a strong leader? What is the environment like? What do they value? Even if the equipment is excellent, it all comes back to the people. The people around you at the races and the people who organise the equipment for you are crucial. If you are all on the same page and value the same things, have good communication and really work together then the environment is great which can elevate your performance massively. Equally if it's not, like any workplace that gets toxic, then it causes unnecessary stress which can be detrimental for everyone involved. It always comes back to stress management — is this team going to alleviate stress or add to it? I'm about to hurl myself down a mountain and if I'm stressed because the vibe in the team is way off or I'm not confident in the equipment, it makes it a whole lot harder to perform at the highest level.”
Ultimately, Katy decided to build out her own team, aptly choosing to call it Moxie XI. By taking a ground up approach and looking at what she valued most, a program was constructed around the pillars of hard work, long-term friendships, passion for sport and a desire to spread positivity through cycling. Owning the team means being accountable for every high and every low, but as a seasoned athlete she’s prepared to take that next step.
“Yeah for sure, the accountability is forcing me to grow as an athlete and person because I have to step up to the mark. But I'm ready to learn so I'm ready to be accountable for every decision right or wrong; to figure this out and create something great. I think I had it in me even as a younger privateer, just with less confidence. The difference now is I am an established racer, I know a lot more about racing, the industry, bikes and I have the contacts to build what I need to race my best. There are a lot of people supporting me, and. although the final decisions and actions are on me, all the people putting in to support me are a crucial part to the future success and I'm so grateful to have them as part of my team. I can't wait to get between the tape!!”
When the 2021 Enduro World Series gets underway in a few days' time, Katy will line up as a with the proud support of her family, as well as SRAM, RockShox, Zipp, Nukeproof Bikes, Troy Lee Designs, and more.
Photos by Dave Mackison, Words by Peter Matthews / SRAM
Katy's Nukeproof Giga 290 is built with a SRAM X01 Eagle AXS drivtrain to get her up to speed, and SRAM Code RSC brakes to keep her in control. RockShox Zeb Ultimate, RockShox Super Deluxe Ultimate, and Zipp 3ZERO MOTO wheels smooth out the trail, while RockShox Reverb AXS keeps the saddle out of the way.