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Rejoining Friends

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Wednesday, February 21, 2018

CANYON//SRAM Racing picked up another heavy hitter to add to the team for 2018, Katarzyna (Kasia) Niewiadoma. The 23-year-old Pole has quickly climbed the pro ranks with two European Road Championship wins as a U23, and in her first year as an Elite in 2017, Niewiadoma won the OVO Energy Women's Tour and stood on the podium at Strade Bianche, Liege-Bastogne-Liege, and Flèche Wallone. We sat down with Niewiadoma during a visit to SRAM’s European headquarters in Schweinfurt, Germany. Below is an edited transcript of that conversation. Main photo by Thomas Maheux.

Photo credit: Thomas Maheux

You are new to CANYON//SRAM Racing. What are your first impressions?

I’m super enthusiastic and excited about starting the new season with CANYON//SRAM Racing. I spent four years on the same team. Everything was clear and well known to me, so it was hard to find inspiration and motivation to keep improving. It’s nice to be in a new environment, with new teammates, a lot of good riders, and professional staff. It’s an extra boost of motivation I would say. And now that I’ve seen the bikes, the wheels, our riding kits, and everything around super high level, I’m really enthusiastic. I think all the small details can make a huge difference and improvement in my results. 

You know most of your new team members from racing against them in the past, but others like Pauline were former teammates. Are you looking forward to collaborating again?

We rode three years together. So it’s nice to know someone on the team with whom you were riding before. Pauline and I get on really well, and I’m super excited to race with her. Also I know Hannah and Alexis really well from Girona, where we lived in the same town, and then the others just from racing. Now being on the same team, I can get to know them more. I think that we will have a really nice team spirit and we can build a good atmosphere, which will for sure have an impact on our results. 

Photo credit: Beth Duryea

Which race do you dream of winning? Is it Strade Bianche, where you finished second the last two years, or Worlds, as you said that your dream is to wear the rainbow jersey?

Since I started riding my bike I was always dreaming about winning Flèche Wallonne. It’s a super iconic race and it ends up at a really steep climb, the Mur de Huy. Actually, all my dreams will come true if I could win it, especially that my family is always there to support me. I feel that crossing the finish line first there and celebrating with the team and family would be amazing.

So Flèche Wallonne is definitely one of your goals for 2018?

Yes, for sure. Then around Flèche Wallonne we also have Amstel [Gold] and Liège [Liège-Bastogne-Liège]. So when you prepare to be in very good shape for Flèche Wallonne, you can also perform really well at those two races. This year I finished all three of them on the third spot. So, I’d like to make a step up on those podiums. Also, Strade Bianche is a super cool race. I always feel comfortable racing there. As it’s at the start of the season, people are always interested to find out who is in good shape.

Later in the season, we have the Giro Rosa or La Course. But I don’t think about them now, because if I start thinking about them now, during winter, I will loose my focus to be motivated for the first part of the season.

Photo credit: Thomas Maheux

Have you looked at the Road Worlds course in Innsbruck?

Yes. I’ve seen that’s really hard, but I also want to leave it for later because with cycling experience so far, every time I was so enthusiastic about that type of race, like Rio or for the Giro, I was thinking way too much about those races and trying to be as good as possible. But I was never able to be really on the top because I got too stressed, nervous, and I burnt a lot of energy instead of making improvements. The best is to set goals step by step and have a free mind. In this sport your mental health is super important and you don’t realize it before you burn yourself. Then you learn from it.

How and when did you start riding?

I started because of my dad. He’s never been a professional cyclist, but he always loved the sport. Once he just showed up at home with a small bike and said tomorrow there’s a race where we can start together. I thought, ‘Ok we can try.’ I was around 15 at that time. Then I won this race and a coach contacted me, but I wasn’t much into cycling. It was the age where you are, not rebellious, but you don’t really know what you want to do. You change your mind all the time and you want to hang out with your friends and not go for hard training rides. Until 17 I was kind of trying to push away cycling. When I was in the Junior category, that’s when I really fell in love with cycling. And at that point I said, ‘I want to train properly.’

Actually, you started pretty late compared to others, did you do other sports before?

I lived in the mountains, so when I was a child I was always outside doing something, playing with my neighbors and cousins. All day long, running and jumping around. I was never spending time at home watching TV, always doing something, moving and being active. I think that was the biggest advantage to develop my body and skills.  

Photo credit: Thomas Maheux

Do you have a golden moment when you were riding or racing that you look back on with a smile?

It’s hard to say. I was really aiming to win one of the Classics races and every time I ended up second or third. Or at Tour of Flanders I felt really good, but we were caught with one kilometer to go and my dream vanished. So I wasn’t really satisfied after the Spring Classics. And then my first WorldTour victory, which was in the Aviva Tour [OVO Energy Women's Tour]. I was expecting that after winning a race you could celebrate with the team, but everyone went in their own directions because they had to fly back home. So I couldn’t celebrate with anyone and I felt a bit upset. We won it together and we couldn’t have a dinner together or take them out for a drink. So it was mixed feelings.

At the Giro and La Course I wasn’t in top shape, so they weren’t great moments. But the last part of the season was golden, especially with World Championships, because I had a lot of doubts after the Giro. Even though I got fifth it was a great result for me personally. 

What do you think about during long training rides to stave off the boredom?

Usually when I have to do a long ride I try to make a really nice loop instead of riding straight roads for hours, so the time flies faster—a loop with a nice view and beautiful scenery. And mostly on my rides I think about my family who lives far away from me and we don’t have many opportunities to see each other. I also think about what I have to prepare to do. I think about my friends. Sometimes I get really deep in my thoughts, thinking how to improve the same details and trying to find solutions. Also, I like to think about what I can do besides cycling, like, if something happens or if it’s time to retire. I will not be upset or destroyed after my cycling career ends because I have nothing to do. I want something that gives me as much pleasure as cycling.

Do you already know what you’d like to do?

Maybe because of my boyfriend [pro cyclist Taylor Phinney], he gives me a lot of inspiration because he paints and plays music. So I’m also trying to develop my brain a little bit with painting and some artistic things. I never considered myself as an artistic person because all my drawings were bad, but sometimes you just have to take one color and mix it with others and you can play for hours with colors and forms. And it gives you a lot of pleasure. I guess we all have some artistic capabilities. 

If you could use only one word to describe yourself, what would it be?

I think I would say that I’m a feisty girl. I like to fight. Feisty, that’s the word that can describe me.

Photo credit: Thomas Maheux

Are you picky regarding your bike and equipment?

I always need to trust the mechanics that work with me. It’s important for me to feel comfortable on my bike, but I’m not difficult. After doing a bike fitting I think that everything should be aligned and I won’t have any knee problems for example. I’ve never been picky., I’m actually easy and it’s easy for me to adjust to new equipment. And I’m really opened to try new things. 

You said that you are open to new things, so you’re opened to ride with disc brakes?

Yes! I have to admit that many times I crashed on wet roads. Then I got super scared on downhills when the roads are really wet. I’ve never had the opportunity to ride on disc brakes in wet conditions, but I heard that it’s so much better, so I’m super excited to try and overcome my fears of descending. I think disc brakes will really help me. Sometimes with rim-brakes, you brake, but you feel that you are not slowing down or that your rear wheel is slipping and you have no control over your bike.

Photo credit: Thomas Maheux

What’s the worst fashion crime you or a teammate has committed?

The first thing that pops up in my head is once my friend was super stressed before a race. She wears size 37 for her shoes and we had one of our teammates who wears size 42. The first friend was so stressed that she took the shoes from the other girl and she didn’t notice it! She was on the rollers warming up before the race with those big shoes. That’s pretty obvious that those shoes are far too big!

Follow Katarzyna on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

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