Junior Katie Clouse nearly upseats pros at Colorado cyclocross championships
They wanted to shake this rider’s hand. They wanted a photograph with her. Was this female bike racer Georgia Gould (LUNA Pro Team) coming off a three month break to win the Colorado elite cyclocross state championship, Meredith Miller (California Giant Berry Farms/Specialized) who is ranked third in USA Cycling’s Pro CX series, or last year’s Colorado champion Nicole Duke (Marin/Spy)?
Yes and no.
Certainly those three ladies received a lot of attention at the state championship on Sunday. Course workers halted sand raking to applaud Gould during her warm-up. She brought her funny self, joking before the start of the elite race and comparing the paleness of her out-of-competition legs against Miller’s burnished tan.
But it was a rising star who stole the show, a junior who led in the first lap, then rode second or third wheel to Gould and Miller for much of the race and only fell behind Duke in the last few minutes – twelve year-old Katie Clouse (Canyon Bicycles).
Clouse regularly travels east from Park City, Utah to race her bike in Colorado where there’s more female competition. Her brother Evan, also a junior, competes in adult races too.
She’s a triple road-discipline national champion and cyclocross national champion. According to her father Ed Clouse, she gave up ski racing to focus full-time on cycling.
Earlier this season she nearly beat some of the best local elite riders on a very muddy, cold day. When asked how she felt about that she said the older girls didn’t intimidate her, adding, “It’s just racing.” Forty-five minutes later she started the category three race and won it.
The pros admired and respected Clouse’s performance on Sunday. After the race Duke recalled her thoughts as she closed in on the junior near the end of the race.
“I felt bad because on the last lap Katie Clouse was right ahead of me, and I think she’s such an amazing rider obviously, and I was like ‘Oh my God, I’m going to pass her in the last half of this lap. And I don’t want to pass her because she is doing so amazing.’” Duke did pass her but didn’t leave Clouse until she said, “Go girl!”
After finishing Clouse sat folded into a soft chair in the parking lot and talked about her race. She spoke softly, just five minutes after crossing the line, sliding off her bike, and crumpling like Fabian Cancellara after a Tour de France time trial victory.
“That was really hard,” she said, several times pausing for a long exhale. “I’m surprised I could do so well after yesterday. I felt really tired in the warm-up today. I had a good start. That was key for me.”
The day before the middle-schooler won the women’s junior 17-18 championship race.
Judy Freeman (Crankbrothers Race Club) spent part of Sunday’s race holding off Clouse. A dominant force in the second half of the local Colorado cyclocross season, Freeman finished third on Sunday behind second place Miller.
Commenting in a post-race note, Freeman wrote, “It’s cool seeing Katie out there. It’s impressive how fast she already is and will only be getting faster.”
Her speed right now is enough to leave more experienced riders wondering how to beat her. Miller congratulated Clouse on her ride and sixth place result after the race. As the Cal Giant rider rode away from their visit she joked about how it was a good time to retire from cycling.
The elite riders started uphill on the wide paved road bordering Rhyolite Park. The first turn came quickly onto turf and the narrower track which funneled the field into single file.
Last weekend’s winner at Boulder Reservoir, Kristen Peterson (Evol Foods), nailed the holeshot. Clouse had started in the second row and now tailed the Evol rider, followed by Freeman, Melissa Barker (GS Boulder / Studio 1 Dental), Rebecca Gross (Raleigh-Clement), Karen Hogan (Team Kappius) Laurel Rathbun (Exergy Twenty16), and the rest of the field in single file. Duke, Miller, and Gould – none of whom started in the first row – rode toward the back of the queue.
They descended and wound through turns on an open hillside, ascending, descending, then ascending again over a short run-up of railroad ties to the top of a ridge. Clouse took the lead there.
The course then dropped along a sweeping curve to the lower section where Freeman now piloted the front of the race. That muddier last half of the lap played over a sandpit, triple set of barriers, and turns on the side of a grassy hill before continuing onto pavement and the finishing straight.
“When we hit the corner before the sand, Katie [Clouse] and Judy [Freeman] were already in the sand,” Gross explained post-race. “It was an insane gap for a first lap.” Peterson was next on course with a gap to Gross, Barker, and about ten additional riders in a chase group.
“I had a rough start being at the back,” Duke said, “having to battle up like that – I haven’t had to do that in a long time. There was just nothing you could do in the beginning. You had to just sit where you were because it was kind of single track. The longer I sat there the further everyone else went. You get around people but there is only so much you can do where there is that much of a gap. I also just had a hard day, I wasn’t my best…”
The course continued on pavement and grass as a new lap began. Freeman shouldered her bike and tackled the long run-up first. Clouse charged along next with Gould, Duke, and Miller in the top ten.
Gould continued to move up through the field as if she’d been racing all season. “She came around me in one of those power sections in the mud and she was just strong,” Duke said. “When she passed me she was powering through that stuff.”
The Crankbrothers rider held the lead into lap three when she, Clouse, and Gould came together on the short run-up. Miller chased about five seconds behind in fourth. Duke, Hogan, and Rathbun formed the next group. Boulder Cycle Sport’s and soon to be 2013 Colorado Cross Cup winner Kristin Weber kept on in the following group with Peterson, Barker, and Gross.
Then Gould reminded everyone that despite pale legs, she could still win. With about two laps to go she drove hard at the front.
“I tried to get the best gap I could but didn’t have the legs to keep it,” Freeman later wrote. A crash delayed her and she fell back to fourth behind Clouse who now chased Miller, who chased the new leader, Gould.
Meanwhile Hogan showed what a 48 year-old rider could do as she raced in sixth position behind fifth on course Duke. In the final lap she and Freeman passed Clouse who, likely fatigued from holding wheels that carried Gould, Miller, and Freeman, slowed down.
As Clouse completed her final lap Gould won by eight seconds over Miller. Freeman claimed third about ninety seconds later. Duke, Hogan, and Clouse finished next in that order. According to one spectator, Hogan nipped by Clouse with 250 meters to go. Only half a second separated them on the line.
A little over three weeks remain before the showdowns at ‘cross nationals in Boulder. Miller mentioned she’s flying to Europe for World Cup racing in the meantime. Clouse intends to race the Altitude Adjustment event in Longmont a few days before nationals begin.
— AltitudeAdjustment (@AltitudeCross) December 15, 2013
ProVéloPassion has not checked with Gould to confirm her participation at nationals, but the above tweet and another source at Sunday’s race suggests she’ll be there.
Watch Miller meet Clouse and talk about the course, as well as with an interview with Clouse in this video.
See a video of the race action.
Gallery (in progress)