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Rising U.S. star Katie Clouse is about to take on the biggest race of her road career.
The 19-year-old has been riding her first full European season with Rally Cycling this year and she has been topped to line-up at the Giro d’Italia Donne on Friday.
Clouse was surprised to get the call up so soon, and now she’s chomping at the bit.
“I mean, I’m kind of shocked. I don’t I think it has set,” Clouse told VeloNews from her team hotel in Italy. “It’s the biggest race that women have. So, I’m so excited to race it.
“Obviously, I won’t probably be towards the front at any of the big mountaintop finishes, but if I can finish the Giro on stage 10 that’ll probably be the best thing ever. It’ll be amazing just to be able to say like, ‘I finished the Giro.’”
Clouse might be used to the fast and furious nature of cyclocross and mountain bike racing – where she has won umpteen junior national titles – but she’s really keen to test herself on the steadier pace of mountain climbing in Italy.
“I’m looking forward to the mountaintop finish [on stage 9]. It’s 18k, averaging eight percent or something, which is kind of crazy. So, I’m pretty excited. I love climbing and I love like steady mountaintop finishes,” she said.
“I love flat courses, too, but what I really look forward to is like the long like steady climbs. I really love that in racing and just like setting your own pace and finding a group. And just like riding to the top.”
The Giro d’Italia Donne will be the longest race that Clouse ever has ridden after contesting the four-day Setmana Ciclista Valenciana in May – where she finished eighth in the youth classification. Almost everything that Clouse has done in 2021 has been a new experience for her, and she has been utilizing the experience of her compatriots as she learns the ropes of top-level road racing.
“I’ve talked to quite a few Americans, like Skylar Schneider and Coryn Rivera. I did a couple of training days with her down in Colorado. So, I was kind of talking to her about it,” Clouse said. “I was really nervous just because I haven’t raced long stage races. I’ve done some US stage racing and then the longest European one I’ve done is Valencia.
“I was pretty cooked after it because it was pretty fast every single day. I heard that since it’s 10 days it seems to be like a little bit more chill until, like, it needs to be fast. I just need to eat a lot of food, and rest a lot.”
Right into the fire
Clouse had to bide her time before making her debut this season after having surgery to repair a torn labrum after dislocating her shoulder over the winter. She crossed her first start line at Flèche Wallonne in April.
She had ridden in Europe before, but those races were junior events, and taking on Flèche Wallonne was something of a baptism of fire for the rider from Utah. She finished outside the time limit on the Huy, but she did finish and it proved to be a solid base to build upon for the season to come.
Since that daunting opening, she has put in some solid results including 16th place among some illustrious company at the Navarra Women’s Elite Classics.
“I knew it was going to be really difficult because the last time I raced in Europe was just my junior Nations Cups,” Clouse said. “It’s a huge step up from that, the racing and the speed. It’s nice that I had some background in it because the racing is similar and I’m able to move around the pack a little bit more easily, but just the pace is just so much higher.
“It’s insane how fast the races are over here. Diving into Fleche Wallonne was, like, insanely hard. Then we went to Spain, and we got some good one-days, and we raced Tour of Valencia, which was obviously hard, but it wasn’t the same as Flèche. So, it was good to get some, not easier, but just less-intense races.”
Dealing with the narrow roads has been a learning curve for Clouse, compared to the wider roads of North America, but she believes her cyclo-cross background has helped her out.
“It’s still kind of scary with all the stuff that’s on the road, like in the middle of the road and just around,” she said. “At La Course, the neutral was insane, just going around all these like roadblocks and like going basically on sidewalks and it was pretty crazy. But I definitely would like to think that just like being able to move around in the pack, and having a little bit more skill, has allowed me to stay up towards the front and just be a better racer within the pack.”