The last few Septembers have featured traveling whirlwinds for a number of athletes racing the U.S. World Cups. Whether it be Waterloo to Vegas to Iowa or Iowa to Vegas to Waterloo, there has been a lot of time on the road for cyclocross athletes.
Those travel schedules, however, likely pale in comparison to the one 17-year-old Katie Clouse had this week.
On Thursday, Clouse raced the Junior Road Worlds in Austria. Today, she will be the youngest U.S. rider to start an Elite World Cup. On Monday, it is then back to school. In between were flights from Innsbruck to Iowa City on Friday and from Iowa City to Utah on Monday.
It is safe to safe that Clouse is on track to be one of the next stars of cycling in the U.S. Now 17, she has (unofficially) won a total of 25 national championships across mountain biking, road and cyclocross.
Last year in her first year of eligibility, she started racing UCI cyclocross races with some impressive results. She podiumed both days at the U.S. Open of Cyclocross and Major Taylor Cup and finished third in the U23 category at both the Pan-American Championships and Nationals in Reno.
Today, Clouse is part of the 16-rider U.S. contingent at the Jingle Cross World Cup. She has raced the event in the past, winning the Women’s Cat 3 races in 2014 and Cat 1/2 races in 2016, so she is well acquainted with Mt. Krumpit and what weather like the rain that fell in Iowa City might have in store on Saturday.
We chatted with Clouse about her Road Worlds, Jingle Cross double whirlwind and her expectations as a successful young athlete.
Interview with Katie Clouse About Road Worlds, Jingle Cross World Cup
Cyclocross Magazine: Getting selected for the both Road Worlds and the Jingle Cross World Cup is pretty darn impressive. How are you feeling about pulling both off in the same week?
Katie Clouse: It’s almost hard to believe. I’ve been working super hard this season to be able to race Road Worlds and being selected was amazing. But the part that made everything hard to believe was being selected for the Jingle Cross World Cup. I feel extremely nervous but at the same time so excited because I know this World Cup will hopefully be the first of many and it will be all for the experience.
I’m mostly excited to be able to race with the Elite European racers who I always just saw over a screen watching them race, and now I get to actually be in the race with them. I know factors like travel and fatigue will be there, but once I hit that start line none of that will matter. The adrenaline will kick in and I hope to have a solid race to start off my cyclocross season.
CXM: Did you know you were going to Road Worlds when you applied for the Jingle Cross World Cup? What is your travel schedule?
KC: I did know I was going. I was an automatic selection for Road Worlds and I got the email for the petition to Waterloo and Jingle Cross World Cup. My director, coach and I talked over it and thought it was a good idea to race. Although, it’s a lot of travel I will be taking a much need break after the World Cup and then a couple weeks later start off my season.
My Worlds race is on Thursday, then Friday I fly to Iowa, getting there Friday night. The next night is when the World Cup is. I will also race Sunday then fly back to school that Monday.
CXM: I believe you will be the youngest U.S. rider ever at an Elite World Cup, what does that mean to you?
KC: It really hasn’t set it yet. I think it will set in when I’m on the starting line looking at all the racers who I looked up to my whole cyclocross career. I worked hard last ’cross season, and so did the rest of my support group. My team and family. I want to make them proud and do the best I can for them because that’s what they do for me. I’m proud to be able to race this, for myself and I’m proud to be representing my family and team.
It’s crazy to think I’m the youngest person to race an Elite World Cup but none of this would be possible without everyone helping me. It’s an amazing feeling, especially with my family and team by my side.
CXM: What are you expecting from Jingle Cross? Do you have a result goal?
KC: I’ve always been a competitive person, so to say that I don’t want a good result would be lying. But I’m racing Jingle Cross for points and experience. If I have a bad race, I don’t want that to get to my head going into ’cross season, so I’m going into Jingle Cross with no expectations. Just looking for the experience with racing with the Elite women.
The transition from road to cyclocross has always been difficult for me, going from road form to ’cross form has always taken me a few weeks. It will be a good race, but I still have lots to learn. I’m just excited to have the opportunity to race.
CXM: Do you like the course at Jingle? Does it fit your skillset?
KC: I’ve always had some good races at Jingle. From the year it was below zero to mid-80s. I always love when there is some elevation gain on ’cross courses, and I’d like to think it plays out in my favor. From a technical perspective, I love Jingle because of that. Fast and steep corners tend to play out well.
Again, I think it also depends on how I feel that day. I could love the course one year and have a good day, but if I’m not feeling it that day I could not like it at all.
CXM: Last year, what are some of the things you learned from the UCI ’cross races you did?
KC: My first UCI weekend was at Rochester last year. I started last and moved up to 11th the first day and then proceeded to get a concussion the next day in the first 30 seconds, so I had some bad races and good races.
I learned how to race a real ’cross race. I learned when it was the right time to go full gas and the right time to take a breather. What wheels to be on, where to be during the race.
Honestly, I learned how to go as hard as I can for one hour without going to much into the red zone until the end. The first couple races I realize I would either go to hard at the start and blow up or go to slow and be in the back and not be able to catch back on without using all of my energy. ’Cross racing requires you to know your weaknesses and strengths and that’s what I learned throughout the whole season last year.
CXM: Were you surprised by your results in UCI races last year?
KC: My first ’cross race, even though I had gotten 11th I still was a little disappointed. I knew it was a great first result, but my competitive side knew I could do better, and I could. But it took time. And once I learned, I did start having those good results. I always want one place better.
Last year was a bit of a shocker going from winning all my races before I raced UCI to fighting for a top 10. After Rochester, I worked hard because I wanted those good results. Races started to get better and I could see myself moving through the field and getting better every weekend. Looking back, I am surprised at how well my first UCI year went, which makes me only more motivated and excited for this season.
CXM: As a young athlete, how do you balance results-based versus process goals?
KC: Last season was my first season racing Elites throughout all three disciplines. Results were big for me when I was racing Juniors. Now, I only see myself making goals. I have goals to keep getting better every race. I know right now it’s not all about results, it’s learning how to progress in every race I do. And the first step to progressing in racing is sitting down and making goals that I want to achieve.
CXM: We have known your name for a long time at CXM because of your success across disciplines, how do you manage expectations as one of the next potential stars in the sport?
KC: It’s more of the expectations I put on myself. I get so much support from all my teams and family. They know I’m still only 17 and want to still have fun while I’m racing and training. It can get hard though because I make these expectations for myself because I want to make the people that have worked countless hours to help me proud.
As I said, I tell myself that I can always do one better until I can’t. As I get older I realize how important training and treating my body right is for this sport. I know I can’t meet any of my expectations without the right tools and support. I try my best to be able to maintain and healthy life, but sometimes I realize that life can’t go the way I want and that’s when the expectations I put on myself can get tricky. I want more but there’s nothing more I could have done.
CXM: Why do you like racing all three disciplines? Do you have a favorite?
KC: I simply love the sport of cycling. If I could do more disciplines, I would. Racing all three disciplines keeps me motivated and keeps the sport fun. Although I lean towards road and cyclocross, my favorite bike to train on is my mountain bike. I’m a big fan of nature and something about riding my mountain bike keeps me happy and reminds me why I love this sport.
CXM: How do road and mountain biking help you for cyclocross?
I’ve been racing my mountain bike for the longest time. I don’t think I would be where I’m at technically if I didn’t grow up racing my mountain bike. I think mountain biking is one of the hardest sports I’ve done, and so it has given me power and grit that no other sport can give you.
Road taught me how to race my bike. To be comfortable with people around me and to stand up for myself. To realize, just because I’m young doesn’t mean I can’t be competing with the Elite women. I’ve been racing older women on the road my whole life, which has made me strong and confident in myself.
CXM: Awesome. Thanks for your time and good luck with your races and travels.
KC: Thank you.