Even though riders wore the colors of their respective schools, Friday morning's Collegiate Varsity Women's race had the vibe a Sunday race with names such as Katie Clouse (Colorado Mesa University), Sammi Runnels (SCAD - Atlanta), Hannah Arensman (Brevard College) and others populating the start list.
With familiar competition, Clouse said she was looking to today's race as preparation for her first Cyclocross Nationals as a U23 rider this Sunday.
"Today was more of trying to get a gauge for Sunday," Clouse said. "There are a lot of U23 girls I'll be racing on Sunday, so I just kind of wanted to see what I could do. Where I could go really hard, and where I could rest."
With a bright sun shining over Fort Steilacoom Park early Friday, the Collegiate Varsity took off down the start straight with Clouse leading the way. She wasted little time continuing her charge out into the 50-minute race, opening up a gap on the other riders by the time she dropped down the first descent chute.
Clouse had an 8-second advantage on the field after dropping to the flats in the first lap—an advantage that amounted to the full length of Pit 1. Taking up the chase were defending champ Sammi Runnels and the Fort Lewis duo of Ellen Campbell and Katja Freeburn.
"I usually like to go out pretty fast, but if anything was to happen, I wanted to have a safe amount of time to have something happen and still be able to catch back or keep the lead," Clouse said about her fast start.
On the long climb and descent in the orchard, Clouse continued to stay on the attack. Her lead grew to 19 seconds 1 lap into the 5-lap race. Runnels broke into solo second, and a group of four with Sophie Russenberger (Fort Lewis College), Gwendalyn Gibson (Colorado Mesa University), Mackenzie Myatt (SCAD - Savannah) and Arensman took up the chase.
The first run-up of Lap 2 sorted out the state affairs at the front of the race. Clouse maintained her big lead. Runnels was in second, and Arensman and Gibson engaged in a battle for third. Over the next lap, Arensman eventually got a gap on Gibson she would be able to hold.
Clouse finished her 51-minute race in dominant fashion and won the 28th? 29th? U.S. National Championship of her still-young career. After taking a few to enjoy the title, Clouse now looks forward to earning another Stars-and-Stripes jersey on Sunday.
"Today was a big confidence boost. I have a lot of pressure for Sunday, but I'm excited for it," she said.
Runnels took second, and Arensman wrapped up third. Gibson and Myatt rounded out the wide-angle podium.
For more from the Collegiate Varsity Women's race, see the winner interview, photo gallery and results below.
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Katie Clouse: Collegiate Varsity Winner Interview