When you look at Katie Clouse's (Cannondale p/b CyclocrossWorld) young cycling career thus far, one could say that all she does is win championships.
Clouse entered this week's Lakewood Cyclocross Nationals with 28 Stars-and-Stripes jerseys in her closet. This week, she already added numbers 29 and 30 in the Collegiate Varsity and Team Relay races on Friday, and on Sunday, she again got the chance to show that few athletes rise to the occasion like Katie Clouse at Nationals.
Of course, entering with those palmares also means you take the start line with the pressure of the favorite.
If Clouse felt any pressure at the start of Sunday's third race, it did not show. Clouse got off to a fast start and led the U23 Women's field down the start straight. After pulling onto the grass, she continued to stay on the throttle and lead the way to the first run-up.
"It's Nationals, so there’s always going to be some pressure," she said. "It was more of just feeling good during the race."
By the time she cleared the UCI-only section and first descent, Clouse had already earned a 5-second lead on Katja Freeburn (Linear Sport Racing). Hannah Arensman (JA King Cyclocross) and Shannon Mallory (NWCX Project) also helped take up the chase.
"I just like to start pretty fast. It gives me confidence going into the whole race just in case something happens, I have some time to recover," Clouse said.
Clouse continued to extend her lead up top through the orchard, while Arensman moved into second place ahead of Freeburn. After coming down the second drop, Arensman moved into solo second and Mallory moved up to third.
One lap into the race, Clouse led Arensman by 31 seconds. Mallory chased another 15 seconds behind her in third.
From there, Clouse did Katie Clouse National Championship things and extended her gap each lap. She rode cleanly through the finish to capture her 31st career Nationals win and 1st of her official U23 cyclocross career.
"I try to prepare as much as I can and sometimes it comes together," Clouse said about her Nationals accomplishments. "You know, I've had the good days and the bad days. It just depends on the kind of days, I guess."
"I was really focused the last couple races. I've been really focused on being consistent throughout the race. I've had some races this season where I've had a bad start or something has gone wrong and I've freaked out a little bit. This weekend was more of just trying to race a consistent race. Stay calm and race my race."
Arensman stayed away the rest of the way to finish second.
Mallory finished third. Freeburn and Turner Ramsay (Alpha Bicycle - Groove Subaru) rounded out the wide-angle podium.
For more from the U23 Women's race, see the interview, photo gallery and results below.
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Katie Clouse: U23 Women's Winner Interview