The saying about Paris-Roubaix is that every rider who takes on the ‘Hell of the North’ has their own story about the day on the cobbles of northern France, whether they finish in first or last, and even if they don’t make the finish at all.
That old adage was proven true once again on Saturday at the second edition of the women’s race, from winner Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek-Segafredo) all the way down to the final classified finisher, 98th place Lonneke Uneken (Team SD Worx).
But 27 more women made it to the finish after the Dutchwoman, who crossed the line 15 minutes down on the victor. The last of the lot, all of whom were ‘Hors Délai’, was 20-year-old American Katie Clouse, making her race debut for Human Powered Health.
The Utahan told Cycling News on the morning of the race that she was “pretty nervous” and “hoping to survive to the end”, having reconned only the first three cobbled sectors earlier this week.
Clouse wouldn’t just survive her first competitive brush with the cobblestones – and only her second European race after Amstel Gold Race – though, she managed to make the early break, too.
“I kind of threw myself in there and I definitely maybe went a little too hard,” Clouse said on the infield of the Velodrome André Pétrieux after ending her race 35:38 down on Longo Borghini, in an unofficial 125th place.
“I put myself into the deep end pretty quickly, but that was my job. So, I tried to stay as long as I could but it’s just one of the hardest races in the world, so I didn’t really have much on the cobbles.
“But yeah, it was fun. It was a really cool experience and I’m glad I got to experience it.”
Clouse, the reigning U23 US cyclo-cross national champion, got in front as part of a five-rider breakaway in the opening 10km of the race, on the second lap of the Denain circuit. She stuck it out until the 80km to go mark before being brought back by the peloton.
From then on, just after the first cobbled sector at Hornaing was done, it was a question of surviving to the finish, over another 17 cobbled sectors, including the fearsome five-star Mons-en-Pévèle and Carrefour de l’Arbre.
“I was definitely cracked at 50 kilometres to go, but I was like, ‘you know what? I’m gonna finish this’,” Clouse said. “So, yeah, I’m pretty proud to just cross the line. But it was definitely hard.
“Once I got dropped, I was like ‘I’m not flatting’, so I played it pretty safe on the cobbles. I felt like I could handle them really well. I just think I’m still coming into my form since I took a pretty long break after ‘cross season. So, I think just being thrown into like Roubaix and stuff – these girls have been like dialled for these races for the whole winter.”
After three hours and 46 minutes in the saddle, Clouse crossed the line in a four-rider group with her teammate,18-year-old Makayla MacPherson. She said that she enjoyed the experience of riding into the velodrome full of fans at the end of a race which she had watched as a fan for years before.
“I’ve never experienced this kind of race, and so it was pretty cool just to come in and experience the velodrome. I’ve just been watching on TV my whole life, so it was definitely a day to remember,” she said.
“Now, I’m gonna go take a nap.”