Rally Cycling announced the signing of stand-out climber Clara Koppenburg, who completes the 2021 roster for the American squad, and the addition of Andrew Bajadali as co-directeur sportif with Joanne Kiesanowski.
Koppenburg, 25, raced this season with Équipe Paule Ka, coming second overall to Anna van der Breggen in the Setmana Ciclista Valenciana before the coronavirus pandemic brought all racing to a stop.
Rally called the 11th signing a 'last-minute' addition, the opening created for Koppenburg after the German's team came to an unexpected end in October. However, the ongoing surge of coronavirus cases has delayed team gatherings and the cancellation of January races such as the Tour Down Under has pushed back preparations for the upcoming season.
"I'm super excited and motivated to join Rally Cycling," Koppenburg said. "I just can't wait to become part of the team. And I hope, I really really hope, that it will happen sooner rather than later."
She joins 31-time US junior national champion Katie Clouse, 2019 San Dimas Stage Race winner Holly Breck, reigning New Zealand criterium national champion Olivia Ray, and Milligan College cycling team standout Madeline Bemis as newcomers to the team and fills a gap left by the departures of Megan Jastrab to Sunweb and Chloe Hosking to Trek-Segafredo.
Koppenburg's career path came in jeopardy after Paule Ka, which in June rescued the Bigla-Katusha team by stepping in as title sponsor, stopped funding the team and it collapsed in mid-October.
"We'd struggled already earlier in the year when the coronavirus was really bad, but we got a new sponsor. We were really optimistic and when we started racing again we got some super great results. I absolutely loved my team, we were such a good group and the girls were just so great, then suddenly we heard in the middle of October that the new sponsor dropped out too. We were really sad and frustrated, it was a shock," she said.
Searching for a new team this late in the season was stressful, but a call from the new DS Bajadali with an offer came as a great relief.
"When Andrew called me, it was the longest minute I've ever experienced! He told me he'd talked to the big boss and about the budget – and I was just standing there shaking – and then he said, 'Yeah, we want to sign you'. And oh my god, I totally freaked out. I was so so happy.
"To be honest, I've always told my closest friends and my parents that I really want to join an American team. I've always really liked Rally Cycling from the outside, so I'm totally happy and I'm not angry at all at my old team. It worked out in the end."
Koppenburg is a promising stage racer and talented climber, winner of the 2019 Setmana Ciclista Valenciana and runner-up in the Tour Cycliste Féminin International de l'Ardèche last year while racing for WNT-Rotor.
"I really like stage races because I can feel myself getting better day by day," she said. "Just at the border of the Black Forest is where all the climbs are just starting and having Switzerland really close means I can also train there for the mountains. The longer and steeper the climb, the better it is."
In 2021, Koppenburg is aiming for an Olympic selection and is targeting another result in Valencia in the early season.
"It's very special," she said. "I'll try to be a perfect number 11."
Rally Cycling Women for 2021:
- Madeline Bemis*
- Holly Breck*
- Katie Clouse*
- Krista Doebel-Hickok
- Heidi Franz
- Leigh Ann Ganzar
- Clara Koppenburg*
- Sara Poidevin
- Olivia Ray*
- Emma White
- Lily Williams
- * denotes new signing
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