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In the shoes of a champion: Part 1: The factory experience.

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to ride for one of enduro’s most successful factory teams, with all the mechanical and team support such a position brings. This was exactly the amazing opportunity that was presented to me, to ride with the Cannondale Overmountain Team

It all started with a gentle “bing” from my iPhone, just 2 weeks ago. A message had popped into my inbox from the German office asking if I would like to race Round 4 of the Enduro World Series in La Thuile? Up until this point, I had to settle with enjoying the 2014 Enduro World Series from the sidelines, particularly hard when the series came to my home town in the Tweed Valley. I smiled as I read the email, For sure, why not I thought, I was hardly race fit, and had been too busy to do much racing this season, but at least I could enjoy a race hiding in the background, with no pressure. There was one thing that was odd though, there was a suspicious line at the end of the email, stating cryptically ‘this one is a bit special’, what did that mean? I called up the magazines top chief to find out more, “what is so special about this one then?” I asked, “well, you will be racing in place of Jerome Clementz, our current world champion” was his answer. I promptly spat coffee all over my computer, laughed and excitedly agreed, still not totally convinced I had heard correctly. But just 10 days later, I find myself standing in full Mavic kit, and sitting on Jeromes very own race bike.

For the Enduro World Series in La Thuile, I would be racing in place of Jerome Clementz, with the Cannondale Overmountain team.

For the Enduro World Series in La Thuile, I would be racing in place of Jerome Clementz, with the Cannondale Overmountain team.

As you all know, our current Enduro World Series Champion, Jerome Clementz, dislocated his shoulder in an unlucky crash while racing a blind French Enduro. This simple pedal catch on a rock would see him sit out most of the current season. Accidents are an inevitable part of the game when racing at the highest level, sometimes you get up and dust yourself off, but sometimes your body tells you to stay down. This of course is highly frustrating for Jerome, but ever the professional, Jerome is now focusing all his efforts on recovery and has already started putting in the miles on the road bike. Behind every champion athlete stands a close knit team, a second family almost, with mechanics, photographers and team managers all playing their vital roles.

Arriving at La Thuile after a long drive, the team pulled together to get everything set up for the morning,

Arriving at La Thuile after a long drive, the team pulled together to get everything set up for the morning,

Jerome rides for the Cannondale Overmountain team, and while he recovers and regains his strength, his race bike is sitting unused. In a inspired idea, borrowed from motocross, Cannondales Sports Marketing Manager, Daniel Hespeler, was keen to see what a ‘normal’ everyday rider would make of the full factory experience. What would happen if you put a normal recreational rider into Jerome’s shoes, kit, and onto his 27.5 Cannondale Jekyll? The team would provide the same factory support and mechanical expertise as received by team riders Jerome, Ben and Pauline. The lucky rider would also receive advice, help and guidance from the man himself. Cannondale Overmountain wanted a rider to race in one of most demanding races on the calendar, Round 4 of the EWS in La Thuile, an incredible opportunity, and I am humbled to say that rider was going to be me!

Team mechanic Matteo Nati looking after me, despite my average speed, the team was pulling out all the stops.

Team mechanic Matteo Nati looking after me, despite my average speed, the team was pulling out all the stops.

Now, I really enjoy racing, but I have never been fast, I raced a couple of EWS rounds last year and was stoked to finish around the middle of the field. My times sat minutes from the pointy end of the pack, a gulf that represents endless hours of training, mixed in with lashings of natural talent. I don’t mind admitting that I am the sort of racer who gets nervous when checking out the endlessly tougher stages, last year some of the full-on sections in Finale Ligure kept me awake the night before, knuckles white as I charged clumsily through them on race day. Riding Jerome’s perfectly setup bike, with full support, I would have nowhere to hide! It was going to be an exciting experience.

Jerome was keen to talk bike setup, helping me get the best out of the bike.

Jerome was keen to talk bike setup, helping me get the best out of the bike.

In the lead up to the event, many doubts passed through my mind, would there be a miracle transformation in my riding, would I now be able to out-power Jared, get looser than Martin and out-skill Nico? Of course not! The brutal fact is that Jerome is undoubtedly still faster than me with only one good arm. But the opportunity to taste a full-on factory racer experience would never come round again, and I intended to seize it with both hands. I may not be able to threaten the podium this weekend, but I intend to listen to every shred of advice Jerome, Matteo, Ben and the rest of the team can give me, pedal my tiny lungs out, and try not to turn upside down too many times.

The EWS in La Thiule features some incredible stages, true big mountain riding.

The EWS in La Thuile features some incredible stages, true big mountain riding.

So over the next few days I will be bringing you the highs and lows of EWS racing in a factory team, hopefully providing an insight into the team, and the effort, that goes into putting a rider on the top step of the podium. With Jerome’s own 27.5 Jekyll bike perfectly set up for me by Matteo, and practice underway in La Thuile, be sure to check in tomorrow to find out what it is like to ride the fastest bike on the circuit.

Check in tomorrow to find out what it was like riding Jerome's personal bike.

Check in tomorrow to find out what it was like riding Jerome’s personal bike.

Read the full 4 parts here: Part 1: Part 2: Part 3: Part 4

Words: Trev Worsey Photos: Copyright www.reuiller.com

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