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In the shoes of a champion: Part 4, Teamwork

Last night I had set myself the task of getting into the top 150 overall at the Enduro World Series in La Thuile, I had everything on my side, Jerome Clementz’s very own race bike, pro team kit and all the support I needed from the Cannondale Overmountain team. But that was doing me no good right now as I tried to claw my way up out of the deep ditch on the final stage. Trees grabbed tenaciously to the bike as I tried to drag it free, and twice I was showered with dust as riders I had worked so hard to overtake, charged on by, each glad it was not them down the bank. I could not believe I had had such a time consuming crash just 3 minutes from the finish. Right, it was ‘do or die’ time!

At least I would look fast!

At least I would look fast!

Jerome made sure that I had everything that I needed.

Jerome made sure that I had everything that I needed.

As I crossed the line I was totally spent, the final uphill sprint, hot on the tail of a powerful Swede, Olle Wedin, had all but killed me. I simply had to keep pushing, after all the support that the team had given me I had to give it everything on those final agonizing meters. I was breathing like a maniac but no oxygen seemed to be getting to my lungs, I had never pushed so hard against my own limited redline. I buried myself on that hill and together we passed 3 struggling riders. I knew I was not a fast racer but I was damn well going to give it everything. The crash had robbed me of at least 20 seconds and I knew that they were seconds I could not spare, the rest of the stage would have to be a frantic, out-of-control chase, hunting down those I had previously passed.

The Cannondale Overmountain team pits are always relaxed.

The Cannondale Overmountain team pits are always relaxed.

Cannondale trust in a low key camper for moving the team around!  Plenty of room for riders to chill and hot coffee on tap.

Cannondale trust in a camper for moving the team around! Plenty of room for riders to chill and hot coffee on tap.

The team setup, everyone was welcome.

The team setup, everyone was welcome.

As I passed the finish line, I knew I had blown my goal of a top 150. I had foolishly ignored Jerome’s advice to go steady on the technical sections and work hard on the flats and climbs, instead I had pushed beyond my skill level in the steep final section, and paid the price. For the next hour I did not dare look at my phone for the results, but when the last rider crossed the line, I checked. As I scrolled down through the overall list it got scarily close to my target. And there it was, my name in position 149! Now, I hang around with some very fast international racers, all trying to get results in single figures, and 149 would be a terrible day for them, but I was stoked. I was unfit and had never got much better than a top 200, and that was when the field was much less competitive. I was delighted to have hit my target, and it was all down to the support of the Overmountain team.

Once again, the bike looked prefect, despite my abuse from the previous day.

Once again, the bike looked perfect, despite my abuse from the previous day.

Ben was getting amped with some Slayer tunes pumping.

Ben was getting amped with some Slayer tunes pumping.

Everything in its place, no riders get to play with Matteo's tools.

Everything in its place, no riders get to play with Matteo’s tools.

Drawers of spares keep things simple when running a team of hard charging riders.

Drawers full of spares keep things simple when running a team of hard charging riders.

So what had it been like riding for the Cannondale Overmountain team, under the guidance of Jerome himself? Of course, the bike had been amazing, for the entire weekend Matteo, despite my repeated attempts to break things, had kept the Cannondale Jekyll in perfect working order. Not once did it creak, squeak or grind, it looked like a new bike every morning and the setup was perfect, and it is such a capable bike. It was a huge advantage not to have to worry about the bike all weekend, at the end of every day I would sheepishly hand over the muddy, wet machine and in the morning it would be sitting there, on the A-frame, looking showroom fresh. The indexing was always razor sharp and everything worked perfectly. There was an endless supply of coffee on offer from the team camper (Matteo takes his espressos seriously) and Jerome passed on some amazing riding tips. With my current level of fitness, I felt like I could not totally exploit his advice, but they are lessons that will stick with me forever. Daniel the team manager made sure I had all the kit I needed, and along with the gear supplied by Jerome’s partners, Mavic, Julbo, and Garmin, it was a ‘fresh kit day’, every day!

As the sun came up, the sun started to cut through the grey clouds.

As the sun came up, it started to cut through the grey clouds.

By the time riders hit the climb to Stage One, the trails were drying out.

By the time riders hit the climb to Stage One, the trails were drying out.

I gave it everything I could on the trails.

I gave it everything I could on the trails.

But in the end, the experience was far more than I had expected, going beyond a great bike and good kit. The Cannondale Overmountain team had taken me under their wing, like an extended family. Matteo the mechanic did everything he could to ensure that I had all the help I needed, Jerome and Pauline were there every step to give me advice on racing tactics, and even cooked the essential porridge. Ben Cruz was always on hand for some sharp humour and it was awesome to see him take 18th overall, a real racer. And a big thanks needs to go to the Team Manager, Daniel who set all this up, and gave me the unique opportunity. My teammates had become friends and it was an eye-opening experience in to what goes into putting a rider on top of the podium.

What a great end to an amazing experience.

What a great end to an amazing experience.

Tired and broken, but totally stoked!

Tired and broken, but totally stoked!

Perhaps the only time that I will ever get to experience racing with a big team.

Perhaps the only time that I will ever get to experience racing with a big team.

And that leaves us with the big misunderstanding in the sport of enduro, the ‘them and us’ hypothesis. I must admit to being nervous leading up to the weekend, but there was no elitism or rivalry, simply a bunch of folk working really hard to support their riders. A steady stream of privateers popped into the pit tent throughout the weekend, looking for support and in every case they were happily helped. Jerome, Ben, Pauline and Matteo were always happy to stop and chat to other riders and fans. For sure, they have better access to spare parts and a budget for travel, but it is still just a group of people who love riding their bikes. When you are next passing the Overmountain pits, be sure to stop by and say hello, you can even check out the scratches I probably left on bike. It was an amazing experience being treated like Jerome for a weekend, but I think his job is safe!

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

Words: Trev Worsey

Photos: Trev Worsey and Copyright www.reuiller.com

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