Al track record of almost two decades makes the Clif Pro Team (previously known as Luna Pro Team) the longest-standing women’s MTB team on the world circuit. It’s a history full of successes, the product of effort and a passion for bikes: two World XC Championships, three World Cups, two Olympic bronze medals… A few days before the start of a new edition of the World Cup, we chatted about the challenges of this season with the team's general manager, Dave McLaughlin.
Clif Pro Team is starting a new season in the top MTB category. That makes what, 16 years! How does it feel to be part of the longest-standing most prize-winning team on the women’s XC circuit?
It’s pretty surreal. When we started the team we had only a one-year commitment from LUNA’s parent company, Clif Bar and a “wait and see” attitude. We really didn’t have any idea the team would be around so long, but we (Alison Dunlap) won the UCI World Cup title along with a national championship that first year and it set us on our present course.
The fact that the most noticeable change has been the name of the sponsor is synonymous with stability: the team adds to its experience in competition this year with the arrival of Lea Davison, who joins bikers with vast experience, such as Catharine Pendrel, Eva Lechner and Katerina Nash. What are the goals for each of them?
First off, we are really happy to have Lea aboard. She adds a lot of experience as the top rider from the United States and she’s a natural leader. As far as the goals for Catharine, Eva and Lea, it will be focused on the UCI World Cup and World Championships. Catharine is the current World Cup champion and obviously she would like to defend that title. For Lea and Eva, they would also like to be in contention for the World Cup overall as well and to get good individual race results.
Katerina will be on a different program this year, competing in the “classic” races in North America including all 3 Epic rides, Lost and Found, Downieville and Grinduro (The triple crown), Blitz, BC bike race and the Breck Epic. Internationally she will be focused on World Cup cyclo-cross from September on.
On the other hand, you continue to opt for high-profile riders, such as Haley Batten, Hannah Finchamp, Maghalie Rochette and Andrea Waldis, who have all been on the team for 2 to 5 seasons…
The team is basically two programs with the four more experienced athletes, and the four younger athletes you’ve just mentioned that we are hoping become the next champions of the sport. So far each one has shown promising results and I think you’ll start to see their names moving up the results sheets in the bigger races.
¿Who do you think might surprise us this year?
Our youngest, Haley Batten (age 19) has been looking really good so far this season, riding towards the front of the elite pack in early season races. She’s so young and with more experience and endurance under her belt I wouldn’t be surprised to see her at the front in elite races before too long. She will be racing as a first year U-23 in national and international competition.
Hannah is also on a good development track. We put her on the team at age 17 when she was the amateur (overall) XTERRA World Champion. This year she has started focusing exclusively on cycling and with pretty good results – she’s won the U.S. Collegiate MTB Championship the past two years, and this year also won the U.S. Collegiate cyclo-cross championship.
Andrea was Junior World MTB XC Champion in 2012 and has won a couple of U-23 World Cup races, and this year won the Swiss track omnium championships. She will be racing the European circuit this year and world championships.
Maghalie had a breakthrough year, winning the Canadian Cyclo-Cross championship and placing fifth at the 2017 World Cyclo-Cross championships. She will race a similar schedule to Katerina, staying in North America for the MTB season, then traveling to Europe for World Cup cross races.
The 2017 XC World Cup schedule once again includes some well-known circuits. What races have you all set your sights on?
Well, all of them really (laughing), but Lea goes well at Nové Mesto and Catharine has always been good at Lenzerheide, Mt. St. Anne and Andorra so we are hoping for good results in those races and overall.
As far as the World Championship goes, this year it will be held in Cairns (Australia). What do you think this race will be like?
The worlds are always a different race and in Australia there are huge bats and snakes and really mean flightless birds that can change things if you’re not paying attention. The course in Australia can be a mixed bag depending on weather. It’s in a rainforest and if the weather’s bad it can be a total lottery. But if the weather’s good and all is in order I would think a Clif Bar athlete can be on the podium.
We imagine that Catharine Pendrel, who has won practically everything in recent years, will once again be the team leader. The bronze medal in Rio was the latest accomplishment of the two-time XC world champion. What challenges lie ahead?
Well, she’s -and the CLIF Pro Team have…- won almost everything except an Olympic gold and if it weren’t for bad luck, I think Rio would have been her race. That said a long-term goal for the team is to go one or two better than bronze in the Olympics. In the meantime posting good World Cup and World Championship results are important for us, but it’s just as important that we have a fun team with good comradery and chemistry, because the results aren’t always going to be there and when they are not, it’s important that we can be having fun together and supporting each other.
Those of us who are fans of the team have noticed that there is great camaraderie among the riders: Is that one of the keys to success?
Definitely, the team has fantastic chemistry. Everyone supports one another and they work together to help each other at races and on the road, and everyone is happy when the team gets a good result. Of course they are all hyper-competitive and everyone wants to win, as long as the team gets a good result everyone is happy and supportive, which isn’t always the case in a team environment.
This year they have decided that they also wan to become a rap group and have performed at Clif Bar and Sea Otter.
It also helps that we have the best sponsors in Clif Bar and Orbea, and that the athletes get the best support from the team manager, Waldek, and mechanics Chris, Michel and Julian. Having these guys taking care of them allows the athletes to focus 100% on their racing.
The team will compete with the new evolutions of the Alma and Oiz models this season. Which is your favorite?
Both are fantastic bicycles… which is pretty obvious when you look at the results we’ve had. In Rio Catharine rode the new Alma to bronze while Katerina races the Oiz to fifth place, and Catharine has won the worlds on both an Alma and an Oiz. We’ve found these two models to be perfect for the World Cup courses with the athletes choosing between the two after pre-riding the course for the weekend.
How would you rate the Orbea’s support over all these years?
Orbea has supported the team for the past 11 years and we couldn’t be happier. Besides the fact that the bikes are awesome and that we have had great results on them, we have become good friends with the people from Orbea and feel like we are part of the family. We are flattered that Orbea respects the team, has the confidence in us and sees the benefits of the sponsorship enough to remain committed through the 2020 season.