There are some combinations of bike and rider that just seem right. Jerome Clementz and Cannondale is one of them. It's hard to imagine the 2013 Enduro World Champion riding anything else - and now that he has put pen to paper once more for the East-Coast bike maker, you won't need try. We caught up with Jerome to find out more about why he feels so at home with Cannondale, and how he's doing after a 2014 season that rode the high of winning the opening round of the EWS, to the low of tearing his shoulder apart in a French Cup race. With a wins at Ischgl and a second in Trans-Provence, is it safe to say you're back on form after your shoulder injury?
After my surgery I took the time I needed to do the things well. I was on my spin bike as soon a possible, but I really don't enjoy this so I borrowed a tandem from a Cannondale engineer and put some miles down with Pauline only three weeks after the surgery. In July I was back on the road bike. Finally I spent three intense weeks in a rehab clinic for athletes where I worked on my fitness on on my shoulder rehabilitation from 8am to 6pm daily. So when I was able to ride again on a MTB I felt ready. My shoulder was not a problem, except it was getting tired a bit quicker. When you race for so long without a break, you don't notice but you become a machine of confidence, your brain and body work in an automatic mode. After a break like this it was really hard to get this feeling back. You know that you want to give your best but there are so many things that come into your mind, you have a lot of doubt, you worry about crashing and injuring yourself again. I felt good on a bike, able to ride fast, but I was still looking for my race mode, that confidence to try sketchy lines, let the bike go and get a bit wild. My time and results were good with a couple of wins one at the Nauders european series and at the Ischgl Overmountain Challenge. Then I got a 3rd place at the Crested Butte 5 Day Enduro and a 2nd at Trans-Provence, but I wasn't really happy with the way I raced. I could feel I was improving every time I was at an event, so I decided to do a lot more races than usual to get this feeling back. Some times I felt like I had a good run but had a shitty time and some times it was the other way around. I didn't have any reference, I was making mistakes that you just can't be making if you want to race at EWS level. On top of that the mental side of being injured again was still there, I felt that my shoulder was OK, but not 100%, that it was better not to crash on it. Because the last crash I had destroyed my shoulder ligaments and put me on the side for 3 months I had to crash a few times to get it into my brain that I could crash without such big consequences. I was taking the safe lines instead of trying the risky one that save those precious few seconds, and this is not the way you need to think if you want to be the winner at the end of the day. These results were really good, and it was definitely a building process to get back to where I was before the injury. Did you expect to be fighting for the win at the Finale Ligure EWS race after your injury?
At the end of Trans-provence the week before, I felt I was competitive again. I raced with Francois Bailly-Maitre all week and was able to raise my game to stay close to him to finish 2nd. He has had few top fives and podiums this year at Enduro World series, so I knew I was not far from good result in Finale. While I was injured this season I still followed all the races and could see that the times are really tight, you have to be at the top of your game. Practice went well and I was riding well in the stages, so when I took the start I was hoping for a top ten result. I felt tired quickly during the race and couldn't really sprint, I think I maybe hadn't recovered totally from Trans-Provence, so it was hard in the short punchy stages. I had some power when it was longer, but couldn't sprint out of the saddle. I took some risks in the stages, and made a few mistakes because of them. So at the end finishing 4th was a really good surprise for me. I felt I gave everything I had and this result was more than I was expecting. I was so tired I couldn't even party on sunday night! I was just empty with all the stress, I left everything on the track, I slept for 2 days when I came back home... Fabien did something amazing, really impressive and I was behind the first and 2nd in the series overall, so who would complain about this as a comeback to the EWS? I can go in the off-season knowing I'm back in the mix and have no doubts about my racing and some more ideas about how to get better for next year. I'm sure there are a lot of companies out there that would love to have you riding for them, what is it about Cannondale that made you decide to re-sign for them?
For me a partnership is not just a number on a paycheck. The first thing people need to remember is that Cannondale started supporting me in 2009, when enduro was not big. I came to them with an optimistic project, they trusted me and gave me the opportunity to build my structure. They didn't wait for the sport to reach the mainstream to invest in the discipline and they supported me all the way. I'm grateful for the confidence they gave me earlier on and I don't want to move somewhere else if there is no reason. I like to have a close relationship with my partners, not just be a smiling face that should have good results and ride what they give you. With Cannondale our relationship grew through the years and I'm involved in the development of the product, I spend some good time at different events like the Bike Festival, press launches, parties that make our relationship more than just a partnership. Something that also makes the difference is that I really like the bike. I want to win races and you need to have the best tools for this. I truly believe that the Jekyll is one, if not the best, bike out there, I enjoy riding with it and for me there is no better thing to ride at your best than believing in your bike and loving riding it. Then with Cannondale we are staying as the Overmountain team. I have awesome teammates with Ben Cruz, Marco Osborne, Mark Weir and Jason Moeschler. The vibe is really good, the atmosphere is friendly and it's not always serious. I'm not sure that if I moved somewhere else I would be able to find this friendship, spirit, vision and healthy competition. You spend lot of time with your teammates and I couldn't hope for a better team. And last but not least, with Cannondale I can run my structure and choose my partners. Cannondale is my main sponsor, they provide me a car, a dedicated mechanic with my wingman Matteo Nati, and I can choose the product I want to run. Then I have the freedom to work with Pauline and a junior rider, the parts I choose to run and I can build my own programm. They really want to put me in the best position to do my best and enjoy my job! All these details made my decision really easy and for me they where no reason to change. You were obviously very involved in the development of the new Jekyll, was that a factor in your decision?
As I said just before, it's not just the rider that wins. It's the rider and his bike. So when we were developing the Jekyll 27.5 I was able to give my feedback and offer some direction on how I would like the bike to be. Now the bike really suits the way I ride, I truly believe that I can ride my best with this bike. A bike has to be fast but also fun to ride, you spend a lot of time on it, so if it's boring you will not enjoy what you're doing and for me the pleasure I take from riding is a big part of the motivation I have to ride fast and keep pushing for more. We still have some other projects underway, and I'm not only involved on the Overmountain side but also on some other bike of the range. It's a great feeling to have the engineers and product manager, ask your advice and trust your feedback. You've said in the past that you have been thinking about stepping away from racing at some point, does this new deal mean we're guaranteed to see you at the EWS for the next three years now or have you signed as more than a racer?
For sure I'll be a racer at EWS for the next two years. I have some goals that I want to try to achieve. I couldn't defend my title this year, so I want to have the chance for the next two years to focus on racing and try to be at my best to fight for a second EWS title. I'm not saying that this will be my only goal, but with this contract I will have the tools to race at my best and this will be my priority. The third year is an option that allows me to do what I want to do. If I want to keep racing, if I have the motivation, the feeling that I'm still competitive then I'll race in 2017 for Cannondale. If after 2 years, I don't have any motivation to race at the top level, if I have the opportunity to get involve in something else other than racing that is challenging and interesting I want to have the option to choose this instead. I don't want to stop my career on a rigid schedule, that might mean I feel like I missed some opportunities. Right now I have a lot motivation to race and love doing it, I'm able to set myself goals and give 100% to achieving them, make sacrifices for them, but I don't know how long it will last. If this is not there I don't want to say to a brand that I'll race, take the money and not being able to be focus on it. It's not fair for them, but also it doesn't fit my vision. I have to be involves in something that gets me excited. I would rather step back, work in the industry, set new challenges and race without big goals just to keep the rhythm and have the adrenaline of racing. I can't see myself stop racing in two years, but I can definitely see myself changing my priorities. That mean my main focus will be a job, or building something. Racing then will come second, maybe to coach young rider, running a team or just having fun kicking ass sometimes. Your videomaker, Jeremie Reuiller, said that while you were out injured this season you had a lot of new ideas for your series of videos, can you give us a hint as to what we can expect to see from you next year?
When you're injured you can't work with your body so you have to keep your brain active. I always have some crazy ideas, not all of them can be real but I'm still thinking and expressing them. We probably will not make too many videos but focus more on interesting project and make them well. Our last video from Indonesia, "Escape", was one of them and if I have the time I would like to share this kind of adventure more.
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