SPIRIT WALKER - JEROME CLEMENTZ | INTERVIEW
Jerome Clementz is one of the good guys, walking the thin line that’s commonly known as the ‘spirit of enduro’ with respect and modesty.
Jerome Clementz is one of the good guys, walking the thin line that’s commonly known as the ‘spirit of enduro’ with respect and modesty. We caught up with him the morning after the EWS conclusion in Finale Ligure, Italy…
DIRT ISSUE 143 - JANUARY 2014
Words by Steve Jones. Photos by Steve Jones, Sven Martin, Lee Trumpore & Sebastian Schiek
In the end it was domination. With the inaugural Enduro World Series (EWS) wrapped up Jerome Clementz dealt the killer punch in the final race to walk away with most stage wins to go with his World Champion status.
A formidable competitor who has raced World Cup downhill, won both the Megavalanche and Trans–Provence, this year he grabbed one of the greatest titles of all, EWS Champion and the ‘greatest all–round mountainbiker on the planet’ status that goes with it.
Dirt: Jerome, have people actually got any idea how much risk and danger is involved in enduro racing?
Jerome: There is some.
The sport is portrayed as almost like a marathon or cross–country event. It's totally not like that, is it?
There are two sides. If people just want to come and do the course they can do it without too many risks. It's mainly trail riding; it's not proper downhill track.
Oh, come on, don't give me that.
But for racing, for the top riders, we go as fast as we can. We know a bit about the trail, sometimes. So that's where it becomes dangerous, and we have a slightly smaller bike; 150, 160mm travel, and we try to go at a downhill race pace.
I think some of the stages here were full–on tracks.
If you want to go fast on it, yes.
Even if you go slowly on it…
Yes, obviously it is mountain biking. There is some risk.
Many, many people were in hospital this weekend.
Yes, because they race. They want to go fast.
What I'm trying to get at is perceptions, I think enduro is still portrayed as a little bit easier. It's not easy, is it? Some of the stages, they’re proper, they wouldn't be out of place at World Cup downhill.
There could be. There are some sections that are technical, but it's always a matter of the way you want to ride it. There were some off–camber sections, which were steep on one side. So you don't want to crash.
Well, even before that, there was a big rock outcrop. That's dangerous.
If you take it straight, yes. But if you go around, it's easier. It's slower but easier. I think it's dangerous because you don't know the trail really well, and you're tired from the long stage and the climbing. You try to go fast, and that's where it becomes dangerous. You don't control everything.
OK, let's talk about your background. Three times Megavalanche winner, Trans–Provence winner. In 2002, you were racing juniors in World Cup DH!
Yes I was in the national team in 2001 and 2002. I did the European Championship in Livigno, I finished in sixth. Matti Lehikoinen won. Then at the Kaprun World Championships I was third at the quali, then I crashed, and I finished tenth.
So the French teams were quite strong, weren't they, back then? Manuel Huber the manager?
Yes, Manuel Huber. A very strong team: Nico Vouilloz, Cedric Gracia, Fabien Barel, Mikael Pascal, lots of these guys were good for us as juniors because they were helping us a bit on the track. Each senior rider had to take a bit of care of a junior rider, showing some lines and explaining how the World Championships work.>>
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[part title="SPIRIT WALKER - JEROME CLEMENTZ | INTERVIEW PAGE TWO..."]
So who was taking care of you then?
It was Fabien Barel.
That's pretty funny.
Yes, we rode some runs together, and it's interesting to get the experience from him.
That's quite funny. In the same way that Jared Graves (ex 4X World Champ, World Cup DH racer and Clementz’s nearest rival in this year’s EWS) comes from the Chris Kovarik, Nathan Rennie era, I guess you've come from the Pascal, Gracia, Barel era.
Yes, I still have a poster of Nico Vouilloz in my room where my parents live. I had a poster when he was eight–time world champion. I was putting a cross with ‘nine’, and then another cross with ‘ten’.
But now you are World Champion.
Yes, but only once. Not ten times.
What did it feel like yesterday when you were on the podium and you had these multiple World Champions flanking you either side? You had Jared one side and Fabien the other? It must have been pretty crazy.
It was a good feeling. Especially as I never rode bikes with this goal in mind. I just started because I loved it. Step by step, I got better, then a proper team, then get paid to do that. Now I'm professional. So yes, it's something crazy. The level of these guys makes you want to do well, and you can see how professional they are – how they train and stuff. So you learn a lot being with these guys.
We should talk about the year then, I guess. Were you surprised at how consistent Jared was?
Yes, of course. I wasn't too surprised in Punta Ala because that had short, technical stages and also just small sprints in the physical parts. So I knew that Jared was strong and powerful. But where I started to be a bit surprised was in Val d’Allos. We had a 15 minute stage with 5 minute pedalling sections sometimes. Jared was still in the fight for the win. So there, I thought, "you're going to be there for the year". I think I'm lucky that it was his first year of Enduro, because he made some beginner's mistakes that I'm pretty sure he will not do next year.
What were those beginner's mistakes?
Small crashes, he tried to push too hard, didn't find the limit, tyres, there were a few things. He broke the radar.
How do you find the limit?
A lot of racing in the past. That helps. I think I've raced enduro for 10 years now, so I've started to get to know how I have to ride on a blind trail or with little practice. I try to not have big crashes. I crashed here in Finale, but I just jumped off the bike. It was not a big crash where you smash your whole bike.
When you say "find the limit" even Fabien was saying, "Are you guys f–king serious? Seventh when Nico Lau won the stage by seven seconds. He's like "that's ridiculous". You guys are already absolutely flat out.
I was fast, but I was sure that I would not crash… not 100% sure, but almost sure, that I will not crash. But I think Nico (Lau) just put in an amazing run. He had a time penalty (he missed a control check) and he wanted to show that he was the fastest.
After Punta Ala were you surprised that Fabien won that one?
No. I've known Fabien since I was a junior, and he's a racer. When he starts something he does it 100%. So I knew when he said last year he was going to come back to Enduro that he would prepare for it and do it in the right way.>>
[part title="SPIRIT WALKER - JEROME CLEMENTZ | INTERVIEW PAGE THREE"]
Did you worry that he'd be there all year?
Yes, of course. Him and Nico Vouilloz, they always do things in a professional way.
Are you like those guys at all? Like Nico (Vouilloz) and Fabien, they get suspension and take it apart and they're always doing this and doing that. How would you compare?
I’m interested in what they do. I think it's their way. I don't do the same, I don't feel the need, and it doesn't match with my feelings. But they do what they think is right, so if they do it, there is a reason. As long as the reason is because they want to, not just because the other riders do the same.
So this year then, we've seen some of the downhill racers come to Enduro almost naively. They don't totally understand that it is a specialist sport. Do you think it's almost disrespectful?
Enduro isn't what you do every day. When you ride your bike you go riding with your friends. They come into it with this mentality, and they are surprised that we’re looking for the limit and trying to push.
I don't ride like this when I go riding on a training ride. I ride normal tyres, like cross–country casing, but when I go to races, because we ride flat–out and we don't know the trail, I put on downhill tyres, a full–face helmet, knee pads, etc. because I want to go full–on. Some riders didn't think the stages were that long, they just thought we were cruising down.
It was obvious that some riders, either World Cup downhillers or newcomers, had an idea that Enduro was maybe…
I spoke with many riders, for example Greg Minnaar. He thought the time between stages would be shorter and tighter, so he had a lightweight bike to save weight. But in Enduro the main thing is to go fast on the stage, not on the transition. They were wrong… but they also didn't want to get injured before the DH race season.
But some of them have been here in Finale and they had a lot of practice, it’s the end of this year’s racing, but they still got smoked.
Yes, it's not the same sport. If I go to downhill racing I've got skill, I can do well. But last year I did the Air Downhill in Les 2 Alpes and I finished 22nd. That's not bad.
...and maybe because you didn't want to get injured?
A little bit. It's riding your bike, but I'm not used to riding bigger bikes. It makes so much difference.
Did it cross your mind when Jared came third at the Pietermaritzburg World Championships in the downhill, you must have been thinking in your head "maybe I can too…"
No, no. Last year when I went to New Zealand I thought about this. But I did two downhill races in New Zealand and I finished fourth and seventh.
No, it's not too bad, but they didn't give UCI points. So I couldn't enter Pietermaritzburg. But no, no, Jared is something else.
So it did cross your mind?
For the World Cup... I was thinking about it, but the World Champs is run by the National Federation, and you need to race the whole DH series. It's more serious.
It's been a pretty good adventure this year with all the races. You've probably done some of the best riding ever.
That's what is great. You go to some places, you race, but you also discover a new area and a lot of new trails. We were pretty lucky that we had so many amazing venues. All the organisers tried to show us the best trails in their area.>>
[part title="SPIRIT WALKER - JEROME CLEMENTZ | INTERVIEW PAGE FOUR..."]
Are there any highlights for you?
Yes, Whistler for me was amazing.
Which one in particular? I mean, stage 5 was amazing wasn't it?
Stage 5 was from ‘Top of the World’. I think I prefer ‘Khyber – Stage 1’. It was more natural. When we were lost in the forest, not in a Bike Park, the racing was a bit more adventurous. I love this. We had to go for four stages without assistance. You need to bring everything you need, be careful not to break anything. Here or in France, it's easier. You go flat out, you have a puncture, you go back to the pits, you can fix it quickly. But in Whistler if you broke your cable you had to change it by yourself. If you smashed your derailleur, you had to do three stages singlespeed.
Stage 5 here in Finale was bonkers. Amazing?
For me, it was like a videogame. Non–stop. You just keep turning "wow, wow!" and you keep the flow. The beginning was in the woods with flowy turns, some roots, then at the bottom in the canyon with roots.
There's all the crowd shouting…
Yes, it was amazing this year. Especially here. So many people on the side of the track. It's crazy. I really see the similarities from car rally driving. You can see people going walking, going stage to stage.
There were people in the track in some places.
Yes, when I was the first going down there were some people walking on the trail. When they heard me coming they were just running and jumping to the side. Same with the photographers… behind bushes, taking lines and just missing them. It's kind of exciting. Before we were just racing by ourselves in the forest, now there are people coming out and cheering. It is exciting.
On a more serious level, what kind of lessons do you think Enduro will have learnt from this year?
That there is a lot to do with it. There is a lot of potential. We made the next step this year with the World Series. It brings the sport to another level; for the riders, for the people that follow and for the brands around.
It was not a perfect year, for sure. There were a lot of small mistakes. But I think these mistakes will help next year, help to take big decisions, to make good rules that everybody understands, rules that will be the same throughout the series. We now know what we like and what we don't like from each of the different race formats/rules, so we can take the best.
So you don’t think it matters if there are different organisers with their different philosophies of what an Enduro race is?
Yes, we see this year the philosophies were different. Enduro was growing in each country. If you look at line choice and the taping of the course, in Europe you get tape. If there is no tape, you can go where you want between the tape. In the US, even if there is a trail and no tape, you stay on the trail. This is the way they do. So I think for the future we should find a way where we all stay on the trail. For me, it's the best.
Yes. Also, the taping should be done in a way that is clear, with no place for interpretation.
There are different ideas on this. There's much more trail respect in the US, I think.
Yes, it's a philosophy. I think in France we got this from the motorbike (moto enduro) and this is free. In the US, it's more respecting the trail. They have more environmental stuff.
That's quite a big challenge though.
I think they should just find a good balance. So the rider knows they have to stay on the trail, and the organisation should put tape in a good way so there is no cutting of the track.
The thing is, when you're racing, and you're in that mind–set, you are making decisions really quickly, tape or no tape. Surely if there's no tape you're going to go for those different lines. It doesn't matter?
Yes. So that means you don't have to tape everything, you just put gates like they do in some races. You don't have to put a kilometre of tape. Just gates, so you have to go through the gate. I don't think riders are cheaters. They're just using the rules.
You just have to make decisions really quickly.
Yes. If you see a mark, you race against the clock, you have to go around it.
Do you think maybe they should have split times in the future between the stages?
That would be nice.>>
[part title="SPIRIT WALKER - JEROME CLEMENTZ | INTERVIEW PAGE FIVE..."]
What if there was live information if you're up or down at the splits?
Yes it would be nice for people to follow and to see where you're faster and slower when you have a stage with a fast section, technical section and physical section, you can see where you lose time. That could be interesting.
This was a classic conclusion, wasn't it? Enrico Guala and the Superenduro team that organised the event are such good hosts. They make a good atmosphere and feeling, that's quite a big part of Enduro isn't it? Maybe when you're up in the mountains, it's not quite the same, but when you're down here, and there are villages and lots of people involved and all the people on the hill.
Yes, I think we need to find the balance with going to a place like this, where there people around, we have a nice pit area. But keep the parts in the forest with good singletrack. I think first we need to go to places with good singletrack where we can have a nice trail and good racing.
If, on top of that, we can have a nice show area, it would be perfect. That's what I love about Whistler or Punta Ala with the prologue in the evening. It was really good. The mix of being really close to the people in general, and then a part adventure where you're alone and by yourself, I think this could make a good mix of racing and people will enjoy it. I think people come here to Finale not only to show up on the beach, but to have a good weekend of riding. If you talk to most of the people here today, they don't want to ride. Too much riding this weekend. If you go to a downhill race, then you do two runs on Sunday, and on Monday you're, "f–k, I want to ride more."
Totally. There's been a lot of riding. OK, do you want to talk about bikes quickly? This Enduro series wasn't a very good advert for bigger wheels was it (both Clementz and Graves raced on 26")?
No. I don't think you need to advertise one or the other. Just keep the one you like. If you look at the ranking, Tracy Moseley won on the 29er, Martin Maes has 650B, and I won on a 26". So every wheel works.
But come on, it's racing enduro. Some wheels are faster than others.
You believe in 29er, and you may be faster on 29er because it fits the way you ride or some kind of trail you like to ride. Maybe the way I ride, the trail I like to ride and the way I like my bike to react fits more to 650B (27.5") or 26".
I love the way you stuck in 650B then, making it up to date. Let's make it up to date.
I have tried some 650B wheels and I think there is a little difference. But that will not change your life, but if it's a little improvement for racing then you need to take it.
So we'll definitely see you on Cannondale in 2014?
Cannondale next year? For sure. And the size?
How long have you been riding for Cannondale now?
For five years, ’14 will be my sixth. I'm going to try a different wheel size this winter, and decide what I like.
You work for Mavic. What is your job with them?
I'm a community manager. Woo! I'm do some rides with people from forums with shops and stuff. Talking about products in general, what they want to have in the range, what they think is good from Mavic, what is not. Talking about shoes, clothing, colours, and then go riding with them. I spend one or two hours on the internet every day. So I chat with people in French. Then I organise five or six rides during the year.>>
[part title="SPIRIT WALKER - JEROME CLEMENTZ | INTERVIEW PAGE SIX..."]
Back to Enduro and the series. A decade's worth of downhill racing in one year, but did you have any dark moments? There must have been a place during the series where you were really not in a good place. Maybe some bad moments during some stages?
Yes, always, like in Val d’Allos last year.
What happened in Val d’Allos?
I flatted on stage 4. We did two stages in the morning, two in the afternoon.
Can you go back to that moment in time and think what was going through your mind?
When I knew the World Series was going to happen, Val d’Allos was the one I marked in my schedule because my goal was to win one race, and that would be it. Because I raced there, I loved the trails… really natural, long downhill. So being there and having a puncture, I was like, "damn. Maybe I missed the opportunity". I was fast all weekend, but finished seventh.
So after that, I was a bit down. I was happy to save points, because I knew everybody would have a problem at one point in the season. But I was like, "Shit". So it was hard for me to get back into a positive mode before Les 2 Alpes.
But you did pull yourself back?
Yes, I was down for a week. After that, because I didn't reach my goal of winning in Val d’Allos, the rest of the season was easier, there was less pressure.
What are your thoughts on the points system? Because when we came to Finale, there were still 20% of the stages to be raced. Do you think the points system is right?
Yes. There were 20% of the stages yet to be raced.
OK, I didn't know that. At the beginning of the year I really thought that there was no way the final overall winner would be known before Finale. But as I said, everybody had trouble at some point over the year, and maybe I managed to minimise them.
Let's talk about trust in riders. There's an element of trust with Enduro racing. Some people broke the trust this year.
I don't think so.
Do you think Fabien's penalty in Whistler was deserved (Barel was controversially given a 5 minute time penalty for breaking the ‘outside assistance’ shuttling/uplift rules)?
It's hard to say really. There are two points. It was clear that there would be no shuttling. Personally I didn't want to use my car, but at the same time it was in the Whistler valley and maybe he was leaving his car there and using it to go home. Who gave the penalty, who took the pictures? This is something we need to sort out for next year. With the UCI, it's clear. There is referee, and they can decide. But it was a grey area. If he hadn't had a penalty, the other riders would have said it wasn't fair, because it was borderline. He got the penalty, so I can also see his point of view that it was not really clear. That's what we need to make clear.
What about Tracy Moseley? She was given a 30 second penalty for not having a number pinned to her jersey.
It's the same. It's a bit hard. The referee could have told her to just make a number, use a bit of paper and put it on. The EWS have to make things more clear next year. I think this year they wanted to try all the rules and leave it quite open. We should make it tighter. Like Nico Lau this weekend and his time penalty. It changes every race, so it's hard to follow. I think it will be better if this kind of thing stays the same for each race.
Nico Lau didn't concentrate this weekend did he?
I don't know. You should ask him. It's a stupid mistake, and I'm sad for him, because he was fastest on the track.
Do you worry about him next year?
Oh yes. In 2012 I really put it at the top of my list, because he had a brilliant end of the season, he was strong, he also had a lot of experience in Enduro already. I think he just had some delay on his training this winter, so next year he'll be strong.
Trans–Provence was crazy, you came second four times . You should have won it. But he won four days.
He's good and consistent.
He did struggle at the beginning of the year.
Yes. I don't know why. He has a new bike, maybe, or maybe you should ask him.
All right, let's wrap it up, then. Good to see your family here?
Yes, it's good. They are a big part of my success. I am lucky that they have always been supportive. They never pushed me to do it, but if I wanted to do something they were always with me. So thanks to them. It's good to celebrate it with them. They are good people. I can now retire without pressure, the job is done.