With equal emphasis on winning and approachability, Cannondale unveiled its eight-rider international mountain bike team in Finale Ligure, Italy, on Wednesday. The squad is split down the middle, with four riders (Italian Marco Fontana, German Manuel Fumic, American Keegan Swenson, and Kiwi Anton Cooper) focused on World Cup level cross-country racing, while the other quartet (France’s Jereone Clementz, and American’s Ben Cruz, Mark Weir and Jason Moeschler) are setting sights on the burgeoning discipline of enduro racing.
Podium chasing is of course the team’s No. 1 priority. “But we also want to make the sport more approachable, especially on the cross-country side,” implored Cannondale’s Global Director of Product Marketing, Murray Washburn. “Winning is important, but how you do it is more important. It can’t just be all Lycra, and training and racing all the time.”
This baggy short shift, if you will, is taking off like wildfire. And like so many company’s in the cycling industry, Cannondale is getting on board, pushing away from MTB racing’s fractious past, when cross-country and downhill (and the people who participated in each discipline) were separated by a vast ideological divide. Instead, there is a great centering going on in the sport that’s being driven by the huge buzz surrounding enduro racing.
“The bond between the riders on this team is that they are all pure mountain bikers,” said Washburn, who also announced that in addition to chasing World Cup glory, Fontana and Fumic would contest late September’s Trans Provence, a multi-day enduro event in the French Alps.
In the meantime, that dynamic duo, plus youngsters Cooper, 18, and Keegan, 19, will take on the six-race World Cup slate. Fontana, who won bronze at the London Olympics and is the reigning Italian national champion, should be in the mix for the overall elite title. German national champ Fumic wont be far behind. The pair will tune up for the heart of the season with a trip to South Africa for mid-March’s Cape Epic MTB stage race.
“Success is about being consistent and taking care of all the details,” said Fontana. “Our mindset will be to know that we can win any race, and not be worried about anyone else.”
Cooper, the reigning world junior XC champ and current New Zealand national title holder, exudes similar confidence, and has aims on the overall World Cup under-23 crown. But he’ll have to beat out Keegan, the reigning U.S. junior national champ. “Being able to work with riders like Marco and Manny is amazing,” said the Park City native.
Meanwhile, the enduro crew will focus their attention on the newly minted Enduro World Series, a seven-race affair that kicks off in Punta Ala, Italy, May 18-19, then hits stops in France, the U.S. and Canada, before concluding back here in Finale in mid-October. Look for Clementz to be at or near the top of every race and the final standings.
“I started as a downhill racer, but after a while just doing two runs on a Sunday became boring for me,” said the ever ebullient Frenchman, who’s considered among enduro’s best in the world. “The main thing I love is riding my bike on nice trails and having fun.”
That objective was certainly met Wednesday. After the fairly standard team introduction song-and-dance, pro riders and about 30 cycling journalists were split into teams of four. Then the entire group (plus a host of Cannondale employees) rolled out of town, climbing away from the Mediterranean Sea and up to the start line of the 24 Hours of Finale race course. From there, a hotly contested relay race commenced, with each pro riding the opening lap solo, and then being shadowed one at a time by their journalist teammates, before riding one final solo lap on the mellow 3km circuit that included stunning vies of the Med.
Top honors went to Team Fumic, who managed to overcome both a rear puncture — and the two-minute advantage the enduro pros were given over their quicker-climbing cross-country counterparts. At the finish, the German barely out-sprinted Clementz, with Fontana (Mtbr’s team leader) slotting a distant third.
Thursday, it’s back on bikes, but this time the format shifts to enduro, where pros and press will take on a modified version of the Finale course that will serve as setting for the first-ever Enduro World Series championship finals this fall.
Here’s a look at some of the sights and scenes from day 1 of the Cannondale mountain bike team launch, and here’s a link to the route.