Jerome Clementz drags a fully laden kit bag along the tiled floor in the lobby of the Hotel Florenz, our base in the Italian Riviera for a few days riding with the Cannondale Factory Race team, and drops into a plush sofa beside me. It’s been a long couple of days for the young Frenchman, entertaining media from around the world at this rare chance to see the entire Cannondale sponsored team in one place. Despite that, and a coming together with a rock on a challenging descent the previous day – and sporting a pucker of a bruise as a result – he’s full of energy and and the laughter flows easily as we exchange a few jokes.
You’ll be forgiven if you’ve not heard his name before, as he has risen to prominence very recently. The enduro format of racing (events with multiple timed sections with a downhill bias) is a popular fixture in France, and is slowly starting to take off here in the UK. There’s much talk about it being the ‘next big thing’ in mountain biking. And it’s these events that Jerome is becoming something of a specialist at, thanks in no small measure to a raft of wins including the Trans-Provence stage race last summer along with winning the French Enduro Series and taking the French Cup Championship. He also previously added the Megavalance to his CV in 2010.
It’s clear from our riding with him that he’s a hugely talented guy with the skills and fitness, and the right mental approach, to do really well in enduro as it continues to grow.We primed our dictaphone and threw a few questions at Jerome:
Bikemagic: Hello Jerome. Right, let’s get one thing out of the way first, what’s with the Mark Weir-esque facial hair?
Jerome: <laughs> It was not for this week, I have a media camp with SRAM next week, and it was a bet with them. I went to Iceland this summer and I had a nice moustache like this to look like a Viking and they (SRAM) asked me to come this week like this.
BM: So are you planning to keep it this season then?
Jerome: Maybe not this season, my girlfriend will not stay with me, <laughs> so probably one more week and after I will have to shave it <laughs>.
BM: You’re sporting quite a fetching bruise on your face (Jerome crashed during the media week with us) injuries are clearly a part of the job, how do you cope with the risk of crashing when racing and training?
Jerome: Yes <long pause>. You always crash. Every season you crash, sometimes, umm, the thing is we spend a lot of time on our bikes, so we really know our limits, when it’s 100%. We try to stay a bit below but really close. Like most of the time the crash happens not when we ride full speed, but more when we play with the bike, when we’re not focused enough, and the crash happens.
That’s how it happened with me today, I was just cruising down the hill, did a small hip and landed on the side of the trail and it was soft, and I went over the bars.
BM: Let’s rewind a bit, how did you get into mountain biking? Where did it all start for you?
Jerome: I mountain biked because I was doing cross country skiing and then our coach asked us to do some mountain biking in the summer to train, and then I really liked it, and started doing one or two races. I did both for five years, and then I had some training camp for skiing in the summer and mountain biking in the winter, so I had to choose. And I decided to do more mountain biking than cross country skiing.
BM: And if we fast forward to the present year, you’ve carved a name for yourself as an enduro specialist, winning the Megavalanche and Trans-Provence. What is it about enduro that appeals to you?
Jerome: Yeah definitely. What I really appreciate is that we don’t stay on one trail over the week, when we go to a race like a seven day stage race, you go and discover a lot of different trails don’t stay on the same track. That’s something I like, you don’t have to train on the trail and know it, you don’t have to know each part of the trail, and you have to ride with your instinct, that’s mainly what I like with enduros
BM: Do you have to be a downhill racer to be good at them, or can cross country riders compete?
Jerome: I think you just have to be a good rider in the uphill and downhill, you don’t have to be a former racer in downhill or a former racer in cross country. I mean, the people come from different backgrounds, we see when people come racing at the mega they do good results, and the same way with Cedric Gracia or Steve Peat, they come to some enduro races they can do well too. Also we have some riders who are really dedicated to enduro, and they are fighting with these pro riders, and it’s a good thing for the sport. The present ratio of uphill and downhill is good, everyone can compete.
BM: In the UK the enduro format is still quite new, do you see it as the next evolution of mountain bike events?
Jerome: Especially for the UK, it could be really big; you have the hill and terrain that suits really well to enduro. You don’t have the big mountains we have in France in the Alps, but you have a lot of trail and good place where you can do a lot of stages. I’ve never been there, only in Kielder a couple of years ago. I will be there this year at the first round of the gravity enduro series at Innerleithen, so I will have a look at how it works.
BM: How do you prepare for an enduro? Do you do much training? Or do you concentrate on skills and technique?
Jerome: You have to do everything to train for enduro. It’s also something that I like, I go riding a downhill bike, a cross country bike, a road bike, I ride my Jekyll, I do a lot of different things and that helps to make training less boring. Everyday you change you style of riding and you try different things. To be a good all-rounder you have to have good skill, technical skill, this is really important, because otherwise you cannot put you power on the course. You have to be really good technical, and afterwards you can add the power to get more speed.
BM: Do you have any tips for people new to enduro racing?
Jerome: I don’t know how it works in the UK, but in France you don’t know the trail when you race, so a really important thing is to know your limits and find a good pace when you start, to not be too slow but no too fast, and to have a nice flowing run. That means you own your bike, you know where you’re going and you don’t make any mistakes.
BM: What are your plans for 2012? Any big goals?
Jerome: My big goal this year is still make racing an adventure, doing some good trips and visiting new countries. And with my schedule I will try to do some series starting in different countries, I will visit some new countries, I will come to UK, Ireland, Germany, Spain and Italy for example. And I will go one month in us and Canada, so yeah my goal is to have good results in all these. And Megavalanche and Crankworx, those are main objectives of the year.
Thanks to Jerome for taking the time to chat to us.