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After an inspiring visit to the Clif Bar headquarters that included breakfast with founder Gary Erickson, not to mention a surprise appearance by feminist icon Gloria Steinem, the Clif Bar Racing team made its way up to Napa Valley for the team’s official pre-season training camp. In what can only be described as the Clif Bar touch, service course for the camp was held in Erickson’s family farm, a picturesque estate tucked away in the hills of Pope Valley, just north of Napa. Here, one can find vineyards and olive orchards fit for an Italian villa. Needless to say it was the perfect setting for the cycling camp.
“This is my second year on the farm for training camp and I just love this place,” said Owen Gillott, an Australian who is now in his second year with the squad. “It’s pretty unreal to have the head of the biggest nutrition company in the world giving you his house. I mean, I wouldn’t even give my house out to a bunch of my friends and he is giving it out to a bunch of 20- to 30-year-olds. He is a pretty good guy!”
After breakfast, Pete Morris and a few others were on kitchen duty while riders were busy trying on the their new kit and setting up their new VYNL aluminum racing bikes as they prepared for the midday ride. “The first team ride of the year is always fun, meeting up with the guys and testing out the new equipment,” said Kevin Mullervy, who, along with his twin brother Conor, is a fixture on the team. “We come here every year at the start of the season and I always look forward to it. Compared to Colorado, the weather is considerably warmer and the scenery is hard to beat. Service course in the owner’s house, how good is that?”
Soon enough it was time to hit the road with a three-hour training ride around Lake Berryessa. Rolling down the sinuous road out of the Clif family farm, the riders chatted easily once they hit Pope Valley Road. And there was an undeniable Mediterranean feel as this elite cycling team cruised past numerous vineyards and orchards that define this area, warmed by the winter’s sun.
Lacing their way around the lake, the riders turned onto a rough road that caused a handful of flats. And while the mood was relaxed as they tended to the minor mechanicals, one could sense that some were itching to test their legs. And almost as soon as the riders rolled out again, the pace picked up, stringing the team out over the ensuing miles. “Wow, we really got on top of it there,” said Joe Lewis, one of the team’s new recruits. “This may have been a first fun ride, but I can tell you my legs were really burning there. It’s still early in the season and my heart rate was just screaming.”
The ride also gave the team a chance to really test out the new equipment. “I really love the new kit,” said Gillott. “It’s a bit more toned down than in the past. But it’s still vibrant. It pops.” And for Mullervy, the outing provided the perfect opportunity to dial in his new ride. “I really love the new VYNL aluminum bikes,” he said. “I was telling the guys on the ride that, until now, I’ve only ridden a carbon frame. I had no idea what it was going to be like to ride alloy, but the bikes just respond really well. And they are so stable on the rough sections. It’s funny the reactions you get when you tell people that you are moving away from carbon and aero. People are like, ‘Oh, you don’t have an aero frame! How do you feel about that?’ But I think they are great. You don’t need a $10,000 frame to race a criterium.”
The pack splintered into different groups, according to the riders’ different fitness levels and they made their way back to the Clif farm. The Mullervy brothers really attacked the final climb up Ink Grade Road while others were happy to sit up and roll in. After all, today was not about racing.
Back at the house, the mood remained jovial as the team prepared for dinner over some beers courtesy of Sierra Nevada Brewery, another enviable team partner this year. “I just love this mentality,” said Gillott. “The fact that we can go out and drink beers and not always be thinking about how skinny you are is just a way-different attitude. But that is the way it is with this team. We are family.”