Behind the Scenes with Team Clif Bar MTB
Not all racing teams are created equal. To a squad like Team Clif Bar MTB, having fun at great events is just as important as winning races. We spoke with Team Manager and Director Dylan Seguin about the team, his riders and their unique take on elite racing.
SNT: What’s the Team Clif Bar MTB’s approach?
DS: When you see our riders race and travel, they are genuinely happy and looking out for each other. What’s important is how to be a part of a team and how to celebrate your teammates’ successes as well as your own. Cycling is an individual sport, but it’s also a team sport, so a strong team dynamic is important.
It’s cool to see how our program has evolved. We’ve become one of the most competitive teams on the circuit in the U.S., but we don’t take ourselves too seriously. Yes, my guys are trying to be competitive, but I also think that being too serious gets in the way of the sport. We present ourselves as lighthearted and slightly ridiculous. That’s why we race in a blue houndstooth kit. We want our team to catch the eye of those who don’t only race. So we participate in events like the Epic Rides Off-Road Series, which is great for that because it draws people who just want to come out and watch.
We don’t have a high-stress program. Our guys have been doing this long enough that they know what they’re doing. My goal is to have everyone have a good time. We’re not focused just on results; our riders are in our program because they are great individuals as well as great mountain bikers. We should all remember that we are in this industry because we love riding, and we love bicycles. I don’t race or ride competitively any more, but what sticks with me is the memories of all the travel I did and the people and places I visited.
SNT: Can you give us an example of one of those memories?
DS: Sure! I fondly remember a time after racing a crit at the end of a long, hard week of racing. A local bike shop in North Carolina invited my team up to sit outside on their deck and drink beer. Then they said that they had to go take down the course markings, but they also told us to stay and enjoy the cooler full of beer in the meantime. I was sitting on that deck, totally beat with my legs up and enjoying some beer. It was a wonderful, relaxing Sunday afternoon full of camaraderie and a great way to end what had been a tough week.
SNT: So how did Team Clif Bar MTB come to be?
DS: I worked at Clif Bar for 12 years, running the athlete sponsorship program back when it was a smaller company. I was in charge of mountain bike and triathlon. Then six years ago, I decided that I wanted to move to Boise, Idaho, so now I just contract with Clif and manage a mountain bike, cyclocross and crit program.
SNT: Describe what you do as Team Manager/Team Director.
DS: Our program is small, so I do everything other than race. I manage sponsorships and our entire program. I do all the graphics and marketing. I organize the schedule although, of course, our riders have a lot of flexibility in what they want to do.
SNT: What does a typical race weekend with the team look like?
DS: When we travel as a team, we’ll find housing together - sometimes host housing or an AirBnB. I like us all to stay together. Then we can make meals together and bond. Being Clif, we put a priority on having access to good food. What you eat pre- and post-race is huge.
At an Epic Rides race weekend, they’ll do the fat tire crit Friday night and the longer mountain bike cross country race on Sunday morning. Sometimes we have a crew like from Peloton Magazine come along to film us, and if so, they’ll do a bunch of shooting on Saturday plus also ride.
I try to spell out expectations whenever we bring someone onto the team. They have to be comfortable having a camera around and being filmed and doing interviews. Our team’s model is about storytelling. We want to tell stories about the races that deserve attention in our country.
SNT: Tell us about your riders.
DS: We have four. Ben Sonntag and Russell Finsterwald focus on mountain biking and race all season long. Troy Wells also does cyclocross, and in fact, we brought on Russell this year so that Troy can focus more on ‘cross, especially as he also simultaneously works on some glute issues. Troy did some long, hard mountain bike races last year, but that make you tattered by the time ‘cross season finally rolls around. We’ve also got Menso de Jong. He’s in grad school so has a limited amount of time to ride and compete, but he loves doing crazy long gravel and mountain bike races, and he’s done Dirty Kanza and Downieville. He seeks out unique events.
SNT: How is the team doing results-wise so far this year?
DS: The team is doing so well! We started off with regional races, and our first big result was Russell getting second at the Grand Junction Off-Road, where Ben was also sixth. For awhile this spring, Ben was consistently coming in just one step off the podium; he was fit but he was having allergy issues. Then they went one-two at a short track just prior to the Grand Junction and again at the GoPro Games.
At the Carson City Off-Road, Ben won, and Russell finished fourth even after crashing, and then Ben followed up the next weekend with another win at the Crested Butte 40-miler. Russell went on to win the Haute Route Rockies. Troy and Menso just did the Best of Both in Bend, a unique event to celebrate cycling with gravel in the morning and singletrack in the evening.
SNT: Why and how did you end up working with Stan’s?
DS: We have a small budget for what we’re accomplishing, but we’ve always been able to choose whom we work with. It’s not just about money. We work with sponsors that really fit. There is no equipment that we run that we wouldn’t purchase on our own to ride and race. There is a lot of integrity at Stan’s, and it’s such a good fit with our team. They have a true passion for the sport, and their products are awesome.
Our riders love our Stan’s Podium SRD wheels. We didn’t start working officially with Stan’s until last year, and it’s true that our sponsorship came about last minute. Last year, we didn’t even have time to get Stan’s logo on our kit; we just ran the wheels. But this year, you can see the Stan’s logo displayed proudly on our kit.
Stan’s wheels come with wonderful customer service, but it goes beyond customer service for us. Kenny Wehn is so helpful and always goes out of his way for us. He’s there when one of our guys has an issue, even if it’s in their personal life. There’s a wonderful energy that comes with our sponsorship.
SNT: What’s coming up for the rest of the season?
DS: Ben, who is German, will race in Europe a bit this summer while Russell will head to U.S. Nationals in Snowshoe, West Virginia. We’re going to do a trail riding weekend and some more filming at some point somewhere in Colorado, then we’ll do the finale for Epic Rides’ Off-Road Series in Bentonville, Arkansas, in October.
Some other highlights will be Menso doing Downieville, Russell doing the Eastern Grind and a few of our riders doing Leadville, Breck Epic and Iceman Cometh.
SNT: Any final thoughts?
DS: I hope that in 10-15 years we can look back and see that we did something positive for the sport. The race results are great, but they aren't everything - our goal is to focus beyond the results, have fun racing bikes, and do our part to do good things for the sport."
All photos used courtesy of Team Clif Bar MTB.