Simon Clarke was off to an exciting start of the race season after he won…
We are a collection of stories and moments. We are family and friends, riders and staff. And over the next few months, we will be sharing our stories with you. How we got here, who shaped us, and what collectively makes our team what it is.
We are EF Pro Cycling — and we are excited to bring you #OurStories.
Back in the summer of 2018, I was training hard and wasn’t really getting any better. You’re supposed to put work in and then get a result out of it. At one point, I lost a bunch of weight, and it was all muscle. At that point, I thought it was time to call the doctor, so we did some tests. I went straight to get a liver scan and that came back all clear, but there was clearly some hyperthyroidism going on. I got on the medication and slowly worked my way back. Thyroid issues aren’t something that happen overnight. I was eventually diagnosed with Graves’ disease. It’s a bad name, just having a disease is bad enough then you got to name it something like Graves’ disease. While it’s an ongoing thing, my case isn’t too severe. It was certainly surprising and definitely frustrating.
I’ve been an athlete for a long time, and it’s generally one plus one equals two. But with this, one plus one equals minus eight sometimes. I can’t think of anybody else in the professional peloton that has Graves’ disease. Probably the biggest lesson I’ve learned is that as an athlete, you like to have a lot of control, certainly over yourself. Your body is the one thing you can really lean on because it’s literally how you make a living. I’ve had to let go a little bit, which is pretty valuable just in life in general. You can’t control everything, and sometimes you just have to see how it goes and take things as they come. It’s definitely a challenge not always having control and just having to step back a little bit. Still, it’s definitely encouraging to know that the first time I had an issue, it put me back quite a bit – but then I was able to turn around and I got a fancy shirt [National Champions Jersey] from it. So there’s certainly a bright side at the end of it. Any opportunity to overcome a challenge is certainly positive.
Sean & Neilson
As soon as Neilson Powless found out he would be joining EF Pro Cycling, he tried on one of Sean Bennett’s kits to test the fit. The two of them grew up in California and raced together in a high school mountain-biking program. There was even a little rivalry between the two because they were so evenly matched. However, Neilson admits that it didn’t last long and it quickly turned into a bond. “Even when we were on separate teams, we were always looking for sneaky opportunities to make a breakaway at the same time.”
When Sean found out Neilson was joining the team, he looked forward to having a familiar face around. “I was excited to bring that type of fun into the races,” says Bennett. Even though these two aren’t racing at the moment, Neilson and Sean are looking ahead and hope they get the opportunity to do so this season. “I know for a fact we are going to have a lot of fun when races start again,” says Powless. And we’re looking forward to seeing the Cali guys back at it again.
After studying Exercise Science, I went to medical school. I had been a recreational runner, cyclist, and triathlete prior to med school, but all that fell away as I dug into my studies. Within 18 months, I’d put on fifty pounds (23kg) and was hardly a picture of health. A couple of my professors got me back on the bike and interested again in health and performance…and you know what? My studies improved as well.
After completing two specialty training programs in Emergency Medicine and in Sports Medicine, I knew I wanted to work in an environment where I could combine a preventive, performance-focused interest with the treatment of injuries and illnesses in athletes. In 2010, I began working with Slipstream Sports’ U23 development team, Chipotle.
I’ve been with this team since then and now serve as Head of Medicine for EF Pro Cycling, in addition to operating a US-based private practice called Podium Sports Medicine. Working in a high-performance environment is, quite honestly, a blast. I love it! Even more though, I love the people on this team. The riders and staff are incredible. Traveling around the world, we see some amazing places, but the travel itself is not always easy. Even when difficult though, doing it with the people at EF keeps it fun.
I have the wonderful good fortune of being able to bring my wife and kids with me for some stints in Europe each year. Girona has quickly come to feel like a home-away-from-home, and we truly miss being there this spring. Cycling will come back, and we look forward to going back to Girona, our base for exploring the world.
I count myself incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to work with some of the world’s best athletes, have fellow staff who are also world-class, and to get to combine hard work with a lot of fun as well. Big thanks to those professors that got me back on my bike years ago. That act changed the trajectory of my life in many ways.
Six years ago, I set out on my first international trip along with five teammates, two technical directors, who were also both masseurs, and a mechanic. We traveled with so much enthusiasm that year. We were young and we were already heading into professional cycling. Although we were all good cyclists, we didn’t know what life was going to bring. The race started and in my first stage, I had an unfortunate fall that left me with no chance to fight for the general classification, but with the strength to continue fighting for the dream.
The next day I fought for the breakaway, which was successful, and I was able to win the stage! In the middle of that stage though, I punctured both my tires on some big holes in the road. The mechanic, Daniel, got out as if he were going to fight for his own life to see me win that race. We did it thanks to him, and thanks to him saying, as he was pushing me the way mechanics do to propel us forward, saying “You can win today, you’re a monster!” We won the stage with myself, the general with Wilmar, and the mountain classification with Kevin. It’s a memory I’ll carry for the rest of my life. We fulfilled that dream of going out to compete internationally and beyond that, to win the general classification together and get to know a country.
A year ago, Daniel, that mechanic and friend who helped me in the race, was in a serious car accident that almost ended his life. Most of his friends were there with him, especially me. When I went into his room in the ICU, he was fighting to win a stage more important than any race that exists in this world of cycling. I stood there in shock seeing him lying there so silently. I just encouraged him and told him that he had to fight to win that stage. I looked at the sky and begged God, giving him all the strength that my body had. It took time, but Dani managed to recover and win the hardest race of his life!
Hace seis años emprendía mi primer viaje internacional acompañado de cinco compañeros, dos directores técnicos que a la vez eran masajistas y un mecánico. Viajábamos con mucha ilusión en ese año. Éramos juveniles y ya nos estábamos encaminando en el ciclismo profesional. Aunque todos éramos muy buenos ciclistas, no sabíamos que nos iba a deparar la vida. La carrera comenzó y en mi primera etapa tuve una lamentable caída que me dejó sin posibilidad de pelear por la general, pero con la fuerza de seguir luchando por los sueños.
¡Al día siguiente me embarqué en una fuga, la cual prosperó y pude ganar la etapa! En medio de esa etapa tuve la mala fortuna de que pinché mis dos ruedas por unos grandes huecos en la carretera. El mecánico, Daniel, se bajó como si fuera a pelear por su propia vida con la ilusión de verme ganar y así lo conseguimos. Gracias a él y que al dar ese empujón que dan los mecánicos con fuerza para impulsarnos, me dijo: ¡tú puedes ganar hoy, eres un monstro! Ganamos la etapa conmigo, la general con Wilmar y la clasificación de la montaña con Kevin. Fue un recuerdo hermoso para mi vida. Cumplimos con ese sueño de salir internacionalmente a competir y más que nada ganar la general entre todos juntos y conocer un país.
Hace un año Daniel, ese mecánico y amigo que me ayudó en la vuelta, sufrió un accidente grave de tránsito que casi acaba con su vida. Allí estábamos la mayoría de sus amigos acompañándolo, especialmente yo. Cuando entré a su habitación en Cuidados Intensivos, él estaba allí luchando por ganar una etapa más importante que cualquier carrera que exista en este mundo del ciclismo. Mientras tanto yo estuve a su lado parado, pasmado por verlo así en silencio. Solo le daba aliento y le decía que luchara para ganar esa etapa. Miraba al cielo y pidiéndole a Dios, dándole todas las fuerzas que tenía mi cuerpo. ¡Con el tiempo Dani se logró recuperar y ganar la carrera más dura que le ha puesto la vida!
“In autumn 2016, I thought my days as an athlete were finished. My running days were over and I put my energy into a career as a Town Planner. I thought I was content with what I was doing in life. I was more comfortable than I ever had been, and I was living a great life with some very special family, friends, and a stable career. As happy as I was, something wasn’t right. I missed the challenge of being an endurance athlete, the sacrifice, the testing mental and physical nature of training. I did not truly feel alive, like I once was. Something had to give. And so, I got on a bike. I was outdoors again pressing my limits. I was passionate again for life.
I started racing seriously and with the support of my family and those in my corner, I was able to make the sacrifices on and off the bike in the attempt to go professional. I had no grasp if it would be worth it and like all other competitive industries getting a highly desired position is near impossible and for most it doesn’t work out. But here I am today, in Spain, as a second year pro. I am so lucky to be a professional athlete traveling the world with such an incredible group of people. I cannot wait to pin the numbers back on, hear the passionate crowds and to represent the team and all those that support me back home.
I first met Yves Sikubwabo when he was 17. Someone called into the running shoe store I was working at and told me about a kid living in Ottawa who just competed at the World Junior Championships in Moncton. I managed a running team at the time, and they told me that Yves hoped to run for my squad. About a week later, I was at a local race when I noticed a teenager leaving the field in his dust. It was Yves, and that day I asked him to join my team. A decade later, he remains one of my closest friends.
Born in Rwanda, both of Yves’ parents were killed during the genocide a year after his birth. As an orphan he was raised by his aunt. Him and his family sold bananas to make ends meet. Through sheer will, spirit, and undeniable talent, Yves became one of the best runners in Rwanda. Eventually he would earn a spot on the Rwandan national team that would attend the 2010 World Junior Championships in Moncton, Canada. Yves had never been to Canada, he had never been on a plane, but when he landed he resolved to stay. Post race, knowing nobody in the country and with $150 to his name, he purchased a one-way bus ticket to Canada’s capital, Ottawa.
After a day’s bus journey he arrived with $10 left, a few English phrases in his vocabulary, and nothing else. It’s easy to think of all of the ways that Yves’ story could have gone wrong, but it didn’t. With the help of two amazing adoptive parents and a wonderful community, Yves would go on to earn Canadian citizenship, attend university, and eventually start a business and a charitable organization in Kenya.
Yves taught me many things, however one of the greatest lessons that I learned from him was that no matter how awful the circumstance, if you smile, if you are honest, if you are willing to give—even when you have nothing—things often have a way of working out.
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