What's Cool In Road Cycling

PEZ Interviews: Marion Clignet Pt.2!

As a rider, Marion Clignet held nothing back – a spirit that helped her win more titles than any other female racer. Talking with her for our recent interview, it was clear she carries this attitude with her even after she’s stopped racing. In Part 2, she talks about the TDF06 debacle, living with epilepsy, riding her bike and making cycling better…

Note: Part 1 follows at the bottom.

Pez: You have been a Pro rider for more years than most of us can remember. How did you interpret the events at the start of the 2006 Tour?

MC: I’d say that I find it all to be extremely hypocritical. It seems that our own federations: international, national, and sporting organizations are doing their own harm… and who are they run and controlled by? Loads of damage was done, Communidad Valencia lost their team, once it was gone it was announced that the five riders announced as involved with Fuentes actually weren’t and that it was all a big mistake. Oh well, too late, they’ve lost their sponsor, so now what’s in store for them…? I’d also say the tour is too much of a vampire, often sucking the life out of cycling all together if not just all of the other events… we’ll see. One positive thing I hope for the Tour organization is that it has a new face in Christian Prudhomme who I think is much more suitable to run a tour today than Leblanc, but time will tell won’t it?!

With so much competition behind her, now she rides for fun.

Pez: In the past few weeks we have been hearing about riders such as Basso signing for Discovery, Hamilton with Tinkoff, possibly even Ullrich joining Tinkoff. Many people feel that these riders should not have been given a second (or third) chance by the cycling world due to their previous involvement in some form or another with doping cases. What is your take on this situation?

MC: Well I’d say there is a more important situation today that truly needs to be reviewed and that’s the situation of women’s cycling. How many top level women in cycling on so called ‘pro teams’ actually get paid? Have health insurance? You’d be surprised. I hoped there would be a minimum salary imposed and it really wasn’t much (400Ђ/month) but for some reason the UCI didn’t enforce the minimum. Then the UCI takes out one of only TWO speed events on the track, (the 500m) leaving time trial specialists with nothing to compensate… and where is the media? Women’s cycling has made tremendous progress and ask anyone who was at road worlds this year and last, and they’ll tell you the liveliest most action packed race was the women’s.
Anyway, to get to your question… I’d say there’s really too much of a double standard for anyone to judge. Double standard? Where? Who, why? Cycling is one of the most tested sports ever and people, chosen or not get caught or don’t. Other sports (that I don’t need to mention) have phenomenal reputations but because there is too much or not enough money at stake will never be ‘put on line’. Then there’s the system… the people who run the show; how much money do they make off of the athletes

Marion’s book chronicles her life with epilepsy.

Pez: You “suffer” from epilepsy…

MC: Let me just correct you on that, I don’t ‘suffer’ from epilepsy, I’d say the people who witness my grand mal seizures suffer from my epilepsy.

Pez: Do you feel that perhaps in some way your epilepsy actually helped you achieve such a high level in cycling?

MC: Definitely! My daily motto was that to overcome the secondary effects of the medications I had to take, (tiredness, weight gain, water retention) “I could always have an excuse not to train, but not one that I could use”, which meant that I had to train harder just to be up to par with my competitors; I trained relentlessly with a group of top level amateurs in Brittany which brought me for the most part, above the level of my competitors.

Pez: Did it help you to rationalize the suffering of training?

MC: Since I trained with men and men only I felt that I had to make them suffer as much as they made me suffer in order to ‘earn’ my spot on their training rides. I was honored that they trained with me. Our rides often turned into races so it was almost always fun… on the bike anyway. The gym was another story!

Pez: Did the desire and need to prove to people that epilepsy didn’t stop you living a normal life help you to focus and drive you in cycling?

MC: Where there’s a will there’s a way….

Pez: How much do you still ride these days?

MC: I train in the spring and summer with a group of guys up the street twice a week and get on the trainer every odd once in a while. Last summer I did an international duathlon-9km mountain run, 85kms cycle over the col de Menthй both sides, Col d’Ares, and 16kms trail run. I absolutely loved the effort though it introduced me to the meaning of cramps. I had never had cramps cycling, and during this race, in particular on the last run, I had cramps that aliens should only feel! I got caught 5kms from the finish but still won 900Ђ! You don’t see that in French women’s cycling! I’ve also taken up running over the years, I really enjoy mountain runs but this year decided to give a marathon a try. I’m just getting over a muscle tear and tendonitis but as soon as I’m able I’ll be back out training for the Albi marathon. I’ll also take on a license in ufolep [a sports federation. Ed] and I’ve joined a triathlon club sponsored by Macadam Sports in Bordeaux, so I can do more duathlons, adventure races, etc…And one day I’d like to do the Transjuracienne – an ultra XC ski event…

Pez: Do you enjoy riding still?

MC: I only ride when I enjoy it.

Pez: Considering all the suffering and the struggle that the sport of cycling is, you have had to struggle to prove yourself in cycling, both as a woman and as a person with epilepsy, so what is it about cycling you enjoy? Or are just a sucker for punishment?

MC: Like I said, I only ride when I enjoy it… let my legs do the talking… As for proving myself on a bike, winning several men’s races took care of that along with various prizes, medals, etc for whatever those are worth. Being a woman and having epilepsy pushed me harder but didn’t have anything to do with beating 151 guys to the finish line though it did piss off a few…

Pez: Some people say cycling is a metaphore for life. What do you think?

MC: Only if you know where you’re going, why you’re in it (the majority of young men don’t), and what you want out of it.

Pez: In your eyes, what is the one thing we need to improve cycling?

MC: Stop the good old boys club system and hire people for their true experience and brains… that of course would essentially mean firing more than half, if not all of the board of directors of the French Federation of Cycling amongst others. Get rid of quite a few people on the UCI front, namely the one’s who are there because their daddy was someone in cycling… you’ll come up with quite a few, and certainly very few women and even less ethnically visible. Come to think of it are there any visibly ethnic members of the board of directors of the UCI? It is important to mention that today there is hope with at last a REAL PRO women’s team in the T-Mobile set up. Run by former pro women (I mean real one’s, women who have all raced internationally Anna Wilson: winner of the women’s world cup on the road and multi Australian road and TT champ, Kristy Scrymgeour: Aussie national time trial champ and international rider and journalist, Petra Rossner: world pursuit champion, Olympic pursuit champion, god knows how many road victories, and more,) who raced at the international level, this team should spread the bug to other Pro set-ups on the publicity it can bring to their teams!

Pez: Thank you Marion and we wish you and your team a great 2007 season.

Marion Clignet recently published a book recounting her career and her struggle with Epilepsy on her way to becoming one of the most medaled athletes in the sport of Cycling. The book is called Tenacious and all proceeds go to research on epilepsy. The book is available on Marion’s website.

If you want to follow Marion throughout the year you can check out her website: www.marion-clignet.com

PEZ Interviews: Marion Clignet Part 1

When you’ve won as many races and medals as Marion Clignet, there’s little need to sugar-coat your words just to impress people. And that means some refreshingly honest talk about the sport of cycling. Marion holds nothing back in her typical, down to earth, no-nonsense style on life after cycling, stepping into the shoes of the Directeur Sportif of a team, women’s racing and a lot more…

Marion Clignet needs little introduction. One of the few women to be something of a household name in the mid and late 90s, Marion has an impressing list of titles to her name; the list is longer than my arm… more medals than you can throw a stick at. Her titles go from US National Team Time Trial Champion at the start of her career, to riding in the Olympic games. Actually she did a little more than that, she got a Silver medal at the Olympics. Well, ok, if you really want to be technical about it, she got 2 Silver Olympic medals; one in 1996 in Athens Georgia USA, and one in 2000 in Sydney Australia. But that’s not all, she’s also a 6 time World Champion, 10 time French National Champion, 1 time US National Champion, as well as… a very long list of results. So with no disrespect to Marion, please refer to her website (www.marion-clignet.com) for the complete list of impressive and awe-inspiring “palmares”.

Clignet was no stranger to World titles – here she tops the podium in 1999 with Judith Arndt and Raisa Mazeikyte.

French AND American?
As you’ve probably noticed Marion has been both US and French National Champion. Born in the US to French parents, Marion began racing in what is commonly known as the Mid-Atlantic region of the US (Washington DC, Virginia, Maryland etc). Her first club was none other than Washington DC’s NCVC. At the age of 22 Marion discovered she had epilepsy. No longer allowed to drive, she turned to cycling as a means of transportation. She then became a bike messenger in DC before turning to competitive cycling and becoming an Olympic medallist. With USA Cycling unwilling to let her race on the National Team after having been witness to one of Marion’s epileptic seizures, she returned to her family’s roots and pulled on the red, white and blue of the French National Jersey. It is wearing this jersey that Marion achieved the majority of her results.

Straight forward, down to earth and passionate about what she believes in, Marion has now retired from cycling and gives a lot of her time to the cause of epilepsy and improving women’s sports.

Clignet with “a few” of her medals.

Pez: Marion, first of all thank you granting us this interview. You are a well-known name in cycling, you have worn both the French and the US national team jersey, so tell us: what are you? French or American?

Marion Clignet: Does it matter? To be honest I consider myself more of a child of the world then someone from somewhere. The U.S., where I was born and educated, didn’t allow me to wear their jersey at the world championships in 1990…(was I a risk because I had epilepsy??), the French for whom I’ve won 6 world titles, a world record, 2 Olympic medals don’t allow women to appear in the media or at the professional level in cycling. The battle to succeed whether it be financially or professionally is never ending.

Pez: Like many other retired riders, you have moved on to become a DS on the cycling circuit, this has been your first year as a DS…

MC: Actually it’s been my 3rd. I was DS of a team I created and found sponsorship for in 1994 and my first year as DS, retired from cycling was in 2005 for the New Zealand National Road team. I would also say this isn’t and for now can not be my full time job. Can not? No, the French don’t seem to have a ‘job’ for professional women in the field. You have to be under 26 and under qualified to qualify for a minimum wage. I don’t work for minimum wage…so I would say I work more as a consultant and I don’t limit myself to cycling. (more on that later)

Another of her duties as a very involved directeur – helping her riders when they’re down.

Pez: Tell us how this year has gone and how you feel about your “new” position in cycling.

MC: Castelsarrasin came to me looking for someone ‘to lead their men’, or better said, someone they knew that could bring their team up a level. I was up for the challenge (all the while knowing that it was pretty much ‘on me)’ meaning that yes, the French system is still far behind on equal pay and equal rights…. In any case I planned the season strategically to start with a training camp that involved a few nights up in the Pyrenees to cross country ski, an activity that not everyone was familiar with. It was good fun, a great way to get to know all the boys, and they understood that I meant business all across the board and that we were to be a TEAM all season long.

The effort was for the group, all for one, one for all. We had a bit of a mishap on the last day causing us to er…, push the truck, buy chains, unload the truck and make two trips up the mountain in the car…but everyone stuck together, helped out and we still skied. After that we had a few road camps and our team success started pretty much right off the bat… making it all that much nicer since ‘technically’ were only a DN2 team… and beware this year’s team is even better than last…!

Pez: In the last few years, DSs have taken on something of a new role in cycling. Far from being simple team car drivers and yelling a simple “go, go ,go” during Time Trials. DSs such as Johon Bruyneel and Bjarne Riis, have been taking a far more active role within the team; following their riders mentally, physically, often getting involved in the budgeting of team etc. Many of our readers will have noticed that there is still something of a division between the various DSs of the Pro Tour teams.

MC: If the pro tour teams really wanted to do something dynamic they could hire me! Or another woman who’s raced at the top and knows what it’s like and what it takes to get there. Why a woman in particular? Because of our multi tasking ability that was (and still is for the most part) a necessity as top level racers, we’re much more creative, intuitive, dynamic, and like I said multi tasking has always been part of a women’s job.

As far as the pro tour teams go you can divide them by nationalities or areas-north and south or east and west if you wish… the north will be the more dynamic as will the east, the ones who really want it because they had to fight for it….”it” often meaning food or money to survive. For the rest, they’ve often become ‘simple’ entertainers, carting their sponsors around in the back seat of a car during the Tour drinking champagne. You can probably get a feel for who’s still passionate about what they do by their waistline.

As for screaming go!go!go! from a car, in particular during a time trial… each rider has a need, a switch if you will, something that makes them tick. I know for myself I absolutely hated anyone yelling go!go!go! from a car. I had the motivation, what I needed from a competent director was a time split. How far ahead or down am I? If you’re yelling ‘go’ because your rider needs motivation you have a bigger problem on your hands!

Sunglasses at night?… and indoors? Marion obviously knows how to have a good time.

Pez: Some DSs seem to be sticking to the old school ways of only paying attention to their so called leaders, and yelling over a loud speaker from the car, while the Bruyneels and the Riis’s of the world are paying more attention to the wellbeing of their team as a whole, and giving them very calm and precise info during races. Now that you have made that step into the DS world, how do you see the development of the job since your days as a rider.

MC: What’s in a team? All for one, one for all. I don’t believe that a team is one rider, not even US postal was just Lance. Everyone was motivated to accompany him as far as they could knowing that each step further brought them up a notch as well… For the unit to work there has to be a symbiosis, a ‘well being’, and trust. You have to know that you can spill your guts giving a lead out that your teammate will win and the very next day that same teammate may do the same for you. There has to be trust for that and yelling from the car doesn’t do it.

As a rider, I never really had what you would call a DS today… (like I mentioned earlier), I always multitasked, managed myself, epilepsy, daily medication not always conducive to top level racing due to various side effects (tiredness, water retention, etc), searched for optimal training programs as well as the optimal training partners, studied every latest training method and worked with various coaches to get information. I pounded the floors of trade shows to find sponsors, spent loads of time putting together proposals, etc etc. The bottom line for me was to keep FOCUSED, PASSIONATE, AND MOTIVATED. Those were always my ingredients and today they still are.

To motivate my athletes it’s important that I stay in shape as well and that we vary what we do. This weekend I took a few of them on a gorgeous hike up the Pyrenees. We hiked up to 2500m and back down again. It really was an easy get together but seeing me in shape and at the front gives them a little incentive and lets them know that if I’m busting my butt to stay in shape it’s because I believe in them, in our team.

Clignet believes a directeur sportif should care about their athletes .

Pez: The old expression “behind every great man is a great woman”, has often been transfixed to the sport of cycling, and it isn’t uncommon to hear “behind every great rider is a great DS.” (Armstrong had Bruyneel, Basso had Riis, Jalabert and Zulle had Saiz.) To what extent to you feel this is true?

MC: More testosterone? Is that what you mean? If anyone, behind these riders is a woman; their wives who run the home budget while they’re gone, play shrink to their husbands who’ve had a bad stage on the tour and often spend hours on the phone with them trying to help sort out their heads. They give birth alone or their husband is there just to see the baby out, give his wife a peck on the cheek and dash out the door to be on the start line of the tour… leaving his wife with three more kids to handle for the next three weeks. They often help sort out contracts, image rights, etc… No, I don’t really believe the DS makes the rider.

However, having said that I do believe that in certain countries (one in particular that I won’t name) the riders would certainly benefit from heading elsewhere in Europe to experience the true culture of training, preparing for an event, really getting deep down into it. Bruyneel didn’t make Lance and Saiz certainly didn’t make JaJa who surprised people as much with Riis after leaving Saiz. It really all comes down to the riders themselves, the sacrifices they’re willing to make, their characters, and believe me it takes tons. If you just take JaJa and Lance, both had that “where there’s a will there’s a way” attitude, both experienced traumatizing accidents that made them stronger and seemingly want it more, both worked hard for it. A good DS though, and I mean a REAL DS, is also a very good advisor, consultant, there for the riders… They too have that “Where there’s a will there’s a way/just do it” attitude.

Pez: You are the DS of a team of mainly younger riders, how do you enjoy working with the young guys?

MC: The ages are from 19-30 so it’s a diverse age range and the fact that I had a bit of freedom in recruitment has allowed me to bring in some anglophones which will bring up the level and liven things up for everyone a bit. My only worry in the early season was that I’d come across hostilities but there never have been any. We’ve all gotten along really well and there is a mutual respect amongst us.

Pez: Would you not rather be working with young, up and coming women?

MC: I really enjoyed working with the New Zealand women and would certainly enjoy working with an international women’s team, but I don’t work for free and the sport of cycling is still very racist towards women.

Pez: Where do you see this new position (DS) in cycling taking you in the next few years?

MC: To be honest, I don’t see it going very far. As I mentioned earlier I’m a consultant and in 2007 I’ll be working much less for the team. I’ve taken care of the recruitment, structuring the training camps, racing season, and I coach several athletes. I will choose the races I deem important for me to be at. I have also coauthored a book on how I came to cycling via epilepsy called ‘Tenacious’ (the book is sold to benefit research on new treatments for epilepsy on www.fondation-epilepsie.fr for ten euros) or on my website www.marion-clignet.com. I also work as an ambassador on epilepsy, sports, and health awareness worldwide.

Pez: Would you like to move on to become DS of a women’s team?

MC: I’ve thought about that as well but only at the elite level and conditions pending obviously.

Join us Friday for Part 2 and some choice opinions on Le Tour, living with epilepsy, and making cycling better – as only Marion Clignet could offer.

If you want to follow Marion throughout the year you can check out her website: www.marion-clignet.com

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