14 Things With Clark Sheehan

5 months ago by Rebecca Bland

Rally Cycling can today announce the final member of its performance director team for 2021, with former road racer Clark Sheehan joining the organization.

Clark joins from TrainingPeaks but has a long-time history with the team, ever since the days of Kelly Benefit Strategies. In this week’s Things With interview, you’ll discover what attracted him to Rally Cycling, and how he managed to win a stage of the Tour du Pont in the most magical way.

At 21, I signed with the Coors Light cycling team. It was quite a diverse group of riders and we won our fair share of the races in the US and Canada. We had some fantastic riders; Dave Mann, Steve Swart, Davis Phinney, and Jonas Carney to name a few.

My most famous win was a stage of the 1995 Tour du Pont. It was from a breakaway with me, Djamolidine Abdoujaparov, and a Kazakh rider. There were three climbs, and on the first, we dropped the Kazakh rider so it was Abdou and me. It was just flat out, full gas. And then on the final climb, I was sensing him faltering a little bit and so I just gave everything. I’m not sure he and I spoke one word to each other the whole stage.

I won by 100 yards or so. After the final climb it was a super foggy descent, raining, slippery, and 500 meters off the descent there’s the finish line. I had all the motorcycles and everything following me and they had their lights on but I couldn’t see anything in front of me. There was no vehicle to follow and I didn’t know which way the road went so I just stayed off the brakes and hoped for the best. And they nearly caught me at the finish.

To win a break like that then was nothing like it is today. We didn’t have radios then so you’d get the time checks on the whiteboard or whatever on the motorcycles, but it was few and far between. Our team director Eddie Borysewicz and team owner Thom Weisel were banging on the door saying “Come on, go!” But I just had the throttle open as wide as it would go and gave everything.

Rally Cycling is really shining a light on American cycling. It’s been like watching a fairy tale in the making, seeing how the team started and how it’s getting bigger and expanding the program globally. Especially from a North American’s perspective where you can relate it back to the 7/11 days where this American team starting off as grassroots is eventually racing in the Tour de France – it’s really quite exciting.

Beating Fignon and Bugno is a career highlight. I won the prologue in the Tour of Mexico in 1993. I beat Laurent Fignon and Gianni Bugno and that was definitely a highlight. But then two days later there was a drunk driver let onto the course. They smashed into the peloton and I found myself in a Mexican hospital for two weeks after that.

I’ve been dabbling in gravel riding recently. It’s really taking off and it’s nice because you’re staying off the roads and you can ride two by two, chit-chat, and not have to worry about cars coming like you do on the roads.

My son Riley is following in my footsteps. He won a Junior Nations Cup race up in Canada, called the Tour de l’Abitibi twice. It’s a race with a fifty-year history, and only four people have won it twice in that time. He’s heading back to Europe to race for Sojasun [the team operated by Rally Cycling’s European GM, Stephane Heulot] in February and it’ll be great for him to get pushed into learning new languages and cultures. Where we live is not what the world is about and I think there are some amazing life lessons to be had.

I believe in Jonas and Rally Cycling’s philosophy. I believe in their clean sport and fairness ethos. It’s not like some of the other teams where it’s a facade – it’s not just a marketing tool for them, it’s what they live by. And being a professional rider in the 1990s, especially the later 1990s there’s a lot of dark sides to the sport and you don’t wish that upon your kids so this bodes well for Riley and other young riders.

It’s important to have a separation between father and coach. I know how hard the sport is, I know how hard I pushed myself and I see how hard Riley pushes himself. But he doesn’t need any extra pressure from me. He has a coach and I’ll tell them ‘I think he’s really tired, he’s really grumpy’ or ‘I think he needs to train more, he’s kind of irritable right now’ but they have a great relationship so it’s really nice.

As a director, I want to support the riders the best I possibly can. I think each rider is different and each situation is different. I know how hard this sport is and they need as much support as they can possibly get, so I think listening, supporting, and being there for them is number one. I’d love to be able to talk to their coaches as well too to understand physiologically where they’re at as well. I think all these pieces of the puzzle that fit together are essential.

I’m delighted to continue a working relationship with TrainingPeaks. I loved working there, and if it hadn’t been Rally Cycling and Jonas Carney who offered me the job, I’m not sure I would have left. This is just such a golden opportunity. With TrainingPeaks continuing to sponsor the team into 2021, I’m excited about using what I know about their incredible platform to help our athletes succeed.

Fundamentally I think there are two types of motivation. This is a very hard sport and when you’re hurting, do you focus on the pain? Or do you ignore it? From there, once you understand a rider’s headspace, you can really elaborate on that.

I’m just looking forward to diving in as a director. Looking at the courses, looking at the satellite images, checking out the weather. I mean this is just fascinating, there’s so much to it. You can say it’s just a bike race, you pin your number on, the first one to the finish line wins but there are so many elements and pieces that go along with it. It’s so dynamic it’s fascinating to me.