Clinton took time to speak to us just days after his win in the important ‘Topcompetitie’ series race, Vlaams Pijl – regarded by many as a spring board race to a pro career.
PEZ: You came from the mountain bike ranks, Clinton?
I started as an under 17 but never actually raced in the U23 road ranks in New Zealand, there weren’t enough riders; so I raced with the Elites from the start.
PEZ: You’ve been New Zealand U23 road and time trial champion – but you didn’t come through the team pursuit ranks?
There’s no separate race for the U23 road title, first U23 to finish gets the jersey. There’s a separate race for the time trial, though. The national track coach was constantly pressuring me to get involved with the team pursuit programme – because I’m a big rider and I have good horse power – but I resisted because I liked the mountain bike scene, more.
PEZ: What was your inspiration to come to Europe?
I went to France a couple of times with the national squad as part of our build up for the junior Worlds. During one of those trips I received an email from the Belgian Soenens Germond team inviting me to join – so I accepted. Part of the arrangement was that I stayed with my team director’s wife’s parents; and I’ve spent all my time in Belgium with them, since – about 10 K from Roselare.
PEZ: Describe yourself as a rider.
One who likes cobbles! And I’ve got an OK sprint – I’m big built, so I’m quite strong.
PEZ: Flanders likes and dislikes?
I like the fact that most people speak English, that the racing suits me and that there are other New Zealand guys close by to hang out with – but I hate the cold, wet, windy weather!
PEZ: You were with Soenens, but now you’re with PWS Eijssen?
I started with Soenens and had a good first year with them – 5th in the U23 Flanders and 9th in the U23 Paris-Roubaix. But there was always squabbling about who was riding what and I couldn’t be bothered with all the dramas, so I sent out my CV and Eijssen took me on board.
PEZ: You were 7th in the U23 Paris-Roubaix, last year.
I’ve ridden it three times and finished 9th, 5th and 7th – I’ve always finished with the winner but just lacked that little bit.
PEZ: You won the Ronde Van Vlaams-Brabant in 2009.
It’s a five day with a short time trial and all the stages are on big circuits of around 30 kilometres – but nothing too hilly. I was in a perfect position, our team sprinter won the first stage, I was close behind on GC and all I had to do was watch what was happening; I got in a break, it stayed away and I took the jersey – it was just a matter of defending it, after that.
PEZ: Did you get any pro offers, after that?
No, but I ended up with a manager – Andrew McQuaid (son of Pat). At the end of last season I had a test with Columbia and I was talking to SKIL Shimano; but I’d left it too late, all the stagiaire places had gone.
PEZ: Did you do Southland and the Nationals in New Zealand during the European winter?
I spoke to Alan Peiper (Columbia DS) about that and he advised me to ride one or the other but not both – the first two years in Belgium I cooked myself because I’ve done too much through the winter. I passed on Southland and had bad luck in the Nationals – two wheel changes in the first couple of laps. I rode the Tour of Wellington but played a team role because we had the yellow jersey. I arrived in Belgium with good form; I think I’ve got it just about right for this year; the first two years I was ‘done’ before the end of the season and last year it took me too long to start winning – this year, I think it’ll be perfect.
PEZ: Vlaams Pijl is a biggie.
It’s part of the Topcompetitie series and is known as the ‘Baby Tour of Flanders,’ it goes up a lot of the same climbs as the Ronde – the Kwaremont, Kluisberg and Paterberg among them. They’re power climbs, short but steep – when I arrived here, I decided that I wanted to ride races in the area of the Flemish Ardennes, I really like that type of racing. It was a 1.2 as well, that means that the Pro Continental teams were riding – usually these races are 1.12 which means it’s amateur only.
PEZ: And any pro team ‘nibbles?’
Not as such, it’s early in the season, yet – but I was invited out with the Coumbia team on a training ride, two weeks before the Vlaams-Pijl. I need another big win though, to prove it wasn’t a fluke! But people know people here and I’ve heard that Johan Bruyneel has asked his head mechanic, Craig Geater – who’s from New Zealand too – for my phone number, although I’ve not had a call, yet.
PEZ: What’s next programme-wise?
I was supposed to be racing this weekend but I’ve been a little sick – I think it’s as a result of hanging around in the cold on the podium after my win. We’ve nothing big for two weeks – I’m glad about that because it will let me get in some time on the bike after being sick. The first big race with the team is 2-4 April, the Triptyque des Monts et Chateaux.
PEZ: And your number one aim for 2010?
A pro contract! I had to borrow a lot of money to do get here this year and do what I’m doing; I’ve put all my eggs in one basket and if I can’t get a contract, it might be the end.
If he keeps going the way he has been, we don’t think he neeeds to worry too much. With thanks to Clinton for his time – we’ll be keeping our eye on him.