Interview: Daniel Clifford...

Yesterday I had the very good fortune to conduct my first interview for this blog, or any blog for that matter. As I noted in a recent post, the local Full Circle Cycling team has added a handful of international riders to their roster this year, one of them being Daniel Clifford. You may already be aware of my long time interest in all things Irish, and thus it should come as no surprise that I would be very keen on interviewing the team's new rider. But would I be prepared? I have never actually given a formal interview before, so I tried to think of all that I had ever heard of the craft, did a little background research on Mr. Clifford so as to not appear completely unprepared, and came up with a list of questions to ask (I even studied some interviews at other websites to help round out my own questions). Anyway, the following is the result of a good hour, or so, talking with Daniel at one of our local coffee joints - alright, Starbucks actually.

A little background:

Twenty-five year old Daniel Clifford hails from Killorglin in County Kerry, Ireland. For those of you unfamiliar, Killorglin is a small town of under 3,000 people, located in the southwest of Ireland. Speaking from personal experience it is a beautiful region, easily my favorite, and well suited for some fantastic, and challenging, bike riding. Daniel figures he began racing at about the age of 10 or 11, and as often seems to be the case, made his way into the sport by following in the wheel tracks of his father, who also raced. Though his focus in recent years has been on the road, he recalls his first bike as being a Giant mountain bike, and in fact he was the Under-12 (U12) Irish National Champion in mountain biking. Before joining Full Circle Cycling, the teams/clubs he has raced with have included Sportactive in Ireland, the Junior squad at the Sean Kelly Academy in Belgium, and race clubs in France including EC Mayenne. Among the notable/memorable races thus far in his racing career, have been participating in the An Post Ras (2009 and 2012), and races in the north of France. Daniel counts among his cycling influences, his father, watching the Tour de France, and the help and encouragement of older more experienced club members he has known, noting in particular Barry Wood.

Daniel went on to relate to me, his experiences racing through the Sean Kelly Academy in Belgium, emphasizing how difficult (and in some way surprisingly difficult) the competition was; he believes he is the only one from his "class", or group of racers who were at the Academy at the same time, to still be in the game. That is some attrition. He certainly has the drive to stick with cycling, and take it as far as he can. Even after a serious work related back injury sidelined him for a time, he "still had the dream" of pursuing a spot in the peloton.

Off to America:

Mr. Clifford has only been in the States (Claremont specifically) for a short three weeks thus far and is still settling in to his new home, exploring the region, adjusting to the lifestyle. Even so, he has found some local routes including the river trails, and of course the mountain roads, Glendora Mountain and Glendora Ridge. I asked if there were any stand-out differences between here and home, and if he had come to miss anything yet. He responded by saying the people here have been very friendly, enjoys the easy, non-stress lifestyle and, as you might expect, the favorable Southern California weather. In short he is quite "happy to be here at the moment." As for those differences he quickly noted the number of stops one has to make when riding here, whereas at home he could ride for five or six hours and never see a traffic signal.

2013 will be Clifford's first year with Full Circle Cycling, a team he came to as the result of a recommendation by friend and fellow racer, Christian Varley. Varley, originally from the Isle of Man and now living in San Diego, knew of Full Circle's Patrick Caro, figured that Clifford would be a good fit on the team, and was thus instrumental in the initial contact between the two. Full Circle Cycling recently completed a local training camp allowing their riders a chance to get to know one another, train together, you know, just general training camp bonding stuff. Daniel spoke enthusiastically about the camp and new team, saying that they came together "really well", that Pat Caro and Mike Fosselman have put together a strong and diverse team for the coming season. "The season" will begin as early as this weekend for Clifford, if all goes to plan (he is awaiting his international license from Cycling Ireland, the governing body for racing in Ireland, comparable to our own USA Cycling). He is hoping to have his racing license in time for the weekend race in Brea. From there he, and the team, will be on the move, participating in the Valley of the Sun Stage Race, Merco Cycling Classic, the San Dimas Stage Race, Redlands Classic, and potentially the Valley of Fire Stage Race, among others. Depending on scheduling Daniel will depart the states at some point in May, returning to Ireland in time to prepare for the big Irish race of the year, the An Post Ras, where he will be racing as a new member of the Polygon Sweet Nice team. Clifford was recommended for inclusion on this team by none other than Dave McCann. Quite a recommendation. And yes, you did read correctly, he will race for two different teams this year (Full Circle in the US, Polygon in Europe and Asia), something that is not uncommon at this level. Following the Ras it will be back to the states before traveling to Asia late in the summer. That is a full year, and a lot of travel time. Asked about goals for the year, the Ras obviously stands out. Other than that, and in general, he hopes to "win some races" and have a successful enough season to secure a contract for 2014.

One might be inclined to view his season as revolving around the Ras, but Clifford was quick to point out that the early season races in the States are not just training, he is here to win when ever and where ever possible. His strength as a sprinter should serve him well here in the States where the circuit so heavily revolves around criteriums. Indeed, he noted that was one of the primary reasons behind his decision to make the move to Southern California.

Back to Ireland:

I related my two visits to Ireland, and said that I have regretted not spending any time on the bike there, let alone racing (I went so far as to take out an international racing license), but added that I still had hopes of doing so one day, and asked about some of his favorite training routes/areas. The Ring of Kerry figures prominently on that list, as does a loop up and over Moll's Gap. I found this interesting, remembering some serious climbs in the area, especially since earlier in the interview he confessed to being more of a sprinter than anything (also a bit of a rouleur, looking to break away when possible). But he doesn't mind the climbs - in training "they can make you stronger" - I suspect he can hold his own going uphill in a race.

I also asked for his take on the state of Irish racing these days. It seems to me that over the past few years there has been a sort of renaissance on the racing scene with a number of Irish riders finding success in the professional peloton, as well as on the track. He concurred, saying that there has been "massive growth in the sport" with numbers of racers doubling each year. In fact he noted that cycling is the fastest growing sport in Ireland right now. In tandem with the growth in actual numbers, and as significant, is that the business aspect of cycling, the sponsorship part has been keeping pace, with shops and others taking an increasingly active role in the support and sponsor of local teams.

To finish up, and since I became so heavily involved in racing during the reign of Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche, and Martin Earley, I had to ask if he had a favorite among the three. Of course he would have been quite young as the careers of those greats were winding down, but he gave the nod to Kelly, noting a similarity in riding style, as well as time spent learning at the Academy.

And there you have it. Thanks to Daniel Clifford for giving up a bit of his day to talk and answer questions. Thanks to Patrick Caro for arranging it. I want to wish good racing to both, and the Full Circle Cycling team, during the upcoming racing season. With a little luck you, might see a follow-up conversation to this one later in the year, to see how things turned out.