Sara Clafferty moved to the bay area with dreams of racing professionally one day. She found a spot on the Pinnacle p/b Argon 18 women’s team and rode her early season in support of Amy Thornquist. After logging some big miles at NRC races like the Nature Valley Grand Prix, Speed Week, and Sea Otter, Clafferty set her sights on taking the Cal Cup title. Clafferty wrapped up the Cal Cup victory with several decisive and diverse performances. We caught up with Clafferty to talk about her background, recent success, and future plans.
How did it feel to win the 2013 Cal Cup title?
It’s an honor. When thousands of hours of training and skill development lead to a big win, I’m still smiling! I couldn’t stop smiling on that Giro podium – it was just awesome. There was also a sense of relief to close the deal considering how many people had sacrificed for me to have that moment. Those people flashed through my mind.
The Cal Cup is a diverse set of races, was there a performance you were especially proud of?
Winters Road Race was a career changing moment for me. All the best riders from each team were there and I couldn’t believe I won the field sprint. I was focusing so much on keeping the wheel I had picked to follow to the line that I thought someone else had gone off the front. I thought I was sprinting for second place. When I found out I won, all I could think was, “I won a field sprint and the race? I haven’t done that since I was a Cat 4!” Now I know I can do it, and confidence makes all the difference.
You put in a lot of race miles this year, what experiences stood out for you this year?
Winning the Dunlap TTT with Jen Zierke, Juliette Olson, and Amy Thornquist was a wonderful team moment. We met a couple weekends before the actual race to practice our pacing strategy, and we executed flawlessly. The biggest highlight of my season, though, without a doubt, was winning Berkeley Hills. I was crying in the car on the way to the race, thinking about my mom on Mother’s Day. She passed away almost four years ago after a long battle with cancer. The whole day was a fight. I dragged myself to the start line and got dropped on the first set of climb. I got mad at myself for getting dropped and that fired me up to attack with 5 miles to go. Molly VH bridged up to me, and we battled toe to toe all the way up the finishing climb, while the better climbers tried to chase us down. Luckily I prevailed by less than a bike length, and I started crying for the second time that day. It was a great way to honor my mom on her day.
What was your athletic background before you picked up cycling?
I was a so-so high school varsity athlete. I had an obsession with rowing after seeing scenes on the Charles River in the movie “Good Will Hunting.” Something about it was eloquent and enticing. I only applied to colleges with rowing programs, and I found a home at the University of Vermont’s club team. We worked so well together that we upset a lot of fully-funded programs in New England. My coach was hardcore. He actually made us train in the river while icebergs were floating around, and once we hit a big one on a cold morning. That may have been the fastest we ever rowed, as the water spilled in through the bow. Thinking back, it makes cycling sound so easy.
How did you get started racing?
My best friend in college let me borrow her 50cm frame (I ride a 54cm). I took it for an hour spin, got a flat, had a fellow cyclist help me, and came back smiling ear-to-ear. After that, I had to have a bike. I saved up my waitressing tips, and bought a race bike in hopes that I would race one day. The guys on UVM’s cycling team encouraged me to try it out. It was my last semester of college, so I figured why not try something new. Little did I know how my life would change…
You started you racing career in the Mid Atlantic region, how does it compare to NorCal?
The courses in NorCal are twice as hard, and twice as long. The racing culture is much more vibrant; it’s like people’s lives depend on the outcome of the race. You have to be all-in to race well in California. I love that.
Where I lived in Baltimore required driving outside of the city whenever I wanted to train. I spent multiple hours on the trainer, placed on a concrete pad, behind my rowhouse. I’m sure the bar next door loved that whooshing sound! With a busy job working night shift in an inner city Emergency Room, there was just no way I could sleep enough to train and stay healthy. It is important to keep a simple job, and live in a place that supports the cycling lifestyle. Only then can one commit.
Did you move out west specifically with racing as a goal?
Yes. I wasn’t getting any better at racing while working full-time night shifts in a Baltimore ER. I knew things had to change if I wanted to race at a higher level. I met Laurel Green at Battenkill last year who encouraged me to visit California to race. She said I was strong, had what it would take. My former coach also encouraged me to go for it, my boyfriend, now fiancé, believed in me, so I took the plunge. To my family’s dismay, I quit my job and started planning the move to California.
A lot of success depends on a good friend and family support system, what does yours look like?
My fiance, Michael, has made multiple sacrifices for me to get to this point. Most significantly, he agreed that moving to California was the best thing for me, even when it meant being 3,000 miles apart. Fortunately, he found a great job out here and loves it too. Being far from my family is hard at times, as I’m an only child. But my dad and I keep track of each other, talking regularly about the Ravens, the weather, recent vacations, etc. Keeping up communication is the key.
The team and coach situation seems to have worked out for you as well…
Well, I applied to every pro team last year. Obviously, I didn’t get a contract, which turned out to be a blessing. Looking back, I definitely wasn’t ready. As I was trying to figure out how to race in California, I came across Bill Nicely’s phone number on the USA Cycling website. I cold-called him. “Hi, my name is Sara Clafferty but you don’t know me… Quietly, I had been stalking Norcalcyclingnews.com all season so I knew his team had a good run in 2012. We talked for an hour, and he was willing to take a chance on me to help mix things up in Northern California. I owe a lot of my success this year to Bill and awesome Pinnacle teammates.
Recently, Laura Charameda started coaching me at the end of the season. She has a world of racing knowledge, and has a real passion for developing riders. I am super excited about working with her!.
Do you have regional or national aspiration for next year?
My aspirations in cycling reach far beyond the national level. I want to find a professional team that will help me continue to grow as quickly as I have this year on Pinnacle. I am determined to put in the work it takes to excel at the national and international level. Whatever happens with the team situation, my fiance and I plan to base ourselves here in Northern California, the best place in the US to grow as a cyclist in my opinion.
If you could write your own ticket, where would you take your cycling career?
Ah, the dream question. Cycling is my primary focus right now – it must be if I’m going to accomplish my dreams. I’m really blessed to have an opportunity not only to dream big, but to act on it. Not many people can say that. Coming from a “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” kind of family, I never take an opportunity for granted. I want to make cycling my career. I want to learn and race as much as possible on the domestic circuit, and ideally start putting in a solid amount of time in Europe. This means getting on the US National team, riding in the World Cups, and competing for a spot on the Olympic team.
We want to have children and a cute little garden, too, but that can wait for now.
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