Frenchwoman Caroline Mani has extended her contract with the Raleigh-Clement Cyclocross Team for two years, and will open her season at the Sea Otter Classic this weekend where she'll race the short-track, cross country, and cyclocross events. The 26-year-old emerged onto the U.S. scene in 2011 with an aggressive style and she quickly became popular with American fans.
"I was super happy to race for Raleigh-Clement last year. It was the best support I've ever had. I’m proud to be part of this team and racing in the U.S. The women's fields are so strong and the events are first class. I really want to win some races for the team this year.”
The commitment by Raleigh and Clement show the two companies are optimistic about the cyclocross marketplace. "Raleigh and Clement are really doing great things for cyclocross. They have great products and it's fantastic to have them supporting the sport," said Mani.
Mani recently arrived in Colorado Springs, her training base for this summer. "I'll do some mountain bike races, some gravel races, a little road, but the main objective will remain the cyclocross season," said Mani. Her summer schedule includes some of the Pro XCT series, local events in Colorado, the Gravel Metric in Illinois, and the Midsummer Nights Cyclocross Race at Dealer Camp in Park City, Utah, an event sponsored by Raleigh.
The 2012/13 cyclocross season started slowly for Mani as she juggled full-time work with the demands of racing. She was living in Laguna Beach and completing her university degree by interning in the marketing department at Crank Brothers. "My training and my day-to-day life was not ideal to race at a high level, but I didn't have choice. I'm trying to be a professional bike racer but I also want to be a business woman in the future so I needed to finish my degree."
Mani continued, "The first part of the season results were not really good, not where I should be. It was really tough to accept the fact that I was not as strong and fast as the team and I wanted. But I never gave up, and I tried to keep my head up. Gradually my results were better every race, and I was stronger, faster and felt better in my head."
She wrapped up her stint at Crank Brothers, and her renewed focus paid off with two third-place finishes at CXLA, the two-day race weekend in the heart of Los Angeles. "Donn (Kellogg, general manager of Clement) and Raleigh were always supportive, and believed in me. It was really helpful, and I'm thankful."
Her strong December riding continued with a pair of podium finishes at the U.S. Gran Prix finals in Bend. With renewed confidence, she travelled back to France to race the World Cups and Nationals. "I went to see my friend Laurence Leboucher (two-time cyclocross world champion) and she helped me focus 100-percent on my training. I reset myself for Nationals where I could really prove something."
She finished 4th at the French National Championships, staging a brave comeback after a high-speed crash at the start. It was a bittersweet result for Mani, who has won the national title two times. "I was in a good position at the start, but a girl crashed right in front of me at the first turn and I went down on the pavement. By the time I got up, I was almost in last place and I had to chase through the whole field. I was super frustrated, because I knew I had the podium in my legs."
Despite the solid result, she was strangely left off the French National Team for the World Championships. And Mani wasn't the only one left off the team, Julie Krasniak (Rapha-Focus), another French rider based in U.S., was also snubbed. The French federation could have sent a team of five women to Worlds, yet only sent two. "I was so angry with the Federation," said Mani. "I believe it was mainly because Julie and I spent the season in the U.S. instead of racing in France." Many observers agreed that it was largely a political decision, an opinion which was supported by media reports in France. The Raleigh-Clement Team intended to pay all costs to bring Mani to Louisville, but this did not change the Federation's decision.
Looking ahead to the year, Mani said, "I'm very motivated and I want to get back to the level I had before. I will be ready for cyclocross season and I want to win some races and get on the podium at some big events."