In addition to its World Cup-oriented team, the Cannondale Factory Racing squad is supporting two endurance mountain bike racers in 2012: Tinker Juarez and Alex Grant.
Juarez, 50, may be one of the best known riders in the sport. He's been part of Cannondale's various mountain bike teams for an impressive 18 years straight.
"I've been lucky. I'm thankful," said Juarez, who resides in Los Angeles, California. "Being part of the team has been fun, and it's kept me focused all the time on my riding and my training. I've learned how to appreciate it, and I know what it takes each year. I've just kept on."
Juarez was racing in the heyday of the sport of mountain biking, when old school cross country racing was super popular in the 1990s and early 2000s. As the sport has evolved, so has Juarez's career.
"I was always focused on the short stuff in cross country. As the years went by, it started getting faster and after about 2000, I realized the level had picked up and my motivation was changing. I noticed that my training was paying off more on long distances. There were more longer distance races and Cannondale was excited about it. For me, it was time to move on." Ever since, he's been racing more endurance oriented events all around the globe.
Cyclingnews asked Juarez at a recent team camp about what keeps him going considering that doing anything day after day for 18 years can get stale.
"I look at people that go to work every day. How do they stay motivated?" he said. "They go to work every day whether or not they want to. Some days they do, some days they don't. I look at this as my job and I get paid for it. I get to go out and ride for a living, so there is more incentive to feel lucky about it. I know that if I stop doing what I do, then it's going to be easy for me to see myself doing something different."
"Every year I try to keep the spice and keep it fun and exciting. This year, because of the Olympics, I decided to go back to the 24-hour races. I had taken a break for a year or so," said Juarez. "I feel excited to step it back up and do that. I will do the two biggest 24-hour races: US Nationals and the Solo Worlds. Before that, I decided to do mostly endurance stuff. You have to train the same way."
Juarez has tended to avoid two kinds of endurance mountain bike races. One is 24-hour races with short laps and another is stage races. "I did one 24-hour race in Germany, and it was about 25 minutes per lap. At that point, I didn't like 24-hour races with laps that short. Since then, I've always made sure to pick ones with laps that are between 50 minutes and one hour during the day. I know you slow down in the night."
"I never seem to find space in my schedule for stage races. If I do one, it will just happen as the season does. At the moment, I'm focused on one-day events. It's nice to get home after the weekend."
When asked about the future of his career, Juarez said, "I will race as long as I can hold onto a job racing and as long as my results are good and I enjoy racing. Having a team back me up and with a good bike is good motivation. I'm set up to be everything I want to be at an elite level thanks to this team. My goal is to stay fired up all the time and pick the races that are exciting to me and my sponsors."
Grant adopts new role as rider/manager
Relatively speaking, Alex Grant, 31, has been with Cannondale for a short time. He started with MonaVie Cannondale in 2009, then switched to Cannondale in 2010.
"Compared to Tinker, that's not very long, but four years is a long time to be riding the same stuff, so I feel like it's what I know now," said Grant, who also blogs for Cyclingnews.
This year Grant is doing a variety of racing - mostly endurance, but mixing in some cross country. "With 2012 being an Olympic year, (American teammate) Jeremiah (Bishop) is focused on World Cup circuit, so Tinker and I will focus on the US endurance side." He named some of the races he is looking forward to most: Whiskey 50, Leadville 100, Trans-Sylvania Epic, Mt. Ogden 100km, Park City Point-2-Point. The latter event is based in his current hometown of Park City, Utah.
He'll even do the Windham World Cup in New York in June. "World Cups aren't my focus, but I think it would be a good experience. I won't do anything as long as a 24hr solo. I don't think I'm ready for that. I don't know how Tinker does that as a rider."
Grant did La Ruta de los Conquistadores for three years in a row. He's not sure about returning this year, but will do the Breck Epic stage race. He's still undecided about the BC Bike Race, noting that this year it is the same weekend as the US Cross Country National Championships, which he likes to do.
Grant is not your typical pro. He also runs his own business called Gear Rush. "Balance is something I've been working on for years," he said. "For the past 10 years, I've always had a full time job. I was a sales rep for five years as a pro racer. I drove 30000 miles per year and was still balancing racing."
"It takes time to run your own business, but I'm out of the car. I'm a little more consistent on my schedule at home. I used to say that my job was the secret to my racing fast. I couldn't overtrain - that's never been a problem for me, I'm too busy."
As if running a business and pro racing weren't enough, Grant has taken on a new role for 2012: Rider/manager for the US portion of the Cannondale Factory Racing team.
"I'm super excited. I'm honored to do this for such a prestigious team. It will be another thing to throw into the mix. I've got a lot of experience in the US travelling to races, so I know what riders will need," he said. "I can manage some communication and with some good help at my business, I have freed up some more time to do this. I'll help the US riders. Tinker's been racing so long, he knows what he needs, but the young guys (teammates Keegan Swenson and Taylor Smith) are too young to rent cars when they go to races, so I'll be helping with logistics."