Colorado-based Caroline Mani is no stranger to unforeseen challenges and change. The French cyclocross pro announced she was joining a new mountain bike team prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, while her long-time sponsor Edwin Bull of Van Dessel Cycles is no longer at the brand he started, having joined Fui Cycles.
Brandon Grant caught up with Mani to hear how the cyclocross offseason is treating her.
Cyclocross Magazine: Congrats! New team, new discipline. What’s your history in XC?
Caroline Mani: Actually, I come from mountain bikes. This was my first discipline before I started to race cyclocross. My first national title was in XC in 2009. I raced all the World Cups until I came to the USA. I was racing among (Emily) Batty and Julie Bresset as a U23. I finished in few U23 World Cup podiums and even had the World Cup leader jersey on my shoulder during the season 2009. I had to stop MTB because I didn’t have the opportunity anymore and I came here to finish my master’s degree.
CXM: What made you decide to race mountain bikes this year?
CM: I think life was finally taking a turn for me this year. I struggled in the last two years with some personal issues and an ugly divorce. I think my mind and body were ready for a new challenge and to start over.
When the team contacted me I was like a little kid and super excited. I needed that so bad, you have no clue! For the first time in years, I finished my ’cross season tired but not hating my bikes for weeks or months. So I took a break and reset to start to train for my new mountain bike season with the team Kenda/Intense/KS.
CXM: KS and Kenda sponsor another women’s program, what is the relation if any? Is this program going to carry over into cross season or is it separate?
CM: Honestly it’s just a different program. I have three guys as teammates who are just amazing people and riders. Unfortunately with the [Coronavirus] pandemic, we weren’t able to race much except the first short track but I got the chance to discover new people and get all excited again coming back to the source.
CXM: Edwin Bull has moved on from Van Dessel, the company he started and the brand that sponsored you. What did you think of the news?
CM: I knew this was coming. Edwin is a wonderful guy and he has been so supportive in the last few years. He actually saved me a few years ago when I had no ride and I m so grateful. I learned to know him and his story. I know it’s probably hard for him to leave something he built. I hope I can still work with him at some point in his next challenge. I’m just super thankful for the opportunity he gave me and I wish him the best.
CXM: How has the Coronavirus affected you, personally, and in terms of training?
CM: Honestly this is hard for everyone. I’m trying to stay positive and not be too selfish or self-centered. I’m super disappointed to not able to finally race mountain bikes again. I needed that so bad and I thought life was finally getting turned around for good. But honestly, there is worse than my own concerns. I know so many people [are] being affected, losing their businesses, getting sick, dying… I’m still working so I’m super relieved because at least for now I don’t have to worry about being able to pay my rent or any other bills.
The problem right now is I’m scared I won’t be able to race this winter. How am I supposed to contact any companies in this catastrophic time to ask for any help or sponsorship?
In the back of my mind, I’m a little freaked out, and almost preparing myself to have no season. Unfortunately, I can’t work remotely so there is no way I can personally afford to pay for a season. I need external help, and I’m really crossing my fingers than we still can do it this winter. I saw Stephen Hyde doesn’t have a ride for now. That doesn’t help my fears either.
To come back to training, this is super hard. I’m struggling to find the mojo to train long hours because we don’t have any goals. I really dig deep to reset after ’cross season and this year of canceled races is tough! I’m trying to enjoy riding my bike and mostly not get too chunky and slow so when it’s time to train hard again I don’t start from too far away.
CXM: If the calendar overlaps between cyclocross and mountain bike races, how will you decide what to do?
CM: Honestly that’s a good question. I may have to do some cross country, especially if I get some support there. But even my mountain bike team is being affected. It’s a brand new team and the new sponsors are not able to give what they promised with the worldwide crisis and I totally understand. My future is undetermined and I’m trying to not get too worried about it because honestly, I have zero control over COVID-19.
I just hope people follow the rules and we can fight this together to be able to get back to normal ASAP.
CXM: Although most events are on hold, any plans to take on some gravel races?
CM: Honestly, we know races will be canceled at least until July. So when it’s time to race again I will definitively pick anything but gravel. I like short distance and I don’t have the time to train for such long-distance events. Although, I just want to put a number on my back at some point so nothing is determined.
CXM: Thanks for your time, and stay safe!
CM: Thank you!