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CLIF BAR x PELOTON: Bike Racing Meets Feminist Icon

Words and Images by James Startt

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Clif Bar & Company has built a reputation on its progressive DNA. With nothing short of a holistic work environment, employees at their headquarters in Emeryville, California, benefit from an in-house workout center and a day-care center, not to mention two restaurants. And the building itself—once home to the Grove Valve Manufacturing Company that furnished products for warships during World War II—has been totally repurposed by Clif with an innovative biophilic design that brings elements of the outdoors to the inside. Solar panels line the rooftop, numerous skylights guarantee an abundance of natural light and plants have a special place within the office space.

It came as little surprise then that the mood was high on a Thursday morning as the employees enjoyed a breakfast buffet before their weekly meeting. And there was added electricity in the air on this day brought by the presence of a rich variety of guests that included not only the Team CLIF Bar Cycling squad but also a certain Gloria Steinem.

But that is the way company founder Gary Erickson rolls, always eager to connect his energy-food brand with true life. Over breakfast, the Clif Bar team members mixed with Erickson and employees at the headquarters before moving into the main auditorium for a much-anticipated discussion with feminist icon Steinem. There, in front of a packed house, the 84-year-old writer, publisher and essayist looked back over the evolution of feminism as well as larger questions of equality, followed by a lively and engaging dialogue with the Clif Bar staff.

The riders too were enthralled by Steinem’s magnetic presence and words. Needless to say, they were only too happy to meet with Steinem during the following book signing. But soon enough it was time for them to have some meetings of their own, as the annual meet-and-greet day at Clif provides a key moment for the team members to chart out their upcoming season.

“You know, every year is different in the way we interact with Clif Bar,” said veteran team rider Zack Allison. “This annual meet-and-greet opportunity firstly gives us a chance to meet with new people at Clif Bar and connect with the vibe of the company, to feel as though we are part of it. I’ve been on a bunch of teams where there is a title sponsor and you never meet them and you never really know what your role is with them. But that is not the way it is here at Clif Bar. Here, we are integrated and it is really nice and gives us a better idea of who we are riding for!”

Throughout the day, the team met with different Clif staff members. They had PR and communications briefings as well as a detailed nutrition lecture focused on helping the riders maximize the nutritional and recovery characteristics of the various Clif products. It also provided the riders with a key opportunity to meet with other partners of the team, including Stages power meters and VYNL bikes, along with the Sierra Nevada Brewing Company’s founder and CEO Ken Grossman, a lifelong cyclist and frequent cycling sponsor who has teamed up with Clif Bar this year.

“Getting to meet Gloria Steinem was just unbelievable,” said Clif Bar team rider Allison. “But getting to meet Ken Grossman was also amazing. Sierra Nevada was one of the big domestic teams when I was growing up and to be associated with them now is just really great. Like I said before, meeting the sponsors really helps us understand who we are riding for.”

While much of the day was lighthearted in nature, some seminars, like that on nutrition, were clearly more focused. “That was probably my biggest takeaway,” said Owen Gillott, an Australian who is now in his second year on the team. “It was really helpful. Nutrition is something that I have paid attention to over the years, but I learned a lot in that meeting, especially when it came to protein. Until then the general consensus was to have protein after your ride and again at dinner, but today they suggest in a very convincing manner that it would be more beneficial to have three meals with protein, to spread it out more evenly throughout the day. That was a huge takeaway for me and I am excited to try it!”

Soon enough it was time to get out for a quick spin. After all, this was the first day of the team’s pre-season training camp. After suiting up, the boys headed over the Bay Bridge to Treasure Island, eager to squeeze in a spin before heading over to Gary Erickson’s farm north of Napa Valley.

This artificial island is named for the novel by Robert Louis Stevenson, who briefly lived in San Francisco before getting married there in 1880 and honeymooning Napa Valley, just before starting work on the book. Treasure Island long served as a naval base, which was decommissioned in 1996, though it’s still owned by the U.S. Navy. Everyone on the cycling team agreed it would be an ideal place to host an event in the USA Crit Series. Isolated from the traffic of San Francisco and Oakland, the island streets appear ready-made for a criterium. And as the team rolled around the island they enjoyed attacking certain corners or sprinting down the long straightaways. Clearly, they were ready for racing to begin!

But before attacking the US crit season, it was time to relax. Returning to the headquarters, the riders quickly changed and headed over to Sierra Nevada’s Torpedo Room in nearby Berkeley for a quick beer with Ken Grossman. Tomorrow it was time for some serious training, time to build the foundations for a new season.