Clark Sheehan

By John Alsedek

If there's any truth to the maxim "good things happen to good people," then 7Up-Colorado Cyclist's Clark Sheehan should just order his rainbow jersey now. Despite having a promising professional career plagued by illness, serious injury, and sometimes just rotten luck, Sheehan has never lost his love for the sport - or his sense of priority.

A native of Denver, Sheehan found himself drawn into cycling in much the same way as other Colorado natives during the late '70's and early '80's - by the Coors Classic. "I grew up in Denver and watched the Washington Park Criterium, the pack passed me the first time and I was hooked!" He began racing in 1983 at the age of 14, and soon showed his aptitude for the sport by winning a junior national time trial title. There followed an 'apprenticeship' under the then national coach Eddie Borysewicz at the Olympic Training Center, as well as a stint racing in Belgium.

However, by 1989, things had begun to stagnate for Sheehan, largely because he had been racing overseas the previous year. He became a 'forgotten man' - he wasn't selected for the U.S. National Team, and the non-national team racing opportunities were few and far between. Then came an offer from the AC-Pinarello team to turn pro at the tender age of 20. "It was a really good bunch of riders, like Matt Eaton and Randy Whicker, guys who were just excellent tacticians and racers." After getting his feet wet in big North American events like the Pepsi Tour of the Americas and the Branders Tour of Texas, Sheehan made his big splash at the Tour de Trump, finishing seventh overall in a field that included eventual winner Raul Alcala, Soviet wunderkind Viatcheslav Ekimov, '88 Giro champ Andy Hampsten, and a Tour de France-bound Greg LeMond. It should have been the harbinger of greater things for Sheehan in the next few years, but it didn't quite work out that way.

When AC-Pinarello disbanded at the end of 1990, Sheehan joined the powerhouse Coors Light squad, whose director Len Pettyjohn had pegged him as the 'next big thing'. However, 1991 and 1992 were basically lost seasons for the Coloradoan - he was sick for much of '91, and was injured in a freak accident early the next year (he was hit by a wind-blown cattle trough while out training). When he was able to race, he was slotted in the role of domestique. Sheehan got another chance in '93, when he joined the nascent Saturn team. He went into training camp fit and highly motivated to prove himself and in his first race with Saturn, won the prologue of the Ruta Mexico, finishing ahead of the likes of Euro's Laurent Fignon and Gianni Bugno. But ill fortune struck again. During Stage Five, a drunk driver swerved into the pack, causing a massive pileup. Sheehan got the worst of it - he was pinned between the driver's pickup and a press van suffering three compacted vertebrae, which put him in the hospital and off his bike for several months. After months of physical therapy, he was able to come back- but the Saturn team had opted not to renew his contract, leaving him without a team for 1994. Eventually, he was picked up by the low-budget Guiltless Gourmet team, and managed some credible results, including eleventh in the KMart Classic and fourth in the Casper Classic. However, things were not going well until his former coach entered the picture.

After going through a rough year himself (Subaru had withdrawn from sponsorship of his European-based pro team), Borysewicz was rebuilding for 1995 with a new squad sponsored by Montgomery Securities, and offered Sheehan a contract. Sheehan didn't disappoint, rising back to prominence in the same race that he'd first made his mark in US pro cycling: he won Stage Eight of the Tour DuPont in the longest breakaway in the race's history, on his way to 23rd overall. He quickly followed that up with eighth overall in the KMart Classic, and then nearly won the US professional title when he joined the decisive break at the CoreStates Championship where he eventually finished third.

1996 was expected to be even bigger for Sheehan, but once again, he was hampered by circumstances beyond his control. "I was really psyched for that year, and I was really, really motivated to do the Tour DuPont again." Only one problem: he was left off the DuPont-bound team. Instead, he was slated to race several big European events, such as the Four Days of Dunkirk and the Henninger Turm, an opportunity he would have relished under different circumstances. "It was really hard for me, because I had to do all these press conferences and everything for the Tour DuPont. I went to all these towns, and I was really motivated - and then they didn't even put me on the team. I had a really great opportunity to race in Europe, but my heart and desire and passion weren't there after getting left off the DuPont team - it was really frustrating."

Following his return from Europe, he finished sixth at CoreStates, but then opted out of riding the Tour of Switzerland. He wanted to stay home with his wife Sandy (whom he had met as a result of his Ruta accident - she was his physical therapist), for the birth of their first child, Paisley. His team saw it as a lack of interest in racing, but Sheehan saw it differently: "My family is my priority. I love racing - racing is how I define myself, but my family is even more important."

After leaving the US Postal Service team at the end of 1996, Sheehan found a balance between racing and family, riding solidly, if unspectacularly, for lower-profile teams Colorado Cyclist (1997) and 7Up (1998-99). It was during the '99 season that it occurred to Sheehan that the two teams might be more successful if they combined their resources. The result? The 2000 7Up-Colorado Cyclist professional team, led by Sheehan and another ex-Postman, Anton Villatoro. That Sheehan is looking forward to the team's first campaign is pretty evident: "I am really excited about the season and the great group of guys we have...I don't know if I've ever been so motivated for racing." He hasn't set any specific goals for himself, other than to help his new team come together. But one can't help but think that the newly-announced Heritage Tour in South Carolina, running so close to the scene of his greatest cycling triumph, will be his season's focus.

And if there's any justice, he'll have the same kind of success he had back in '95.

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