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Mountain

Sofia Gomez Villafañe and Russell Finsterwald form new Specialized Off-Road program

The two pro mountain bikers will split their time between gravel and singletrack this year, each focusing on the Life Time Grand Prix, as well as other events.

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Multi-discipline pro cyclists Sofia Gomez Villafañe and Russell Finsterwald will ride for Specialized Off-Road in 2022.

Both riders, while historically focusing on cross-country and marathon mountain biking respectively, will compete in a 50/50 mix of cross-country and gravel races this year, including the Lifetime Grand Prix Series.

The two, both formerly part of the Clif Pro Team, will be accompanied throughout the season by team manager and lead mechanic Chris Mathis.

According to Fiona Swartz, the sports marketing manager for Specialized USA, both Gomez Villafañe and Finsterwald made an impression two years ago and have continued to show their dedication to the sport.

“Specialized started working with Sofia and Russell early in 2020 through the Clif Pro Team and we wanted to continue our relationship with them,” she said. “Among the ambiguity of racing over the past couple of years, these riders have continued to stay focused, motivated, and up for any adventure. The landscape of racing in North America has also taken a shift with new opportunities for athletes rising in gravel and endurance MTB racing. Both Sofia and Russell tested their legs at some gravel races last year and excelled. The brand really caught onto that, and it got us thinking about how we could evolve to create a multidisciplinary program, rather than a siloed program. We’re ecstatic to continue working with Sofia and Russell as we bring this team to life.”

(Photo: Courtesy Specialized)

Gomez Villafañe, who has taken very well to gravel (the 27-year-old won Crusher in the Tushar and Belgian Waffle Ride Asheville last year) is happy to embrace the growing trend of being a professional cyclist, rather than solely a professional mountain biker.

“What gets me the most excited about Specialized Off-Road is the fact that I get to be an all-around cyclist and get to dabble in multiple disciplines rather than focus on a single one,” she said. “It feels quite special to be able to represent Specialized, a brand that was just a few miles away from where I discovered the sport of cycling.”

Gomez Villafañe, who races as an Argentinian in UCI races, is targeting the Cape Epic, Unbound, UCI E-Bike Worlds and (hopefully) the yet-to-be-announced UCI gravel worlds. She’s also a strong contender at the Life Time Grand Prix

“With a shift in my training towards endurance events and a strong mountain bike background, I am aiming to be a contender for the overall win at the Life Time Series but we will have to see how the point system shakes out as the season gets underway,” she said. “I have had the best base season to date and I can’t wait to line up at the first event of the season.”

Finsterwald, who has already shown that he excels at long mountain bike and long gravel races with his second place at last year’s LeadBoat Challenge, is targeting the Grand Prix as his primary objective in 2022.

(Photo: Courtesy Specialized)

“In 2021, I dipped my toes into the world of gravel racing and instantly knew I wanted to do more of it moving forward,” he said. “The Life Time Grand Prix will be my main objective for the season and within the series, I really want to excel at Unbound Gravel. Of course, I want to stay true to my MTB roots, and races like Whiskey 50 will be a big target as well. Above all, I want to continue having fun on two wheels and enjoying the journey that is professional cycling.”

Both riders will be at Sea Otter in April, where they’ll unveil their new team kit ahead of the Fuego XC 80 race, the first race in the Life Time Grand Prix series. In addition to Specialized for frames, tires, shoes, helmets, apparel, and saddles, Specialized Off-Road will also be working with Roval, Shimano, FOX, Wahoo, Easton/RaceFace, ESI, and Monster Hydro.