February 5, 2015 § 20 Comments
Jessica Cerra is one of those riders who has earned her spot in the peloton through skill, toughness, resilience, and force of will. She came to road racing via triathlon and MTB, and burst onto the local North County San Diego scene a couple of years ago as she was recovering from surgery to correct a severe case of iliac artery compression syndrome in her right leg.
By the time she had healed, she was thrashing men on the group rides, and from there it was a short hop to dominating the local road races, riding as the marquee women’s racer for SPY-Giant-RIDE. With powerful performances on the national stage, notably at Redlands in 2014, Jess was picked up for the 2015 season by Twenty16 p/b ShoAir.
It will be her first full year with a professional women’s team, and although she had calendared an ambitious season, a few weeks ago she learned that she was also suffering from iliac compression syndrome in her left leg. She’s had the surgery and is expected to make a full recovery, though she’ll have an obviously different racing schedule. Jess was kind enough to talk with me about a whole host of topics related to racing. Enjoy!
CitSB: What are your goals for 2015?
Jessica Cerra: My biggest goal was a stage win at Redlands and a top-3 GC finish. I don’t know that that’s a reality anymore [due to surgery — ed.]. An NRC stage win, a podium at nationals, definitely a podium at Winston-Salem or in Philly. Qualifying for the road world championship team, I guess that’s the biggest goal that I have overall.
CitSB: What kind of mental prep goes into a shot at making the road team for worlds?
JC: The more I try to hold back expectations the worse things go. The more I go in relaxed, remembering that I’m here because I like to race my bike, then the more instinctual decisions I make and things turn out better. This year I planned to go in being the strongest, most durable, fittest person out there because in those situations you can think more clearly; you’re not hanging on, you’re affecting the race. That’s how I want to race this year. I put in a huge base this year, 2,000 miles just in December, and I took good care of my body, got consistent massages, and have been working with a coach now, documenting sleep and weight, and taking a more professional approach. But my coach also likes me just being me; I like numbers and knowing my power but I also like doing the group ride with Thurlow on the front just killing it, and putting myself on the front, in the wind, so I know what my body can do in those super tough scenarios and then I can rely on those things to get me ready for racing, where those super hard moments happen all over again. Since I don’t have a lot of experience as a racer, the group rides are a huge part of my training.
CitSB: How does it feel to be the only woman in the first 25 wheels or on the entire ride when Thurlow and company are drilling it?
JC: It’s my favorite part about riding my bike. It’s pretty cool! After a while I don’t even feel any different from anyone else. I compare myself exactly to the peers I’m riding with. I’m hard on myself, too, I only see my weaknesses.
CitSB: What’s the hardest thing for women throwing their hat in the ring on the hard group rides?
JC: A lot of women are intimidated. There’s the fear of getting dropped, that everyone will notice, and it’s so embarrassing. I always try to encourage other women and make sure to compliment them when they do well or make it to certain points in the ride. I remember being nervous going to the Swami’s Ride, feeling exactly like I was going to a race! It’s intimidating and you don’t want to do something goofy and be “that person,” and you’re obsessed about training and don’t want to ruin your training by getting dropped. I encourage every woman to get out there. It’s the reason I’ve gotten as strong as I am; I’ve put myself in situations that are harder than what I have the strength for. You learn so much about racing and handling when you’re over your limit. It’s true, too, guys have better bike handling skills. You learn so much by racing with guys in a crit, about the lines that they take, and you start to see things, like how they can squeak through the inside of corners. It’s faster and more aggressive so there’s less time to think about what you’re doing. Most of the riders have the fitness to race but a lot of it is, “Why am I getting dropped when there’s five laps to go?” The more you do it, you realize it’s not fitness, it’s efficiency and awareness. You keep putting yourself in those situations, and it’s scary and you just do it. That’s how I learned.
CitSB: Now you’re a fixture on the North County rides and guys know that you can grind them up into little chunks of meat and they fear you. How does that feel?
JC: I don’t know if I look at it like that. I’m so focused on my own internal fears of what’s going to happen when I get to the power climb, and I know the women’s pro field is so strong and they know what they’re doing and are so good. NRC races are so different from local ones. I was supposed to go with the national team to do the spring classics which I’m not doing now, but I think of those situations on the local rides getting me prepared to be in those types of pelotons. When you don’t have a ton of experience in these races but you live in a place where there are 150 people on a group ride, you can apply the same things you know are going to happen in a race. If you want to be part of a race, then I go into a group ride practicing rotating through in the first 10 or 15 positions, gauging the effort to pull through, really what I’m doing is preparing myself to have to do those things in the peloton. It’s nice to ride with the guys; it used to be fun but now it’s more about completing a job. I expect them to make it hard and I expect them to look at me like I’m one of the people up there where it’s windy and not to make it easy because I’m a girl.
CitSB: Do you feel guys cut you slack? Or do they try to slaughter you like everyone else?
JC: They treat me like everyone else.
CitSB: How do you make the jump from racing Boulevard to the national or international level?
JC: Without my mountain biking background it would have been harder. I have lots of natural positional awareness and muscle memory where things happen in a race and I can read where to be, how to navigate through tricky situations, and how to feel confident about how I ride my bike. That’s huge. The second you don’t have confidence it’s going to be the worst day. When you’re riding scared nothing goes smooth. You bobble and crash, and it’s the same in the peloton. Confidence is so huge. You take control and put yourself where you need to be. Combined with my fitness, I was lucky. I went into pro racing and figured I can handle a bike and am one of the best descenders, I’m fit enough to see what’s going on, to read how the lead-out will go, so in a lot of races I could freelance and observe and notice, and you know, I could also be focused on what I was bad at–I tried to practice those situations to get better because I didn’t have a lot of racing experience. I think the biggest thing about the transition was positioning and being efficient, and that same transition happens going from the national to the international peloton. It’s a whole different level. The courses are harder, the conditions are worse, the fight for position is constant, you have to keep putting yourself in position over and over and over again. I also learned that every time at end of a race when I decided to think through what was happening, I got my face kicked in, zero results. When I just “did” it rather than think it, something inside told me what to do and it seemed to work. It takes time to trust that inner feeling. I also didn’t feel I belonged. I was stoked with a top 20 at Redlands, and had no idea about my potential. I figured out that I was more prepped than I thought I was. It’s a hard balance, though. You can’t let it go to your head but you still have to be confident enough to trust your instincts to put yourself where you need to be.
CitSB: How are things going with Harmony Bar?
JC: We had a setback with the name. We filed for a trademark and then a couple of other companies filed for the same name and our application was denied. So now we’ve filed for a new name and have been in a year of a holding pattern because we can’t make our packaging and take the next step; without the name and the brand it’s hard to move forward. The good news is that we’re still consistently selling all of our inventory online and in the bike shops we work with. There’s no marketing except word of mouth. People say it’s the best they’ve ever had and they tell our story. The next couple of months will be quiet because we’re sorting out the name. We also signed up with SmartStop, which is a big opportunity for us. By Tour of California time we’ll be with SmartStop and ready with our new name, branding, and packaging.
CitSB: For someone not familiar with Harmony Bar, how is it different from the zillions of other energy foods out there?
JC: It’s unique because I never made it to market and sell. I made it because I have a master’s degree in exercise physiology, I was in the kitchen with ingredients, paper, and pen, and mixed them a hundred times over, over, and over until I got a bar that tasted like a cookie and had all the macro nutrients that I wanted for my training. This was something I was making for myself. I knew the research was there showing that bars higher in fat were good for endurance athletes. So basically, I wanted to eat cookies on the bike! I love food and eat a ton of calories on the bike and wanted to eat things that tasted good and were like real food. Everyone said “Holy crap, this tastes like a cookie and works so well and can I buy some?” It got popular on its own because, you know, athletes out there like cookies and like to eat!
CitSB: Do you see yourself as a role model for other cyclists?
JC: I’m starting to. Unfortunately, as much as we’re trying to grow the sport of women’s cycling, coming from triathlon and MTB, I can say that road racing is by far the most intimidating to get into. Its very clique-ish, the teams and their kits and the people keep to themselves. I remember feeling like “Whoa! This isn’t like mountain biking where we finish a race and all have a beer together!” It’s hard to feel like you have a place in it. For me it’s important to change that atmosphere and for women to feel like the sport is approachable, the people are approachable, that I’m approachable. People come up after a race and they’re intimidated and I don’t like that. I’m open to talking to everyone. Lots of people are continually asking for advice about food and particular race courses and I spend lots of time answering questions on Facebook and getting to know people. I’m genuinely interested in people and their goals. After having my setbacks, the biggest joy for me is seeing others succeed. I gave a girl my racing clothes from SPY because she didn’t have any; the team kits weren’t ready yet. There’s more I can do than just racing and trying to win.
CitSB: How do you help people break into the secret society of road racing? How do you get them to take the step to enter a race?
JC: Maybe it’s different for women? I just go up to women and tell them how well they’re riding. For women it’s different. A lot of people wlll approach me and say, “My friend said you’d be on the ride,” and it’s someone new or who’s not in a club and I’ll be cool and tell them to keep coming out, and find out what they like, do they like climbing or sprinting, and the more you start hanging around the more you’ll learn. It’s in my nature to help. When I started cycling in grad school I was a a Fred, or a Frieda, I didn’t have any money for equipment and cool, nice people helped and supported and gave me pedals, for example, and had that never happened I would have never gotten to the point I’m at now. I want cycling to grow, and rides to grow, and races to grow, and people who complain about prize money or promoters are missing the fun–it’s about knowing people and being excited about seeing people you know, not avoiding the race because you don’t fit in and aren’t going to beat Monster Media and Surf City and SPY and not get a result. I try to imagine if I were a Cat 5 dude how tough that would be and how intimidating. But there are enough people who are cool and who have the same perspective that I do, who want to help. We want local racing and good group rides and an atmosphere of mutual respect. There are a lot of really good people on SPY, the team I rode with last year, people who are great riders and humble and who want to help. Without the opportunities given me by SPY and Michael Marckx I wouldn’t have ever gotten to race Redlands and then gotten the call-up to the pro ranks. MMX knew I wouldn’t be at SPY in the long run but he saw the potential and the opportunity to help grow and launch an athlete. He really put his faith in me and I couldn’t have done it without him and the support–the financial support, the logistical support of getting to races, and just a group of people who were always so cool and who believed in me.
CitSB: Tell me about your new team.
JC: The new team is amazing! It’s called Twenty16 p/b ShoAir, and we’re a UCI team this year. The director is Mari Holden and the GM/owner is Nicola Cranmer. They appraoched me and had watched my racing earlier and saw something they liked and it seemed like a great match. We’re a unique team. We have a lot of team goals and do a lot of big races but we also emphasize individual goals like doing ‘cross or track or the national team and racing in Europe. The theme of the team is “Women that race with continued education.” They encourage college and want us to have things off the bike to contribute and bring to the team as well. I’m 32, I did the reverse — went to school first and then found pro cycling!
CitSB: How many teammates live in SD?
JC: Only me. A couple live in Orange County, but we’re from all over the place.
CitSB: Has the team targeted any races this year?
JC: Redlands, which is big for women, and this year TTT nationals is a good one for us because it will be good prep for TTT worlds, which is in the USA in Richmond. One of the big sponsors is SRAM so having them support the TOC women’s race is a huge addition to our calendar and something we’ll focus on. Tour of the Gila is UCI for women this year, so it’s a focus for all of the teams, as well as Winston-Salem and the Philly race, and Philly is a world cup event. All the races are around the same time as nationals, which will be key racing for our team.
CitSB: Anything you want to add?
JC: The team has been really supportive so it’s scary being the new person on the team and I’ve been waking up every morning with photos and texts from team camp. It’s a pretty good feeling to not have really met teammates and already be included. They truly have my best interests at heart! I know that it’s going to be a good season this year–a bunch of bad-ass women with a lot of horsepower on this team!
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March 24, 2014 § 3 Comments
In SoCal, the road racing season starts Jan. 12 with the Ontario Shitfest Grand Prix, and ends September 7 with the Droopy Breasts and Leaky Prostate Old Persons’ National Championships. That’s nine months of racing, about the same amount of time it takes to gestate a baby.
We’re fast approaching the end of the first trimester, so I thought it would be a great time to do a mid-season analysis of who’s doing what, when, how, where, and why, and maybe even make a few predictions for the rest of the season. It’s the time of year that you start to hear the rumbling and grumbling of “Are WE the next Labor Power?” And it’s as good a time as any to say, “No, you aren’t. You are to Labor Power what a dingleberry is to a dinosaur turd.”
To be clear, the bar set by Labor Power is unattainable, so quit trying to be its heir. What do I mean?
- Labor Power rode the ugliest kits ever. No matter how stupid and repulsive your outfit is, Labor Power’s was worse. If Roger and Chris couldn’t sublimate an abortion, no one could.
- Labor Power was the cheapest team ever. Your team spends more on water bottles than Roger spent on his team car, race entries, and kits. Labor Power was so tight with money that even bike racers considered them cheap.
- Labor Power won more races in a season than most teams today even enter. In 2002 they had 110 first place finishes in everything from crits to road races to stage races to track events to circle jerks. They were so dominant that if you finished 2nd or 3rd no one cared. At all.
- In 2003 they only won 103 races. Get it? “Only” 103. So quit bragging about your string of ten wins.
- In 2004, they won the ELITE men’s national championships with Chris Walker putting everyone to the sword. This isn’t the shrunken and leaky prostate division, folks, it’s the full-sized, covered-with-dog-hair testicle race. And Labor Power won it.
- From 2005 to 2007, the year that Roger imploded with a full brain-and-hip replacement, no one from Labor Power wound up in prison.
So just in case you’re wondering whether your string of seven or eight victories puts you in the “Labor” class, the answer is “No. It doesn’t. Not even close.”
Is there any hope for this younger, weaker generation?
Yes! Great things have been accomplished so far in 2014. Let me tell you about them.
- Jessica Cerra is the best all-around racer in SoCal, if not the USA. She wins hilly, windy, brutal road races. She wins four-corner crits. She time trials. Best of all, she’s always ready with a smile and encouragement before she tears your ego out and pops it in the shredder. Plus, she makes a mean Harmony Bar. Word on the street is that sooner rather than later she’ll be snatched up by a pro team.
- Rahsaan Bahati has confirmed (again) that he’s the fastest and best crit racer in America. 2014 has seen Rahsaan absolutely tear things up in the pro crits, and the only people who’ve been able to give him a consistent run for his money are Corey and Justin Williams. Over the last decade Rahsaan has remained the single best crit racer in America. And he still shows up on the local Tues/Thurs NPR in L.A. to smack down the locals. Sometimes, literally.
- Charon Smith’s legend keeps growing. What began as a wanker who couldn’t glue on a tire (crashing at Eldo thanks to a rolled front tire on the last lap) has metamorphosed into the most consistent winning masters racer in SoCal. Charon’s always there to encourage, to lift up, and to laugh — unless you’re muscling for the sprint, in which case you’re going to learn the disappointment of second place.
- Surf City Cyclery has put together premier masters crit racing club. Along with Charon we’ve seen Kayle Leogrande, Ben Travis, and other SCC riders keep a stranglehold on the SoCal crit circuit. Will they ever venture out from the safety of four corner crits? I’m guessing … no.
- Kings of the road? That title goes to Monster Media and the Troublesome Trio of Phil Tinstman, Gary Douville, and Chris DeMarchi. These three musketeers have dominated in the hardest, most grueling masters’ road races that SoCal has to offer, taking impressive wins at Boulevard, Punchbowl, and Castaic. If you plan to win a 35+ road race, take a ticket and stand in line. A long line.
- Biggest contingent of women racers? That’s Monster Media again, with Emily Georgeson, Patricia Calderon, Suzanne Sonye, Shelby Reynolds, and a host of other strong women riders taking wins and letting promoters know that women race and they race in numbers.
- Best all-around team? That’s SPY-Giant-RIDE, of course. Not just one-trick crit ponies, the SPY team has won races in every division from women’s to extremely old and mostly brokedown 50+ geezers. (That’s you, DJ.) With two big wins against the Surf City machine — Derek Brauch and Aaron Wimberley — SPY has also taken stage race victories in the 45+ division with Greg Lonergan, as well as stage wins with Kyle Bausch. However, SPY’s strongest division is the pack-fodder category, topped by Wankmeister, who is able to convincingly defend 52nd place against all comers. SPY’s dominance in ‘cross is also unparalleled, and SPY promises to again put riders in the top-1o of the hardest road event in America: The SPY Belgian Waffle Ride.
- The top of the mark in the Pro/1/2 division seems pretty much occupied by the Jakroo/Maxxis team. However, since they’re all under the age of 40 I don’t really pay much attention to them and assume that the weakest rider in that category is faster than me by a factor of ten.
- You’d be crazy not to acknowledge that the one team that is over-the-top in terms of filling categories with its riders and therefore PROMOTING the sport of bike racing is Big Orange. This South Bay conglomeration of wankers packs the fields in every division. Hats off to a club whose emphasis isn’t just on racing, but on encouraging people to get out there and have a go.
- Young punk getting outta town? That would be Diego Binatena, who, after an early season of consistent top-10 finishes and a few key victories has been invited by Team USA to storm the beaches of Normandy for a Euro campaign.
- The Ageless One: That would be Thurlow, still ripping the legs off of young, snot-nosed punks in the 45+ division. Rumor has it that The Hand of God a/k/a THOG is going to celebrate his 400th birthday this year, but we know that’s a lie. He’s older than that.
Did I leave you out or forget to mention you? Better fill out a “Hurt Butt Report” and submit it to Chris Lotts for public comment and review.
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November 16, 2013 § 8 Comments
In a month and a half we’ll begin our third season of the SPY bicycling team. Lots of people wonder what it’s like to be an old creaky fellow with a leaky prostate and bad vision while riding for the premier old fellows racing team in California and therefore the galaxy. I’d sum it up like this:
Riding for SPY is fun.
In the first two years we saw that there were other teams with better racers. We’ve never had the fastest racers on our squad, but despite that our 45+ team was the winningest one in SoCal, our cyclocross masters teams are hands down the best, and our 35+ team, P/1/2 team and development riders mean that each year more and more people want to ride with us. Add into the mix that our women’s team, led by Jessica Cerra, is already primed to have a super year, and I think the reasons that people want to join the SPY cavalcade are simple : Swag and fun.
When you’re an old fellow, if you have any perspective at all, you realize that if your hobby is best measured in wins and losses, it’s probably no longer a hobby and has become what the rest of the world calls a “job.” You realize that as much as you’d like to win, even more than that you’d like to compete — and win — with people you actually like, doing things you actually enjoy, decked out in swag that makes you feel like you’re winning even when you place 78th.
SPY’s ethos is best described as having a happy disrespect for the usual way of looking at life. Put another way, “Beware of the usual!”
Living up to our mandate
We’re not told to go forth and win races, although we’re given plenty of leadership and racing and training opportunities to do so. What we are told is that once we put on the kit, we’re ambassadors for a brand. Not sales staff, or preachers, group thinkniks, but ambassadors, people who are here to deliver a message.
What message? This message.
1. Ride the front as much as you can on group rides, wherever you may train. Be a leader. Why? Because the usual way of doing things is to hide in the pack and show your face, if at all, at the coffee shop. The usual way of doing things is to use the work of others in order to benefit yourself. The unusual and irreverent way of doing things is to put your share of work into the group effort, and maybe even a little bit more than your share. If you’re too afraid of getting dropped or of not making the split, bite the bullet and … go to the front.
2. Take care of one another, and take care of others. The usual way of doing things is to only stop when you’re the one with the mechanical. This is your Sunday ride, right? You’ve waited all week for this, right? So if someone has a flat, well, that’s bike racing. The unusual and irreverent way of doing things is to recognize that there will be another Tuesday morning ride, and it’s probably not gonna kill you to help out a fellow cyclist. You’ll make a friend, you’ll energize the person you help to pass on the good karma, and you’ll go from being “all about me” to “serving others.”
3. Represent SPY and its team sponsors in the same way that you’d want them to represent YOU. Success doesn’t mean a podium in an old fellows criterium. Success is the sum of a life predicated on our collective good deeds, leadership, and the vicious clubbing of baby seals (to whom we apologize in advance and posthumously).
4. As a bike racer, or more accurately, as an elderly fellow drowning in a delusional vat of swag and beer and navel gazing, when you race your victory isn’t what matter. What matters are your actions and how they affect your team. What matters is whether you were ready to toil in anonymity and lay it all out there for the sake of a teammate.
5. Make people HAPPY. Collective groupings of old people racing bicycles isn’t a formula for happiness. Smiling and spreading positive energy is. So go forth and happify. Now.
From the touchy-feely to the hard facts
You probably expect me to praise SPY for all the usual reasons, but what are those “usual” reasons? And aren’t we supposed to beware of the usual? Rather, my affinity for the company, begun through personal friendship and swag, has transcended those two things to reach a level of discrimination I never thought I’d reach.
Because you see, I don’t really give a rat’s ass about bike products. Of course I love nice stuff when I can get it, but I’m not now and have never been a “bike guy.” I have one road bike and one ‘cross bike. One extra wheelset for the ‘cross bike. My road hoops are the same ones I train on and race on. For me, it’s always been about being lucky enough to cycle and to be part of a cycling community. The bike and the clothes and the parts are icing on the cake.
Of course, there’s one exception to that, and it’s the unusual exception of my eyes. I began wearing glasses at age 13, bout six or seven years after I first really needed them. My vision was so bad that I could only see movies from the front row. I’m still convinced that much of my early problems in school stemmed from an inability to see the chalkboard.
Having terrible vision has affected me throughout my life. I never learned to surf above kook level despite decades of trying. Why? Because I’m horribly uncoordinated and weak. But being unable to see the wave until it was breaking on my head didn’t help. Ball sports were always impossible, and even though I could see on a bike, my eyes were constantly irritated from the wind that incessantly screamed around the edges of my Laurent Fignon frames. Wearing superb prescription eyewear from SPY enabled me to win the Tour in 2011 and was directly responsible for the winning Powerball ticket that I bought down at the corner 7-11.
In actuality, my vision transformation on the bike thanks to SPY wasn’t accidental or the result of lottery-like luck. This eyewear is authentically bound to technical performance. The prescription glasses work in an incredibly demanding range of light and weather situations, including getting bounced on my head at 40 mph and remaining intact (the glasses, not the head).
This authenticity is so much more than, “The glasses work, dude.” It’s part of the background of the product, where and why it came into being, and what drives its evolution and subsequent iterations. Plus, SPY has never sponsored Lance.
The combination of “ride at the front” and “this shit works” forms the core of the proposition when you’re thinking about buying glasses. Do you want a product made by non-cyclists for cyclists and owned by a giant Italian conglomerate that also handles leather handbags, or do you want a product that’s made by cyclists who have to live with the shit they create, and who have to answer to the product’s utility in their own races and group rides?
Putting glasses on your nose … who knew it was so complicated? Well, it is, because when you wear SPY you’re choosing between Italian luxuory monolith or a variation on ZZ Topp: “That Little Old Performance Eyewear Company from Carlsbad.” Do things like happiness, irreverence, riding at the front, helping those who need it, and buying locally make a difference to you? If they do, maybe there’s something in this story for you.
The pros who ride SPY gear are chosen in order to transcend their stereotypes as “jocks” and tap into a multicultural lifestyle based on a love of outdoors activities. Us grizzled old dudes with leaky prostates believe in that transcendence, too.