Janel Holcomb began her cycling career in a way most of us only dream of…she picked up a bike in 2006, started racing in 2007 and was racing professionally in Europe by 2008. We interviewed her recently as we have the honor of having her as a mentor at our upcoming Cervelo Belgian Waffle Ride Survival Camp presented by Source Endurance. She is a huge wealth of experience and a very talented rider.
From Collegiate Running to Pro Cyclist:
Janel’s background was running with a solid love for downhill skiing on the side…she ran competitively through college and her post-college move to San Diego left her in a spot. She wasn’t interested in running for the sake of running and missed the team environment competing for her college brought. At that time, her husband was getting into biking and knowing her situation, convinced her to go to a bike shop and test ride a bike…next thing you know, she left with the the whole kit and kaboodle- the bike, helmet, shoes, kit, etc.
She dabbled in commuting by bike and riding for fun and soon enough she joined Team in Training, a fundraising group, with her husband and started training for her first century ride. One of the coaches in Team in Training introduced her to infamous coach Arnie Baker, who opened her eyes to a world of racing. She started doing group rides and met tons of bike racers and decided to hire Arnie for the upcoming racing season.
Arnie helped Janel realize that setting her eyes on a pro contract was more than realistic. From running, she understood the regiments of training and knew she had the engine needed to be successful and Arnie had coached plenty of world-class athletes. She just needed to figure out the sport. Janel reflected, “Once it was realistic, I was like ‘okay, I’m all in.’”.
Cycling was different than running. While the idea of pushing yourself was consistent across both sports, cycling added in so many other elements: managing a bike, bike skills, bike maintenance and equipment, race styles and tactics in addition to endurance and physical capability. Cycling also offered a way to explore new places with it’s long training miles, places you’d otherwise never see. Beyond racing success, cycling’s social side enticed both Janel and her husband.
Janel went on to have a long and incredibly successful road racing career with many Stage Race wins at National Calendar Races, winning the individual National Racing Calendar title, long stints in Europe, and making the Olympic Long Team in 2012.
All Things Bikes
Janel recently retired from road cycling and has transitioned to an envy-worthy assortment of all things bikes: coaching, running cycling camps and clinics, being a brand ambassador for Mavic, Focus Bikes, Enduro Bites, Castelli and Book-a-Bike-Mechanic and attending fondos and gravel events on behalf of those brands. In Janel’s words “it’s been awesome to get to do [fondos and gravel events], stay in the cycling world and be competitive. These events are not only important to cyclists of all levels but are the backbone of the cycling world. And they are a lot of fun!”
Her favorite gravel event last year was the Dirty Devil, a dirt and road mash-up in the San Diego area and the Spandex Stampede Gravel Grinder. Even though both were semi-local for Janel, “rides like that give you an opportunity to explore your own area on roads you might not ever think to ride on otherwise.”
Transitioning to Gravel
Despite a lot of gravel events being longer in distance and time than road racing, all her years of racing and training made things easy for Janel to adapt to the demands of long gravel events. From a physical standpoint it was all doable: she rode countless miles through all her years road racing and was used to training for long periods of time. From a psychological standpoint, Janel had a lot of experience in large groups, riding at high speeds, and doing long, epic road rides, which normalized the experiences that some find intimidating or even insurmountable.
So what is the biggest challenge Janel has faced adjusting to long gravel events? Fueling, actually. She’s always been a good fueler in racing and training, but without a team car to go to for bottles and food, she had to come up with another strategy. Janel found herself in the front group of long and competitive events this year where the group wouldn’t stop at SAG stations. That can lead to major problems. If you need water and don’t stop, it could be the end of your day! Understanding your body’s food and hydration needs is essential to be sufficient and self-supported…sort out your strategy and stick to it.
Navigating Mass Starts and Being a Mentor at the BWR Survival Camp
Janel is one of the kindest and happiest people you’ll find. The kind of person who truly enjoys what she does and is a wealth of knowledge for all things bikes. We talked to her a bit about mass start events and how that is really terrifying to a lot of people. Her advice, noteable:
“It’s a good idea to go out on group rides before doing a mass start event to get familiar with being around people. If you are uncomfortable, find a place whether it’s near the back or to the side where you have some space and where you feel less nervous. Sometimes, just having a line of sight helps! Remember to always keep your head up and look really far ahead of you. If you are looking down, everything is going by really fast and it is way more scary. If you look up, you can see things well ahead of time and it has a calming effect and you can see the flow of the group.”
Janel is also the only woman mentor this year at the Belgian Waffle Survival Camp. She has three main goals she hopes to share with men and women alike:
- Her first goal is to really help men and women become familiar with the terrain. Practice makes perfect for dirt terrain and learning that your body and equipment can handle it.
- As a woman, she hopes to share with women that they are just as capable skills-wise to ride what the men do. Riders will learn that through seeing her do it and practicing those skills together. The practice will help riders gain the confidence to execute come event day.
- Her #1 goal is to show how gravel and dirt riding is so much fun. Nerves are a huge things for people…getting to practice and have fun will take some of that anxiety away so people can enjoy both camp and the event day to the fullest.
There are still 4 spots left at the Cervelo Belgian Waffle Ride Survival Camp presented by Source Endurance running January 27-29, 2017. Come learn from Janel Holcomb and our team of mentors for 3 days of gravel. Learn more or share with a friend who might be interested: https://source-e.net/source-endurance-presents-belgian-waffle-ride-survival-camp/.