Janel Holcomb: Always Smiling
Q&A WITH ENDURO BITES AMBASSADOR
With a race resume including overall wins at Cascade Classic, Tour de Toona, and Joe Martin Stage Race; stage wins at the Tour of Gila, Joe Martin Stage Race, Gateway Cup, Sunny King Criterium; the 2011 NRC Championship; being named to the 2012 Olympic Long Team; 3rd Overall 2013 Tour of Gila; and 4th TTT at the 2014 World Championships, it's safe to say that Janel Holcomb knows how to ride a bike. Yet despite her impressive results, what might impress us the most is her infectious, positive attitude. We can't help but be in good mood around her.
We were lucky enough to get Janel to agree to an interview, including some details on her upcoming camp in Southern California this December.
You were introduced to cycling relatively late. How did it happen, and was it ‘love at first ride?
This is true! I didn’t ride a bike much as a kid because I was plenty happy and busy with my running, singing, hiking and general outdoor fun. I also had a pretty gnarly crash as a kid that kept me away from bikes. When I graduated from RPI and moved to San Diego for grad school, I figured I’d transition from collegiate running to a local running club. Instead I transitioned to grad school life with some gourmet cooking and lots of couch potato-ing thrown in for cross training. Chad (my husband) was getting more and more into riding and convinced me to go to a bike shop with him and, no joke, I left with my first road bike and all the gear that day. For a while I just commuted to and from work, but within a few months we joined Team in Training – that’s where I truly fell in love with cycling. It was the perfect atmosphere to learn: full of friendly, knowledgeable, supportive coaches and mentors. After a year they convinced me I should take my talent to the racing scene.
You had already established a teaching career- was it a tough decision to put it on hold and give full-time professional cycling a go?
It was a bit gutsy and somewhat scary, but I could tell that it was the right decision. I had just been announced as the director of a new school we were opening when I went to tell my boss. I had stitches in my lip from a recent crash the day that I told them! They must have truly thought I was off my rocker. I somehow knew it was the right move: I was in love with the sport, I had the support of my husband, my new coach (Arnie Baker) thought I had the ability to compete with the best, and there wasn’t time to give it a half-hearted try – I was approaching 30 and needed to go all-in on this bet.
You have many highlights on your racing resume, including wins at the Joe Martin Stage Race, Tour of Gila, along with a lot of national team success. What are some of your proudest racing moments?
The team time trial became a big part of my focus as my career went on and getting 4th place at the 2014 World Championships in Ponferrada, Spain was one of the best and most heart-wrenching moments of my career. We were only 6 seconds off the podium! There was so much work as a team that had gone into getting us to that moment. The team time trial is a beautiful event and encompasses the joy, pain, commitment, and teamwork of cycling.
You recently retired from professional cycling. What exciting plans do you have for life outside of the pro peloton?
The next chapter is just beginning to unfold! I’ve been coaching athletes for a number of years and I love how coaching combines my passion for teaching and inspiring others with my passion for cycling. I’m also planning my first coached training camp for this December in Borrego Springs, California. I’ve been going there for years to get in solid base miles and have an exciting experience planned for attendees this year: 5 days of riding in the mountains supported by Mavic, afternoon workshops, on-the-road support, stops at pie shops, dinners out on the town, and a guest appearance by Enduro Bites. It’ll be so much fun. Interested readers can find out more athttp://www.janelholcomb.com/2015/09/30/borrego-springs-cycling-camp/.
Will you continue to be involved in cycling in any way now that you are retired as a competitor?
Absolutely. Through coaching, training camps, and the Women’s Cycling Association, I intend to stay fully involved. I love this sport and want to help riders, from enthusiasts and beginners to full-time racers, get as much out of it as is possible. I’ve also realized over the years how much cycling flourishes because of quality relationships and, surprise (!), I love helping nurture and strengthen relationships. There’s a good chance I’ll be at many races and events next year working in a variety of capacities.
What do you see as the biggest barrier(s) for women getting into cycling?
Tough question! Biggest? The history of disparity between men’s and women’s cycling – but that is true in so many industries and sports, right? So what do we do? Start by bringing more women into the upper echelons of cycling organizations and cycling companies. The environment is starting to change but bringing in these fresh thinkers will make the cycling atmosphere more inclusive and comfortable for women. I think this will lead to all-around gains in the cycling industry, increase in popularity of the racing scene, and there will be more media coverage, more fans, more involvement.
What was the most difficult part about being a professional cyclist?
This changed year to year. At first it was the broken bones that kept me away from racing and my objectives. Then it morphed into figuring out how to navigate the systems (contract negotiation, teams collapsing, team selection). Through all the adversity, though, I learned about myself and became keenly aware of what mattered to me: loyalty to my teammates and friends, performing well for my team, and doing the right thing.
A rare picture where Janel isn't smiling.
What do you miss the most about racing since retiring?
That’s easy! The people. We traveled the world and lived like a circus family for 9 months out of the year. Experiencing that in my 30s, after I’ve gone to college, gotten married, and worked as an engineer and teacher, really made me appreciate the unique lifestyle. It led to wonderful relationships with people who are either still running around with the circus or scattered all over the world. I miss my cycling family for sure.
Who was the most influential in your cycling career?
My coach, Arnie. Through the highs and lows, wins and losses, broken bones, turmoil and achievements, he was a constant. Arnie was always in my corner; he and his wife always looked out for me which meant looking out for my husband too for which I’ll be forever grateful. Arnie’s style meant I could learn, be challenged, thrive and still be myself. I couldn’t have done what I’ve done or wouldn’t be moving on to coaching if it wasn’t for him!
Rumor has it you are a bit of a foodie. What are some of your favorites?
First and foremost it’s coffee. I grind fresh beans (preferably from Bird Rock Coffee Roasters) and make pour-over every day. I’m quite particular about the process (water temp & quality, weigh everything, filter type, grind quality etc) but one perfect cup a day is all I need.
I love food so it’s difficult to limit myself to a few items on a Q&A, but, here’s what I’ve been eating lately… I’m adding fresh red cabbage to lots of salads, nothing crazy just fresh and fun. I make from-scratch waffles before every weekend MTB ride: lately it’s been yogurt blueberry waffles with maple syrup and I never follow the recipe. I go to a climbing gym once or twice a week as an excuse to eat Indian food: lamb kadai and gobi paratha are my favorites. I’m crazy about Brussels sprouts: slice thin and pan cook or roast in olive oil, salt & pepper until you get a nice crisp brown on the outter leaves. I make a mean apple pie 2-3 times a year but the key elements are the crust (watch Jacques Pepin’s video guide on Food & Wine) and Chad’s ability to cut the apples with uniform perfection. I love cheese and have been buying a steady supply of Manchego to eat on toast with blood orange marmalade as part of my breakfast. I love oysters, friends who know good wine, scallops, olives, and pickled anything. And I’ve been recently inspired to know more about where my meat, seafood, and dairy products come from: I want cage-free humanely treated chickens laying the eggs I eat and happy grazing cows producing the milk I drink. I’m not ready to go vegan, but I want to help improve the food system too.
Thanks for your time and allowing everyone to get to know you better, Janel.
We had a blast at the Borrego Springs training camp last year and encourage everyone who can attend to do so. It doesn't get much better than shorts, short sleeves, base miles, long climbs, and palm trees in December. Hope to see you there!
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