I’m fired up to have a chance to visit with you, Jack. I have a bunch of questions about fueling your cycling on a vegan diet and racing, but first things first. You have some pretty iconic cycling tattoos. Can you give me the story behind them?
The tattoos started off as a joke, like all good tattoos should. I was working as a bike messenger here in LA, and had just started racing track, and was doing very well. I was winning every cat 3 track race I entered, tons of alley cats, had done really well at Cycle Messenger World Championships, and had a friend that was a tattoo artist. I went to him with the idea and some pictures of old diesel pistons from turn of the century locomotives. The tattoos took almost 3 years to finish, from outline to shading, every time I would sit down with my artist, he would be astounded at how much area there was to fill, and the 3 hour block he had set aside to finish the piece was eaten up with very little progress. Now that they’re done, I’m stoked, and I’m very quickly recognized everywhere I go, it’s pretty cool.
Talk to me about your early days in cycling. What kind of riding and racing had you done before you hit the track?
I’ve been riding bikes as long as I can remember. I would bomb down the hill in front of my parents house in the Adirondack mountains of New York on my big wheels, then down the hill in front of my grandparent’s farm when I got my first mountain bike. There wasn’t any real organized race scene in upstate NY where I grew up, so I didn’t know there was anything between me riding my bikes on the street and professional racing. Out of college I got pretty into some ultra-distance stuff with my friends here in LA, did a bunch of centuries, double centuries, attempted the Furnace Creek 508, and raced the HooDoo 500.
When you first started racing on the track, did you have a particular moment when you knew you were hooked?
Track racing started for me in 2007. I was working as a bike messenger at the time, and another courier, Squid from NYC, organized an event to get couriers and city bikers to the velodrome with the track bikes they were on all day. I went out to the Encino Velodrome twice before the VeloCity Tour stopped in LA, and ended up second place overall, however, with round trip airfare to Sydney, Australia for Cycle Messenger World Championships as first place, I wasn’t quite satisfied. I traveled to Chicago, and then to NYC for their VeloCity events, finally winning in NYC. That summer pretty much sold me on bike racing in general, and track specifically.
Did you work with a particular coach or some more experienced cyclists who really had a big impact on you?
I’ve only worked with 2 coaches, both of whom have made a huge impact on my cycling ability, and how I approach the sport.
The first, Jeff Lawler of Pioneer Coaching (also vegan), showed me how much training with a purpose and direction can produce amazing results. I went from a mid-pack cat 5 road racer, and mediocre cat 2 track racer to cat 2 on the road, having won every crit I entered that year, and an elite national level cat 1 track sprinter.
My second cycling coach, Jamie Staff (world record holder, Olympic gold medalist, multiple world champion both track and bmx) brought me from an elite level cat 1 track sprinter, at the national level, to a world cup level sprinter, knocking on the door of the US Olympic team. His attitude that everyone who can commit to a training program should have one, and that only you, the athlete, can tell him, the coach, how far you can go in the sport really inspired me to work harder than ever and push myself waaaay beyond what I thought I could accomplish in the sport.
So now you are a full on bad-ass on the track (come on, you know you are). What are you most proud of in your racing career?
There are a couple of moments that I am really stoked on, first being the Team Sprint at the Alpenrose Velodrome Challenge this year. TJ Mathiason, Daniel Walker, and I set a track record (which stood for about 10 minutes before being crushed by Dean Tracy, Kevin Mansker, and Michael Blatchford) and finished 2nd overall, beating the Canadian National team. The second was this year at elite track nationals. I rode my best keirin ever, from the front in my repecharge round. After being nosed out, because of my own mistake of going too early, in the opening round, I got on the motor from the gun, and controlled the entire race, not letting anyone get more than to my shoulder, but not killing myself. After that, Jamie told me he was really impressed, which only added to the awesomeness of the moment.
Awesome. I saw the highlight video that I think has you crashing on the track. Talk to me about how you mentally get back on track after a rough stretch?
Yeah, that crash. I’ve got a bad habit of putting the skin side of my bicycle down, and it’s really hard, especially after a bad crash like the one in Alpenrose that year, to get back on the bike. Fortunately, I only broke my bike in that crash, but being able to put myself back into that situation again is difficult. My support structure, including my amazing girlfriend and framebuilding sponsor Megan Dean (moth attack cycles), she basically tells me, each and every time, that I can either stop racing, and keep complaining, or get back on my bike, and keep my mouth shut. So, I stop complaining, and race my ass off, and each race I get more comfortable, until I totally forget about the last time I went down.
Let’s shift gears a bit and talk about your life off the bike. Was there a progression to going vegan or did you go from omnivore to vegan in one swoop?
I had a bunch of friends that were vegan while I still ate meat and dairy. I have always been a bit of an environmentalist, walkig or riding my bike instead of driving, etc, and after talking with them for a bit, and realizing how horribly my current habits affected the planet and animals, which I’ve always loved, I went vegan overnight.
Did something click for you that made you want to go vegan?
I was, at the time, eating meat and dairy, and not really thinking about it. Megan, we were not dating at the time, asked me what the difference was between my dog, The Reverend, and a cow. I didn’t have an answer, and that was that. I had a lot of friends that are vegan, including a nutritionist and registered dietician, so that helped me a lot.
You’re a straightedge vegan as well, right? For folks that aren’t familiar with the term, can you tell them what that means?
Sorry, I’m not actually straight edge, I’m not sure why, but everyone thinks I am. I drink beer, but other than that am vehemently anti-drug. Drugs have no place in cycling, or in any healthy person’s life, really. If you need that to deal with your reality, make a change, don’t just medicate your pain.
No need to apologize, that was my mistake (heads will roll in the research department). Beer has been called the currency of cycling. What’s your go-to brew when you have some time off and are chilling out?
I’m a really big fan of New Belguim’s beers, it doesn’t hurt that they are very supportive of cycling, especially in the LA area, and their 1554 is probably my favorite of their brews. My all time favorite beer is from Rogue up in Portland, their chocolate stout is a total mid-blower.
Are you into cooking as well?
Megan would tell you not, but I do enjoy cooking. I spent a lot of time in college working as a line cook in a restaurant and hotel, so it’s not something I do a lot of. For the most part, food is what lets my body do what I ask of it, calories, nutrients, etc.
What are some of your favorite vegan meals?
Pizza. I effing love pizza. Ramen noodles, with spicy peanut sauce, broccoli and tofu is another staple. My current favorite breakfast is 2 bagels covered in black beans and avocado. Tons of protein, carbohydrates and a good bit of salt!
And burritos. Quite possibly the highest evolution of food; any meal of the day, any filling, and they’re very portable. If I could plant only one tree, it would be a burrito tree.
Very cool! I saw that awesome peanut butter, banana and apple triple decker sandwich you had working. Talk to me about what you eat to fuel yourself on longer rides. What’s in your vegan musette?
Well, a ‘long’ ride for me is about 3 hours these days, and I’m usually packing a banana, and some of the Powerbar gels, the new ones that are a little thinner, and a little lighter on the flavor (my favorites are the green apple and mixed berry). You can easilly get all the stuff out of the package, and you don’t need a full bottle of water to be able to open your mouth again.
Let’s talk about your training schedule. What are you working on at the moment?
Right now, I’m in a building period. I just sat down with Jamie Staff and we started mapping out the next 4 years of my training plan, to get me to Rio in 2016. I’m on the track 2-3 days a week, doing mostly small gear work, keeping leg speed up, while I’m in the gym lifting heavily to gain power 2-3 times a week. I’m also on the road, doing a lot of low cadence hill climbing, with some lactate threshold work on the flats 3 times a week.
In the world of cycling, track cyclists have a very specific skill set and engine. Was there a big learning curve in terms of the race tactics?
Yes. I’m still a pretty bad match sprinter, since there is so much that goes into it, where to be on the track, when and where certain moves work, etc. Keirins are a little better for me, since I have a bit shorter sprint, I try to wait for the first two moves to go, cover them, and then see if I have anything left. Or I get on the front, and try not to burn myself up too quick!
In criterium races I’ve learned really quickly how to be very lazy in the middle of the group, and NOT CHASE ANYTHING! That’s probably the hardest thing for me, not going after someone that’s off the front, or sitting in the wind and driving pace. I do have some great team mates on Ritte that do all that for me, then somehow have something left to pull me out of the middle of the group to the front for the last 500 meters, it’s pretty awesome.
Talk to me about the kind of power you’re putting out during a race.
The highest power I’ve seen on my road bike is 2250 watts, during the sprint at the Manhattan Beach Grand Prix last year. I was totally blown away. I don’t (as of yet) have a power meter on my track bike, but we do some ergometer training sessions, and a typical flying 200 starts with 400 watts for about 50 seconds, then building to 600 over the next 10 seconds, then all out for the next 30 seconds, which should be somewhere around 2000+ watts.
As you turn towards Rio in 2016, tell me a little about your experience with sponsors.
I’ve had really good luck falling in with Ritte Racing. They have helped me so much with bikes, travel and just supporting me the way you would really like a team to. I’m lucky enough to have a wonderful frame sponsor for the track in Moth Attack Cycles, built by Megan Dean, my amazing, talented, and beautiful girlfriend (yup, female vegan bike framebuilder), that is willing to put up with my ridiculous demands for bikes, design iterations, and general life demands. Also, City Grounds, a local bike shop and online retailer has helped me in a big way, with travel and components. 3T, Vittoria USA and Selle San Marco stepped up this year before Interbike and got me some really nice bits to put on my bikes, and honestly, the track bars are the stiffest, coolest looking bars I’ve ever used!
Have you had any sponsor opportunities from any vegan businesses?
I’m always trying to find a way to promote veganism and the idea of a successful vegan athlete, so this year I’m going to contact some of the larger vegan specific companies and see if they are interested in helping out. I haven’t been terribly successful yet, but I’m working on a new sponsorship proposal package that will convey a bit more about me, and why I would be a good investment. Also, if you’ve heard of anyone interested in helping a vegan professional track racer, please, let me know!
Love it. Thanks, Jack. I really appreciate the time you’ve given me and I’m fired up to keep up with your racing in the years ahead.