CX and Gravel Racer Jake Wells on Racing and Coaching
Long-time Stan’s NoTubes rider Jake Wells of Avon, Colorado, is no longer racing among the pros every weekend, but that doesn’t mean he’s slowed down. Fresh off defending his U.S. cyclocross national championship titles in both the Masters 40-45 and Singlespeed amateur categories earlier this month, Wells now spends a majority of his time focused on his business and family.
Stan’s NoTubes: Since you’ve retired from pro racing, you’ve been putting more time into helping others get fast. Tell us about your business, FORM Attainment Studio.
Jake Wells: I’ve been a personal trainer and coach for just over 10 years. I opened my own studio in Edwards, CO in 2013. Edwards is about 10 miles west of Vail. At FORM we specialize in personal training, endurance coaching and bike fitting. When I first opened the studio I was still racing at the pro level so it was a good mix for me because I could slot in clients whenever I was home between races and keep up with my coaching clients when I was on the road traveling and racing. As I’ve stepped away from elite racing and traveling as much, I’ve been able to increase my client load at the studio and be home more to spend time with my family, including my wife and 11-year-old daughter.
Business has grown, and now there are three of us doing the one-on-one strength training and cycling classes (this year, we added a Wahoo KICKR studio). I wouldn’t say that everyone who works out with us is a cyclist, but for a majority of them, cycling is their go-to endurance sport of choice. For bike fitting, we use the Retül system, and with the endurance coaching, we work with riders using Training Peaks online software which works great as a fair amount of clients are remote.
SNT: Would you say your clientele is more training-oriented or more fitness-oriented?
JW: It’s a good mix. Some clients who are more fitness-oriented just want to feel stronger and have more vitality in life. Everyone is so busy with family, business and life, but they still want to be able to jump on their bike and go somewhere like Crested Butte and ride bikes with their friends for the weekend while hopefully not feeling completely worked afterwards. I don’t work with a lot of clients who are truly coming off the couch, yet many haven’t been “training” for anything specific. Among those clients who are more training-oriented, I work with everyone from up-and-coming junior and under 23 riders to masters racers who want to maximize their performance. Bike fit and joint mobility are super critical in doing so.
SNT: What do you do at Attain Form that helps riders the most?
JW: In the world of endurance sports, there is a lot of repeated motion. To be efficient at an endurance sport, whether it’s running or cycling, the key is having a strength program that counterbalances that repetitive motion. I give my athletes foundational exercises to counterbalance the position they are in while training and competing in their given sport. This also helps to prevent injury during the season year after year. For example, think of the flexed body position of a rider on a bike. Giving them some exercises to get them into some extension and counter act that flexed position is critical.
Most endurance athletes are already doing so much that it’s a challenge to add a strength training program - there’s not space for it in their lives. The basic foundation exercises that we do aren’t sexy, but they work well.
I was a biology major in college and I’m certified with the American Council on Exercise (ACE), so I have a good working understanding of anatomy, biology and physiology. In addition to being a pro level cyclist, I was a collegiate runner so I’ve worked with a lot of coaches over the years. This experience has given me a good understanding of how to train, training blocks, block periodization and how to properly taper for an event.
SNT: What do you mean by foundational work?
JW: It’s a lot about joint mobility. You can call it stretching, but that’s not how I really think about it. Hips, ankles and the thoracic spine are where many endurance athletes get tight and often run into problems, especially for those who run and bike. If your hips, ankles and spine are moving well, it takes the stress off your knees and low back so they don’t have to do as much work. We also emphasize core foundation work, using an exercise ball as well as body weight exercises. Lightweight work with kettlebells and medicine balls are great ways to help endurance athletes get strong without bulking up.
SNT: How do you find your clients?
JW: Most come through word of mouth. Sometimes I meet people on race weekends or at events like nationals. For me, the best form of advertising is referrals from existing clients. Because I’ve had some success at multiple disciplines within cycling such as gravel, mountain bike, road and cyclocross, I can offer insight into each… well except for track cycling. I don’t have any experience in riding the track, so if someone is a potential track-focused client then someone else could probably serve them better in that field.
SNT: You’ve been a racer for a long time. How much are you still riding and racing now that you’re retired?
JW: I stepped away from elite racing two years ago, so last year was my first non-elite season. I race and train far less now - you can see on Strava. I’m still racing my mountain bike for Tokyo Joe’s and on gravel and ‘cross for FORM Attainment Studio, but I do some different types of racing. Now I get to do the races I really want to do, including ones that have been on my bucket list for awhile. That means more gravel and endurance events. I did Dirty Kanza the last two years as well as my first 12-hour solo mtn bike race. In the past, every race had a purpose, like building fitness or giving me a result to get to the next point in my season. Now, I’m in the lucky position of having a lot of great races from which to choose. The hard part is the choosing!
I retained some sponsors and relationships from my time racing pro, allowing me to continue to work with those brands, like Stan’s, and still represent them. It’s turned into more of an ambassador role with a focus on product development. I really enjoy things like prototype tire and wheel testing.
SNT: Which Stan’s wheels do you ride?
JW: A lot! I’m super lucky. I’ve got Grail CB7s on my ‘cross and gravel bikes, a pair of Avions for on the road, Crest CB7s on my trail bike and some size 27.5 Flow MK3s with big fat tires on them for the snow. I also have a pair of 29er Valors on my cross country bike, but I’m hoping to get some Podium SRDs for next year’s racing (wink wink).
SNT: How has tubeless changed racing and riding?
JW: Tubeless has become more widely adopted and better received across the board. It’s been a thing now in mountain biking for like, the last 15 years, and pretty much everyone uses it. It seems like everyone is using it in gravel, too. With more and more tire tread options, it’s getting bigger in U.S. cyclocross, but I don’t know if we’ll ever see that adoption across the board at the international level.
If you’re not using tubeless, you’re just biding your time until you have an issue. There’s no penalty for running tubeless. People are seeing the benefit of how easy it is to change tires on race day, and a lot of that comes from the quality of the systems, like Stan’s NoTubes, with a better bead interface and more thought put into rim diameters and design. We are still waiting for a true international standard for tubeless but hopefully it’s coming soon.
Tubeless adoption is lagging a little on the road, but I think that’s changing as well, as more options become available and more pro teams switch to it, which helps the general public be more open to adopting it. After all, tubeless is a great option since most of us don’t have a team car following behind us with extra wheels and tires! I also think a fair number of folks using tubeless on gravel will end up switching over to it on the road, too, as they realize the versatility and capability it allows.
SNT: People say that ‘cross racing has peaked and is declining. What’s your take?
JW: It really depends on where you are in the country. I was racing at the elite level during what I would consider the peak or heyday of cyclocross in the U.S. It’s definitely tapered off some ever since the World Championships were in Louisville and since the USGP series went away. Now it seems to be on a bit of a plateau. From a competitor standpoint, I think cyclocross is alive and healthy, but I don’t see as many spectators at events as I used to.
Everyone within the sport is always working to get more exposure among sponsors and fans and having ex-pros like Tim Johnson and Jesse Anthony involved at USA Cycling is helping, but we’re in a bit of a holding pattern until we figure out how to progress the sport in the U.S. Because it’s not an Olympic sport, it only gets so much attention and funding.
SNT: What about the state of gravel racing? You were into gravel before it was such a thing.
JW: Gravel racing is probably the hot spot in cycling right now. A lot of people are looking to get into it, and it’s not very intimidating to do so. Many riders don’t want to be on the pavement with cars and traffic and navigating potholes and stoplights. It can be overwhelming. Also, the challenge of getting into mountain biking can be pretty intimidating depending on the difficulty and the proximity of the local trials. Gravel riding is a great one-bike option because you can have just one bike and do a mix of cyclocross, single track, gravel and paved road riding.
As a ‘cross racer, I’m hoping that people with gravel bikes will realize that they can also race ‘cross. It’s funny how just five years ago, it was the opposite - more about trying to make your ‘cross equipment work on the gravel side, now the tables have turned slightly.
SNT: Where do you see cycling in general heading next?
JW: If you’re into pro road racing, with some of the bigger teams folding, the future may not look that great, but it’s hopeful to see how well the elite Americans are performing on the mountain bike, especially the women at the global level, and in cyclocross, too, for that matter. There are always ebbs and flows within certain niches of the sport, and it’s really cool how with so many of them you can choose to race or to just ride.
The gravel scene is blowing up, but people are into it for different reasons. Some, about 10%, are out there racing and pushing hard for the win, and others are showing up to do the ride as a personal challenge. Another area that’s growing is track cycling, especially with the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games coming up. And when you look at NICA, I’m blown away to see so many high schoolers getting into mountain biking. It’s really impressive how many kids come out for that. All of these things tell me that cycling is at a great spot. It’ll be interesting to see where it goes.
Interested in personal training, endurance coaching or bike fitting? Contact Jake Wells at FORM Attainment Studio.