What's Cool In Road Cycling

PEZ-Clusive Interview: Ben Jacques-Maynes!

Recently, PEZ got the distinct pleasure to talk to Ben Jacques-Maynes: recent 2nd Place NRC overall rider and double top 10er at the two Tour of California TTs in 2007. Ben has been a mainstay for American racing for a number of years now, but he really hit the big time with his incredible 2007 campaign.

Bissell Pro Cycling Team rider Ben Jacques-Maynes heads into the 2008 season with some big possibilities, as he hopes to leap off the shoulders of what was by all accounts an incredible season. Jacques-Maynes, father of two (Chase and Chloe) is no new commodity though; he has been a stalwart on the domestic scene for the past 6 years, and has grown better and better every year, culminating in a truly break-out 2007 season, which almost saw him net the NRC overall title. The native Californian lives in Watsonville now and just finished up what has to be considered an incredibly long season by any standards – starting in mid-February with the Tour of California and ending at the the end of October with the Sun Tour in Australia. So of course, the first thing that seemed worthy of asking:

PEZ: Ben, you had a fantastic 2007, your thoughts?

BJM: I think it was a glimpse at what I could truly do. Honestly, I have no idea how I was so consistent all the way through the year. Normally I get a couple of top 5s at NRC stage races, and I’m pretty good with that, but this year I was top 5 at pretty much every NRC stage race I entered. Even when I felt like I was bad and blown, I could still pull out a pretty good TT and ride myself into the Top 5.

I can’t really say if there’s one thing that made it possible – I think it’s a culmination of things: my family and switching teams: having a team that believes in me, wanted to take care of me, and I think also having a bit of anger and fire in me.

I haven’t had that passion for cycling for a little while now, and I think I really refound it. Unfortunately it was because things happened in races that really pissed me off. Tour of California this year, the crash in Santa Rosa was a good example for me. I could have taken the leader’s jersey in the race if the organizers hadn’t instigated the 9k rule instead of the 3k rule and that got me pissed off.

It made me want to prove all spring that my placings weren’t a fluke, I wanted to prove to the doubters and the people who made that decision that I would have been a deserving wearer of the leader’s jersey at a premiere stage race in America, and also my hometown, home state race. That would have been one of those pinnacle things in my career that I could look back on. It just gives me more fire to do better in the Prologue this year and try the same thing, and then take a time bonus if it’s there: try and get that leader’s jersey at the Tour of California. I don’t know if the opportunity will present itself, but that’s something that could really motivate me to do well again at the race this year.

Going back to the whole season, I don’t think that there was any significant change in me, just the team had better equipment, better logistics, everyone was a lot more relaxed about operations. Things clicked that much easier between me and management, me and my teammates. When you’re not sweating the details like that, you can pay attention to your performance and really get your work done. It really paid off by the time the spring came around.

Being an up and coming team…I don’t think we’re an up and coming team for 2008…but being an up and coming team last year, we had kind of an underdog status and we as a team wanted to prove that we deserved to be there. When we took over the front, we were riding for the win, and we meant it, and we weren’t going to bow down to the powerhouses that have dominated the sport up until this point. There has always been one dominant team, whether it be Mercury, Saturn, or HealthNet now. Toyota and Navigators stepped in, but with Navigators gone now, I think Bissell Pro Cycling has an opportunity…we don’t want to step in and rule the roost, we want to step in, kick ass, and take names, and not hand those guys bike races. If they’re going to win the race, they’re really going to have to work for it, because we have a strong team who wants to race our bikes really hard and if we need to take the front we can do it, we’re not afraid to. I think we proved this year that we didn’t shirk our responsibility when it came down to it with the leader’s jersey or certain goals in mind.

NRC podiums were a familiar place to find Ben in 2007.

PEZ: Even now, the team is on a tear!

BJM: They didn’t slow down going to Sun Tour and now Southland…talk about domination, we won a majority of the stages, second in the KOM jersey as well, to go with so many close calls: 3rd, 2nd, a 5th, these kind of results show that we were in the mix everyday. I was down there for the Sun Tour, and we were all pretty burnt, but we were just having fun. The bike racing came so naturally for us. Let’s just ride our hearts out and have some fun and not stress too much about what happens. When things started happening it took the pressure off even more and the guys were having a blast in the peloton. Let’s try something different today: let’s take over the front in the crosswinds instead of letting someone else do it. Let’s take it to the race instead of waiting for it to happen – I think you’ll see a lot of that next year as well.

The 2008 roster for the Bissell Pro Cycling Team looks impressive:

Ben Jacques-Maynes
Richard England
Graham Howard
Omer Kem
Edward King
Garrett Peltonen
Morgan Schmitt
Tom Zirbel
Scott Zwizanski
Aaron Olson
Burke Swindlehurst
Jeremy Vennell
Steven Howard

BJM: Burke fills a major gap that we had. I was the best climber on the team, but by no means a climber, just more of an in-shape guy who could hang on the medium climbs and then absolutely suffer like crazy on the steep climbs. Now we’ve got someone I can lead out for the first 2-3k, pull the pin, and watch him go when the real fireworks explode.

When it comes to climbing in the US – TBird is always on the short list of the best.

That’s going to make for much more exciting racing and a much more complete team. I think that with the addition of Aaron and the addition of Jeremy we’ll be even better. A lot of guys haven’t heard much of Jeremy, but if you go to Europe and talk to the guys who raced with DFL or talk to Aussies or the Kiwis, they all know – Jeremy is one of those kick ass guys who is just so hard on the bike and is just an awesome guy off the bike. He’ll be a really true teammate and awesome to ride with all year.

Unfortunately, we had a case this year it turned into a one man show – I was chasing NRC points and the goal at every race was to try and help in that. It was a lot of pressure on me, and I was pretty burnt by the end. There’s going to be a lot more options available next year – where you put Aaron up the road in a move and you know he’s going to win out of it. Or you unleash Burke at the bottom of a climb and you know he’s going to be up front at the top and probably winning the hilltop finish.

To have confidence in that kind of stuff makes the whole team work that much better and really puts everyone on the same page. It’s not going to be Toyota watching me at every stage race, it’s going to be Toyota wondering which bullet we’re going to fire this time. I think that’s going to make for interesting and dynamic racing. A lot of options at every race is going to be welcome for me. After being the go to guy this year, I wouldn’t mind working for someone for a little bit…maybe have an off-week.

The addition of Aaron Olsen, who spent the past two years on ProTour teams (Saunier and TMob), should be a huge bonus.

PEZ: On a bit different topic and going back a fair bit, how did you get started with biking?

BJM: I had an uncle who had some old mountain bikes. When I was 9, he sold me his bikes. I lived in Berkeley in the East Bay. We had the whole East Bay Regional Park District, there’s a lot of parks up there and a lot of trails to ride. When you were a kid it was really liberating. I could get out, do what I want, no need to ask my folks for a ride. I kept pushing my boundaries out and out every time I went out to ride.

My twin brother Andy got a bike at the same time, so after the proficiency period, we just started racing each other everywhere. Who could go warp speed down this hill, who could climb this hill the fastest – that kind of stuff. We’d always just push each other to get better. I think that was the basis for what we were doing – I didn’t know it at the time, but I had a really accurate yardstick in my genetic identical. When he could beat me doing something, it was like, ok cool, you can do that, I KNOW I can do it too.

That really played out for many years through junior level mountain biking on up. I think we were Junior Expert by the time we were 15, I got my pro mountain bike license when I was 20, and we were racing cyclocross the whole time as well. Cyclocross was a bit of a passion. By the time we started racing UCI cyclocross, Andy would go win a UCI cyclocross race, and that was awesome, he did a great ride to do that, but yeah well, I know I can probably do that too. So the next year, I trained a little bit more and went out and won two UCI cross races. That was the culmination of the training effect of having a twin brother and just growing up with him. You could always step up a rung on the ladder just by watching him do something. You always had a training partner, someone to go ride with it, that part was pretty cool.

Ben’s twin brother Andy, is a damn fine rider on the road and off as well. Here he is at the San Francisco GP in ’05.

PEZ: How is your brother after his awful crash?

BJM: He just had a gnarly crash on Memorial Day this Spring. He basically had what happened to Stuart O’Grady at the Tour, happen to him. He hit a pole at 60-70 k/hr in the last corner of a criterium, broke his clavicle, scapula, ribs, vertebrae, collapsed both lungs, helicopter flight, intensive care for a week, that kind of thing. He’s had a couple of surgeries, just had surgery again for his shoulder. He’s been in half a year of rehab and recovery so it’s been a pretty hard year for him. Having said that, he’s still amazingly fit and is looking to race full-time next year on the road.

PEZ: You mentioned that cyclocross was a passion for you. Are you missing ‘cross right now?

BJM: Having just stepped off the road bike a couple weeks ago…I’d have to say NO. I finished my season with an 8-day stage race in Australia. I’m really done with travel and racing right now. I have some cyclocross bikes, and when I finally start to get out training again, I’ll probably do a cross race or two.

I also realize this last year, I had one of my best cyclocross seasons ever, I was consistently at a high level and ended up 4th overall at the US Grand Prix, with a bunch of top 5 placings. I had my best nationals ever with 7th, which is funny because I always make a joke that I’m always 7th – 7th is the first mediocre spot. I kept on getting 7th, I was 7th at Road Nationals this year as well. It was kind of a sign – it’s not getting any better than this I don’t think. When I did my first national level cyclocross, back when it was the Supercup, I was 7th at my first Supercup.

I got done with that last year, and basically started telling myself – am I really improving? I’ve kind of plateaued, and I have a hard time caring anymore. I want it to be fun again. I want to have something where it’s not purely about the racing, where it’s about the fitness, the technical skills. The thing that got me into cyclocross in the first place was hanging out with a bunch of friends, talking about your race at the end, and then having a beer and not really caring too much.

For me, at my level, it’s hard to get away from caring about every race at this point. I’m a bike racer, I’m supposed to win this stupid race. It would be nice to do something on the bike where I wasn’t supposed to win, where I wasn’t supposed to go as fast as humanly possible. It would be about the fun of it. I think if I do any cross this winter, it will be on my single speed cross bike, and it will be purely for fun and for some fitness and power training.

Having said that, yeah, cyclocross is a beautiful sport and is probably as big as it has ever been right now. I thought there were a bunch of UCI cross races a few years ago, and now it’s even more – there are double weekends every weekend. You could make a career out of racing cyclocross if you wanted. It doesn’t pay as good as road racing, but it’s a good sign of things. I think road racing is really reaching a pinnacle right now, it’s a viable job market, and if you’re a good cyclist, there’s probably an opportunity to get on a pro team. It certainly wasn’t like this a couple years ago. I turned pro 6-7 years ago now, and even a year or two before that, I had no hopes of being a pro on the road. Now, things have obviously turned around.

There weren’t as many opportunities and now I think there are for people to step into all aspects of cycling, whether it’s for fun or to make a career out of it. I think there’s still growth available. Tours of Utah, California, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Georgia – these statewide races are a great marketing tool, but there are also 45 other states that still haven’t tapped into that. There’s still plenty of room to keep on expanding the whole idea.

PEZ: To wrap up Part One, we’ll try a couple of reader submitted questions. Is it hard to keep up a healthy diet on the road all the time?

BJM: You have to be a bit pragmatic about eating well, not only on the road. I try and eat clean, which is very easy in California, but if I get back from a ride and the kids need me, or we get done with a night crit and nothing’s open, it’s more important to get the calories in quickly and get all the other things done that need doing instead of stressing and worrying and spending time searching for just the right thing.

Having kids has really drawn me out of that all consuming bubble that cyclists and athletes in general can live in, I just don’t have the time of energy to concentrate 24/7 on if what I’m doing is the right thing. I’ve also had it shown to me time and again that if you’re going good it really doesn’t matter all that much, I’ve had some of my best rides eating nothing but Waffle House for a week. Having said all that, I really don’t eat like your typical American, I think I have good habits ingrained in me and knowing about the proper quantities as well as qualities of your foods are the best things to focus on.

Recovery rides are generally not run at THIS pace.

PEZ: What about your recovery rides, how slow/fast are they?

Slow? What makes you think pros ride slow? Generally 200-250 watts as a target with a few jumps, and I concentrate on high cadence, especially after any heavy racing action. Just kidding. The best way for me, really, is to go out with no computer or headphones and just ride until my legs feel “free” again, no inhibited motion. Could take 30 minutes, could take 3 hours. it’s a great way to spend a Monday morning, especially after you’ve been racing hard, just detaching from the whole competition and micro-management of the race environment.

Don’t forget to check out Ben’s website: JacquesMayniacs.com.

For Part TWO, there’s much more to come – Ben’s favorite races, least favorite races, how his family has changed his outlook on racing, and oh so much more. So keep it PEZ!

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