Jake Wells in 2018: Four national titles in a ‘single’ year
Reflecting on 2018, local cyclocross racer Jake Wells said he’ll never have another year like it.
That’s mostly due to the fact that the U.S. Cyclocross National Championships changed its format in 2018, opting to hold the national championships in December rather than January, creating a unique opportunity for Wells — win two different divisions twice in the same calendar year.
When Wells switched to focus on masters racing in January, opting out of the elite division for the first time in his career, many were not surprised to see him run away with the national championship in the 40 to 44 age division. He was young for that division — one of the few racers still in his 30s during the actual race due to where his birth date fell — and won by 46 seconds.
But when Wells threw his hat in the ring for the single speed division, he surprised himself and those closest to him by also riding away with the victory.
The single speed race is a fiercely competitive event that is challenged by 130 to 140 people and often features elite-level racers competing for the fun and sport of it.
These racers will often ride to victory in single speed at nationals and return to elite level racing, rarely to be seen in a single speed contest again.
HELP FROM CIRO
If it sounds strange for Wells to have up and challenged the single speed division at nationals in January, it might make more sense when you remember who his training partner is — local single speed enthusiast Ciro Zarate.
Zarate, a bike mechanic at Pedal Power, has become a regular in the single speed division at the Vail Recreation District’s mountain bike races over the last decade or so, and is one of the first to come to mind among locals with single speed prowess.
“He’s been a great resource for me,” Wells said. “He’s been so helpful.”
Zarate said when he himself switched to single-speed, “it revived the fun” of both mountain biking and cyclocross.
When Wells mentioned to Zarate that he was thinking about trying the single speed division at the cyclocross national championships in January, Zarate was excited for him.
However, “we didn’t think he was going to win it,” Zarate said. “So we kind of just picked my bike apart to build his bike. The crank, the cog, the rear wheel and the tensioner was all mine.
“We got it done maybe a week or two weeks before the race,” Zarate recalled with a laugh. “It ended up being pretty sweet.”
Wells defeated Stephan Davoust, of Durango, by 10 seconds to earn the stars and stripes jersey.
EVEN BETTER BUILD
After Wells’ surprise victory in January, he set out to become a card carrying member of the single speed circuit in Colorado, showing up for as many races as he can while wearing the national champion’s kit.
Zarate said they mounted their old Frankenstein monster on the wall in Wells’ fitness studio and set out to design him a better bike.
“He’s sponsored by Scott, and Scott doesn’t make a single-speed cyclocross bike, so we built him a true single-speed Scott bike that doesn’t have anything other than a single-speed cog,” Zarate said.
Wells said Zarate’s help has been invaluable.
“The idea with the single speed is it’s super simple, but when you’re taking a geared bike and trying to set it up as a single speed, there’s a few little tricks that you need to know,” Wells said. “With Ciro being so mechanically inclined, the way I set up my bike, he’s really helped me refine it and make sure it’s working well.”
NEW KIND OF CHAMP
Wells and Zarate went on to race a number of single speed races together in 2018. Wells’ goal all along was to defend his title in both single speed and masters 40-44 in the second round of 2018 nationals, set for Dec. 14-15.
Wells won the masters race again and, in contesting the single speed race against about 140 other talented riders, he won by a slim margin once again.
“It was super rewarding, super special,” Wells said. “It was everything I was hoping for.”
Zarate said in watching Wells this season, he saw him quietly set another goal, to represent the single speed category the way few national champions have.
“At the Colorado State Championships, we were lined up in the single speed race, and we were approached by some true single speed racers — guys that have been doing it for years, unlike Jake and I,” Zarate said. “They came up to Jake and said: “We just want to say that we really appreciate you showing up to single speed races and racing with us. They said it means a lot that he shows up every other week in the national champion’s kit unlike so many single speed racers who win at nationals and then we never see them again.”
Wells said while 2018 will be a truly unforgettable year, getting to wear the national champion’s jersey in single speed competition once again in 2019 will be the true reward.
“I’m very excited to be able to represent the jersey again next year,” he said.
Rita’s two closest peers have climbed the 8,850-meter (29,035-foot) peak 21 times each, but both of them have retired from mountain climbing.