Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Talking Beets, Bikes, and Badassery with SEAVS / Haymarket's Jared Nieters and Jake Sitler

Jared Nieters and Jake Sitler race for SEAVS / Haymarket on the road, on the grass and in the mountains. They were kind enough to pull up a digital chair on Paps' front porch and have a chat.

1: Jared, you've raced for a while in MABRA.  In the past year or two a lot has happened.  Let me just try a list:  you've scored a podium spot at nationals cross-country 30+, a win in a UCI 'cross race, recovered from Lyme disease, seen your protege join the biggest team in cycling (Joe Dombrowski to Sky); pretty much created a road team from nothing; discovered MABRA's newest big talent in Jake Sitler.  What am I missing?  

Jared:  A direct opportunity to brag never goes wasted with me. I also finished 4th at Singlespeed Cyclocross Nationals, won the VACX series, and won the VACX championships.  

Nieters finished Fourth in the 2012 Cyclocross Singlespeed U.S. National Championship

2.  How did you meet each other and how did the bike racing thing come about for you, Jake?  Jake, do you have a pre-cycling athletic background?

Jared:  I was introduced to Jake early last season and we began a dialogue. And we've worked closely together since this winter. 

Jake Sitler Lapping the Field at Grandview Grand Prix
Jake: March of 2012 I was finishing my masters and running on a track and field scholarship (steeplechase) at Shippensburg University.  I injured myself after a long run the day after my first steeplechase of the season.  Running was impossible, let alone getting up in the morning to walk was a challenge.  Cycling didn’t hurt, so I went back to my roots of racing mountain bikes like I did when I was in middle to early high school.

I started doing races like Wilmington 100k and Wilderness 101 and found myself finishing with the pro guys; I really surprised myself, which propelled me into thinking that maybe this is something I should have kept up with through college.  I gained a pro license that summer 3 months after stopping running and started my first cross season with a UCI license.  I remember Nittany cross being my first UCI race (the one Jared won)- and having giant blisters on my palms from sprinting in the drops for an hour. 

My friend Sean Mealey, who is pretty much the guru of cyclocross in our area- was like; “Hey I think you can surprise yourself in cycling,” after my few mtn bike races.  He gave me a spot on our local team Nuts about Granola, but knew he wanted to introduce me to Jared.  He kept telling me about how fast Jared was, and this guy named Joe Dombrowski.

3. After Lost River last weekend (which Sitler won), Jake remarked that he was looking forward to 'cross season.  You're both clearly passionate about bikes in general, but what is it about cyclocross that is especially cool for both of you?

Jared:  Cyclocross is appealing to me because it requires balancing all the variables that makes racing fun to me. Developing fitness, gear management, bike handling, determination, focus and tactics all play a big role. Screw up on one and you probably won't win. 

I suppose the fact that I've had some success in cross makes it even more appealing to me. 

Jake: Cyclocross is exciting to me because it reminds me of cross-country and steeplechase in cycling form.  Courses are always different and have a unique challenge to offer.  My success is limited to a win at the last MABRA race of the season, but I look forward this coming year.

4. I remember at the start of the season thinking SEAVS would field, at most, 3-4 riders in races, but here were are in August and every race you seem to show up with a full squad.  What are you doing to inspire and recruit bike racers?

Jared:  Haymarket doesn't do much more than focus on having good chemistry amongst riders, riding hard, racing a lot and having fun.  We really just try to gather guys who race hard and selflessly and frequently. 

Additionally, our program has had the fortune of having some experienced pros like Chris Hayes in the mix who are able and willing to guide new riders and help make connections.

I also think that the caliber of races we've snuck into and the level of racers who have raced with us on composite teams (Steve Tilford, Jamey Driscoll for example) makes us a viable launch pad both in terms of generating exposure for young riders and creating professional connections. As I write this, Jake and I are headed out to Park City to race Raleigh's Midsummer Nights Cross, a high profile cross race with a great start list. 

Jake: When it comes to recruiting bike racers I just ask my friends to come to a cross race.  I tell them that it’s a sweet atmosphere and tons of beer.  They dig the cheering and then want to try it out.  So far 2 of my friends will be racing next season. Working on a 3rd right now.  

5.   Jake, you mentioned you're hoping for more out of cycling than the occasional office park crit win.  What are your goals in the sport?

Jake: I try to be completely realistic, but at this point I have an opportunity in my life to see where I can take it.  As Jared mentioned above about professional connections, I hope after this season we can begin talks about the next step. If you had told me at the beginning of the road season, I would win an elite road race and be the first non-contracted pro finisher at the Iron Hill twilight crit; I would’ve been shocked. So at this point, I’m trying not to limit myself to expectations, and just let the results come as they do.  But yeah, who doesn’t want to ride on a pro team. Haha.

6.  Jared, you've been outspoken in favor of local drug testing.  MABRA has ponied up funds and the testing doesn't yet seem to have materialized.  Do you think the effort is worth it and is it headed in the right direction?  And Jake, is this the kind of thing you want to see more of, especially since, in the past, pros lived in a terrible environment of pressure to resort to performance enhancing drugs?

Jared:  Generally, the more testing we have, the better. I participated in a college soccer program that saw a drug testing program well-implemented and our program was stronger for it. 

Is it worth it? Yes. 
Are we headed in the right direction? Yes. 
Do we need more testing? Absolutely. 

When I start a race, I've promised to race clean. I've done this verbally when the conversation comes up and by signing my license. I've avoiding taking banned substances by checking the USADA directory and submitted TUEs. But I've raced time and time again against guys who haven't done the same. It's not fair, it's not what we sign up for, it's not ethical, and it takes away from the sport. 

Jake: I fully support the drug testing system.  As a prior NCAA athlete, I have spent numerous hours in rooms learning about banned substances and filling out paperwork that states I understand these rules.  While I personally have never been tested, many of my friends and teammates have been.

I don’t know much about MABRA’s new testing program but I do know that I haven’t seen any indication of testing.  Sitting here thinking about where my cycling future could end up, I would hate to think that at one point success was dependent on cheating.  Therefore, I absolutely hope the programs keep getting stronger.  

7.  Jake, tell us about your best moment on a bike so far.  What's great about riding a bike?

Jake: I would say my best moment on the bike thus far was Iron Hill crit.  A bunch of my friends came to watch along with my family and the atmosphere was amazing.  In terms of pain, I have never ridden that much over my head.  Coming across the line with the UHC and the Smart Stop Mtn. Khaki pro riders was pretty exciting, and the cheering was unbelievable.

8.  Rumor is, you guys like to beet it.  What's the deal with this?  Do you juice your own, or do you buy the powder or eat it from the can?  Are the beet freebasing rumors true? 

Jared:  I go full Dwight Shrute. Beets are from my garden, and they're juiced in my kitchen moments later. 
Nieters Snags a Beet
Jake: True story, Jared turned me onto beet juice. After I stayed at his place for a race weekend, I went home and bought a juicer.  Which reminds me, I need to figure out how I’m getting some out to Utah tomorrow.  On top of beets, I also throw epic coffee parties.  Pretty much it just involves loud music and Starbucks pikes place.

9.  Jared, rumor is you studied languages and had an academic career before the cycling madness took you.  What did you study and do you still do smart people stuff?

Jared:  I got all learned up proper and even teached the youths AP history for a while. I received an educator's Fulbright Scholarship back before I rode bikes. It was a lot of fun, I got to travel a bunch and my thesis had a long boring title. The experience ended up serving as a huge turning point for my life, but probably not what what was expected. I left education shortly after, and opened Haymarket Bicycles. 

I have continued to work as President of the Rappahannock County Education Association and I sometimes contribute to the Virginia Journal of Education.  

Jake: I went to Shippensburg University and studied entrepreneurship as an undergrad.  Then took on the MBA program full time and graduated with my masters in business.  My family owns a grocery store, which has been open since 1931.  I help run the business with my family, and play bikes on the weekend.  The way my schedule works I’m very fortunate to train all morning.  I do a lot of the budgeting, accounting, and the marketing stuff for our store.  But I also will head to markets and buy produce from the Amish.  

10.  You're out climbing Mt. Weather.  Lance Armstrong rides up to you and grabs your wheel.  What do you do?

Jared:  What do I say to Lance? That's easy. I'd ask him if I can stay at his place for cross nats when Austin hosts in 2015.  

Jake:  See if I can drop him.  And if that fails, I would probably bring up Ashley Olsen or something.

Thanks to Jared and Jake for taking the time to answer questions on their way out to Park City's Raleigh Midsummer Nights Cross.

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