Being Pro: Jess Cerra
Meet the pro cyclist and chef Jess Cerra
Team: Hagens Berman Supermint
Hometown: Oceanside, California
What is your background in cycling?
My mom got me a mountain bike when I was 5 years old. It was way too big for me, and she hired the neighbor boy to come teach me how to ride. She said I just rode away from him first try and he went home. While I grew up in the mountains of Montana, riding as a sport or career never crossed my mind, but I gravitated to endurance sports and the outdoors as a hobby.
It wasn’t until 2006 in graduate school at San Diego State that I performed a VO2 max test on the bike and produced an Olympic-level number. My professor loaned me a mountain bike, and I started by riding with her team, who eventually gathered enough gear and parts for me to look at least half amateur. I did my first race in 2007 and was on the podium.
After reading about Xterra races in a magazine, I hired a coach to help me train for a local race. Again, I placed on the podium in my first race and qualified for the world championships. Three years into Xterra I won the overall Amateur National Championship. I turned pro the next season, had one podium finish, and a top 10 at both Nationals and Worlds.
At that time I also began competing in the marathon mountain bike series. Two years in a row I finished second overall in the nation. What led me to road cycling was a mysterious injury I had been dealing with for years while racing Xterra and mountain bikes. Eventually, I learned it was iliac artery endofibrosis, which I had repaired with invasive surgery in 2012. I relied on road cycling for rehab, and it unlocked a new person in me. By 2014 I had made a name for myself as an amateur in the sport and signed my first professional contract for 2015.
For the past three seasons I’ve been with the Hagens Berman Supermint team and would say my biggest achievement was winning the crit at Redlands Cycling Classic along with the overall sprinters jersey.
How has your mountain bike and triathlon background transferred to your success on the road?
Racing professionally in two other sports teaches you how to train, how not to train, how to recover, travel, a ton about nutrition and balancing all of that with work. From a skills standpoint there is a lot of transfer that is second nature. Since the triathlon I raced was also on a mountain bike, that experience is so valuable. You feel the bike under you in a different way and have reaction skills built into your body in a way that can’t be taught. Sometimes I find my body being smarter than my brain, and it’s saved me in some dicey situations on the road.
Besides being a racer, you are a chef as well.
Ride to eat or eat to ride? I say both! Food is fascinating from a scientific perspective, and you learn a lot about that as an athlete and can feel how your body performs when you inform yourself of the relevant information. This was also the impetus to create the JoJé Bar. Since I do not have classic training as a chef, I rely on my environment to teach me about cooking, and I find the most special thing about food is that it brings people together and creates memories.
What inspired you to create JoJé Bar?
The energy bar market needed a change. There was nothing from a nutritional standpoint that made sense for endurance athletes and recreational enthusiasts. And even the brands that came close were not delicious. I love eating cookies and baked goods on the bike. I want to look forward to the food that I eat, and I know I’m not alone in that. So, I came up with a bar that is made differently (baked like a cookie) with unique flavors that haven’t been done (like Pancakes & Bacon), but from a science perspective, it checks all the boxes. (www.jojebar.com)
What pre-ride meal would you recommend for ideal performance?
High carb and high fat. Keep it simple. Ravioli or pizza is fool-proof the night before. Pancakes, French toast or waffles with a small amount of protein in the morning is like jet fuel. If you are more of a recreational rider, you can still enjoy this food that might be viewed as “treat food,” but just have smaller portions. Either way, load up on veggies and fruit, too!
What’s the biggest misconception our readers may have about being a pro cyclist?
This isn’t meant to sound negative, but there are some hard realities of the sport that I don’t think many people understand. I think it’s pretty clear that there are inequalities in the sport, as well as the struggle of low salary. Yet, you are still expected to perform at the top-top level every time you step on the bike. I have an indescribable amount of respect for the women of the peloton and how they balance their careers with racing.
Cycling might look glamorous as you watch the Tour de France each July, but it’s hard to feel the intensity. The days you wake up sick, or with allergies, or it’s freezing cold rain, or 100-percent humidity, or you just feel off. Yet, you have to perform, even if you are scared or have anxiety. Sometimes you have to fight 50 times in a race, like you are sprinting 200 kilometers from the finish just to keep position. There are so many intricacies to professional racing, and it takes years to fine-tune them. With all that said, I love the feeling of knowing I’ve gone into all those tough days and scenarios, and come out the other side with a smile on my face.
What does your typical training week consist of?
Off season will be as many base miles as my work schedule allows. I do an eight-week block of big-gear muscle-tension work, along with gym work and yoga. I love to get a couple 20–25-hour weeks if I can of base miles. In season, Monday is usually rest and sometimes yoga. Tuesday is a short, hard workout, like 8×2 minutes all out. Wednesday is usually our Wednesday Camp Pendleton ride—very intense, but usually never longer than three hours. Thursday will be three to four hours Z2 if work allows. Friday easy recovery and sometimes yoga. On Saturday I do a hard group ride for three to four hours. Sunday is usually three to four hours focused on climbing intervals. This is balanced with lots of weeks on the road and racing. Recovery is so important. My rule of recovery is to match those days with the number of days in a stage race.