Gravel Prep with Janel Holcomb

By @JanelHolcomb

Some of you may know me as a road racer, but I aim to confuse your notion of who Janel Holcomb is over the next four months. Don’t worry. I’m not having an identity crisis. I’ve been inspired. After leaving professional racing in 2015, I broadened my cycling horizons and took my love of mixed terrain to a whole new level. Without a strict training and racing schedule, I was able to ride my mountain bike far more than in the past, test my mettle on Enduro courses, and hit gravel roads as regularly as possible. A spark was quickly fanned into a flame and now I find myself on a journey to race Dirty Kanza this June.

As a coach and former professional, when I set my mind to an objective I immediately begin planning. At the beginning of January I penciled a number of events onto my calendar that would help me gain the experience and miles that I’ll want under my belt in order to excel at Dirty Kanza. The first of those events is tomorrow, the Rock Cobbler in Bakersfield, CA.


My first block of training leading up to the Cobbler has come with a fair dose of challenges. At the beginning of January I returned from a holiday trip excited to get back to the bike. Unfortunately, like so many of us experience, I encountered an immediate setback that required me to return to my plan to pencil in a good deal of patience. It’s never easy, right? After some time off the bike and slowly testing the waters to make sure I was OK to train, I was back into the swing of things for the Belgian Waffle Ride Survival Camp. From January 27th through 29th I helped coach a group of over 20 riders through the entire BWR course. The weekend was filled with laughter, serious dirt terrain that left everyone couch bound in the evening, and ample time to get comfortable on my new Focus Paralane. Heads up: this year’s course is a beast!

Challenge number two struck after camp wrapped up and I was left questioning whether I could even start the Rock Cobbler. Could the start of my preparation for Dirty Kanza be more riddled with bumps? I dipped back into my store of patience and thankfully I’m writing this entry from the back of a van bound for Bakersfield.

So, what’s in store at the Cobbler? I’ve heard tales told of the Rock Cobbler that make it sound like a cross between a mountain bike race, a gravel fondo, and a bike carnival minus the bouncy house. Frankly, I’m not sure what to expect beyond one seriously hard day. The rain that’s been falling on California the past month has apparently washed out parts of the course transforming sections into hike-a-bike and river-crossings. The elevation gain on the course purportedly doesn’t do the difficulty justice; 6 to 7 thousand feet of climbing is no joke, but on dirt and steep un-rideable terrain, I’m sure I will question my gearing, my training, my genetic makeup and my mental fortitude.

Despite the forecast for pain, I’ve uploaded the course onto a computer and landed myself in a carpool with fellow Cobblers. As we loaded bikes into the van, I realized my tires, although tubeless, were far smoother and narrower than the rest of my van mates’.  So I’ll be changing my tires tonight, lest I turn tomorrow’s 80 mile course into a 20 mile ride followed by a 5 mile hike to the nearest aid station where my day will end. First lesson learned. Regardless, my bag is stocked full of Enduro Bites, drink mix, and homemade energy bombs (recipe not included). If I can get my tires sorted, I will at least be fueled for the six-hour suffer-fun-fest. Fitness and mud be damned. I will have a blast tomorrow.

As soon as the Rock Cobbler was over, Janel was on a plane to France to visit sponsor Mavic…look for a Cobbler follow-up soon.


Photo: Dan Munson

Dirty KanzaCervelo Belgian Waffle Ridejanel holcombFocus BikestrainingBWRGravelRock CobblerMavic