Isaac Howe sat down with Ariel Mendez Penate to do a small interview about cycling and racing criteriums at the top level.
This being your first year on Champion System-Stan's NoTubes what is your impression of the team so far?
Moving to this team couldn't have come at a better point in my career. I really align with the riders, management, and sponsors goals and expectations. I’m having a great time being a part of this program as they stamp out their place in the professional peloton.
You've always been a criterium rider, what is it about crits that you enjoy?
A big part about crits that I enjoy is that I’ve done well in them. It’s easy to like doing things your good at, but honestly I've just had very limited experience racing road races and that's largely why I'm seen as solely a crit racer. I've found that you can't just jump from races like Presby into races like Redlands and expect success in one will yield similar results in the other.
I also really appreciate the atmosphere of crits. They are just so much more fan friendly and it’s really cool to be in races with tens of thousands of people screaming in the closing laps. That energy is something I will never forget, and chasing victories at big races like that is a large part of what keeps me working to develop as an athlete.
If you weren’t cycling what would you be doing?
That question gets harder to answer every year. Had you asked me this fresh out of college with a biochemistry degree, I would have of said I'm going to medical school once my 6 month student loan grace period is over! Now, after 6 years into my pro cycling career, that question has become more complex. There are few careers that I feel are as fulfilling and rewarding as being a doctor, but the obstacles to overcome are mounting as I continue to pursue cycling. It's a tough topic of conversation while home for the holidays and I think my family is only approving these days because I've started my own business that benefits by me continuing to be a cyclist.
You are also an entrepreneur, starting your own custom bike bag company. What inspired you and how did this come about?
Orucase was a very organic progression from a project I have been working on since college. As a cheap college kid I was always that guy cutting down a cardboard box to get it small enough to sneak through airport security without paying bike fees. I was tired of taping over cycling logos and cutting cardboard, so my friend Colin and I spent our last years in college designing and building the perfect bike case. Once I got to a point in my cycling career where I wasn't living in the van all summer, people started to get brief glances of my homemade bike case, which I call "The Airport Ninja", and instantly there became a demand for the case. I'm having a blast with the business, it's an adventure that keeps my mind sharp in ways that 4 hour rides and weeks in the van cannot.
You've won some big races in your career, is there one race that you'd still like to win?
I want to win every race. There isn’t a race I lineup for where I think anyone else wants to win more than me. I’m not sure if my competitiveness stems from being from a family with 7 children, or if it was starting racing at age 12 that fostered my competitive nature. With all that being said, there are two major races/series that keep me hungry to keep improving in my sport. I want to win nationals, and I want to win the NCC. I think that victories in both of these events would represent how I perceive myself as a cyclist, consistent and at times very very fast. Properly timing it to win these events is a great, exciting challenge.
What advice would you give to a junior just getting into the sport?
Don’t lose perspective on the things that are important in life. I’m talking about education and simply hanging out with friends and being a kid. For whatever reason it may be, cycling is statistically not a viable career path. I’m not trying to encourage you not to pursue pro cycling. Believe me, I wish everyone could have the experiences I’ve had from this career. What I am saying is that you need to be smart enough to navigate a confusing industry, and you need to me smart enough to get a job should cycling not pan out how you wish. Spending your time getting good grades will prepare you for cycling far more than adding a couple more hours to your training rides each week; and spending a few weekends at the beach with your friends instead of in a car to a bike race will keep your relationship with cycling healthy enough that you will still want to be a pro once you are old enough.
The last thing I want to do is encourage some kid to chase after a cycling career ill prepared and ill-informed about what it’s like when you are actually a pro. It’s not nearly as glamorous as it was when I was 17 watching it on TV, but it’s still an amazing experience.