Professional bike racing in the U.S. is different from just about every European country. When they say “pro” there, it means everyone in the race makes money doing it.
Not so in the U.S. For some, becoming a professional means little more than cherry picking a few smaller races and paying USA Cycling $150 for an elite license. It was easy to see the differing ability levels at CrossVegas, as almost half of the field ended up lapped.
Being a working class racer, myself, I have a special place in my heart for those guys who can race well without the support the big guys have. I have a great appreciation for the Erik Tonkins, Jon Bakers and Molly Camerons of our sport.
In Vegas, however, it was Jake Wells (Mafiaracing.com), a carpenter from Colorado’s Vail Valley, who took top honors as the Sin City’s working man’s hero. He pulled a stellar 12th place in the strongest field we will see in the U.S. this year. Wells was 12th, the eighth American.
Not only does Wells (who is no relation to the racing brothers Todd and Troy Wells) support his family — his wife, Linda and daughter, Tatum — by swinging a hammer as a trim carpenter during the week, he had to buy his ’cross bikes this year. While he receives some travel money from his team’s sponsor Pabst Blue Ribbon, his equipment support is predominantly reserved for the mountain bike season.
So with a “pro” deal from Felt on a couple of its F15X cyclocross rigs, some pedals from crankbrothers and a hook-up from Wells’ good friend and Garmin Pro Cycling team mechanic Tom Hopper on some used Garmin team Zipp 404 race wheels, Wells is ready for a full season of ’cross. His hope, and one he’s on the road to achieving, is to convince his team and the team’s sponsors that ’cross is worth investing in.
After his showing at CrossVegas, where he rode in the first chase group with the rest of America’s cyclocross stars all night, the team and its sponsors were ecstatic.
“Pabst says that this (the Mafia Team) is its best investment (in sports) so far,” said Wells.
All of Wells’ equipment is standard fair and working class. A perfect example is his set of crankbrothers sl pedals. They are $110 pedals, but outfitted with a SSU a short stainless steel spindle, which produces the same Q-factor as the $425 Four-ti model. He runs a 42-tooth single chain ring and Challenge tires, both the Fango and XS models; he raced CrossVegas on a white 32mm XS model.
Look for Wells flying the working class flag this season in the USGP series and at select UCI events, including the NACT events in Colorado and the North Carolina Gran Prix races in November. He’ll also race at nationals in Bend, Oregon.