Q&A with Pro Cyclist and Chef Jess Cerra
Posted: January 9th, 2018
How did you get into cycling?
I moved to San Diego to attend grad school at SDSU from 2005-2007. I completed M.S. is in Exercise Physiology with a particular area of research in elite cyclists, uncovering how calcium loss in sweat could further contribute to low bone density. I spent a lot of time in the lab with elite cyclists, and also saw so many riding outside in San Diego and I was intrigued but also intimidated.
Eventually, another student performed a VO2 max test on me (on the bike) and I found out I had a professional level VO2 max. A mentor professor I knew was on a mountain bike team and she gave me a bike and her team took me under her wing. I also read about XTERRA off-road triathlon in a magazine and wanted to try, so I could race the world championship on the volcano. I hired a triathlon coach because I knew nothing about triathlon. Due to my physiologic advantage I was a natural, and ended up winning the amateur XTERRA National Championship in 2010, where I think turned professional in 2011 for both XTERRA and XC mountain biking.
Eventually, in 2012, after a year of mysterious issues in my right leg, I was diagnosed with Iliac Artery Endofibrosis, and had the surgical repair to patch my iliac artery. During that recovery I was encouraged by friends who road raced, that I had talent on the road, so I started to turn my focus to that discipline. In 2014, I had great success guest riding and flying solo in some of the big national races. Unfortunately, in the beginning of 2015 I had the same iliac artery repair on my left side, but was still offered a contract by Team Twenty20 (formerly Team Twenty16). I rode for that team for two years, and will now begin my second season with Hagens Berman Supermint.
How do you incorporate cycling into your daily life?
I am definitely the furthest thing from the typical professional cyclist. Cycling is a huge part of my life, but due to the nature of women’s cycling, and the lack of the ability to make a complete living in that sport, most women work part time or full time jobs. Fortunately, I started my small private chef company before I began racing full time. And this led to also founding JoJé bar, my nutrition bar brand, with my business partner John Abate.
Cycling and training is a balance with my two businesses. Sometimes I can make training and racing the priority, but other times, specifically in the off season, I make my other work the priority. Either way, it requires planning my schedule ahead, and sacrificing a lot of social activities to get enough sleep to keep me going.
A typical day would be a training ride first thing in the morning, and then off to the JoJé off to pack and ship orders and work on other daily items of business. Other days, I am catering an event, so I do a yoga class and make the focus on being on my feet all day. Let’s just say I couldn’t survive without my compression pants.
What sparked your passion for food?
I grew up in a very low-income family, but also with a mom that loved to cook and bake. We made almost everything at home, and never let any food go to waste. Naturally, I was drawn to cooking and baking with her.
Through my education, nutrition was obvious an area of focus, especially once I started racing. And it turned out that other people liked my food philosophy of eating balanced and healthy, without any major dietary gimmicks. As I began my chef company, my passion and knowledge of food and nutrition grew and grew. I would not call myself a wine expert by any means, but being in the industry I am learning more and more, and wine is such a fascinating and comforting element that deserves to be with food that is made with love.
What is the relationship between cycling, food and wine?
When I cook for athletes, or a cycling camp, food and wine is appreciated on a different level. Spending hours in the saddle makes you hungry! And it is fun to look forward to special food and wine as a reward for a long ride. There is also the element of using food simply for fueling the engine, and learning how to look at it that way, and how it can improve performance. Whatever the case, food and drink creates a sort of community among athletes.
What is your favorite post ride meal?
Fried Egg Sandwich w/ Sharp Cheddar and Avocado.
If someone was on-the-fence about attending CampoVelo, what would you tell them?
CampoVelo is the type of event that you will remember all year long. There is not another event that combines so many disciplines of riding, access to professional riders and chefs, and food and wine that is on a another level.