By Phyl Newbeck
This is the 13th year the Green Mountain Stage Race has taken place in Vermont. The four-day event is the largest Pro/Am road cycling race east of the Mississippi. This year, it featured 700 cyclists from across the U.S. and Canada, with some entrants from Europe and the Caribbean. Jake Hollenbach of Shelburne competed in the Pro/1 Category, the highest racing level at the event. He finished first in the criterium in downtown Burlington; it is the most watched segment of the race.
Now 32, Hollenbach started bicycle racing in 2003. Most cyclists begin their competitive careers doing time trials, where racers start sequentially at one-minute intervals. Hollenbach had been a member of the UVM track and field team and felt comfortable racing in close quarters, so his first stab at competing was the practice criteriums run by the Green Mountain Bicycle Club (GMBC). Criteriums are short courses (usually less than a mile) where cyclists do multiple laps in a mass start and are far more chaotic and crash-prone than time trials. Eventually, Hollenbach began to take part in other disciplines, but criteriums have always been his favorite. This is the third year he has won the Burlington Criterium – once as a Category 3 racer and twice in Category Pro/1.
In 2005, Hollenbach began racing with a Boston-based team, moving up the ranks to Category 1 racer. In 2009, he signed on with a New York City team in the hope of turning professional. When that didn’t work out, he returned to the Boston team for another two years. Last winter, Bobby Bailey of Essex told Hollenbach he was putting together a Vermont-based team, and Hollenbach made the switch. “The timing was right,” he said, “and the fact that it was a Vermont team was very attractive.”
The Dealer.com-Everbank team has 10 adults and three juniors. In addition to racing with the team, Hollenbach has been working as a mentor to one of the juniors, Cooper Willsey of Hinesburg. Hollenbach creates a weekly training program for Willsey. “It’s really fun to work with him,” said Hollenbach. “It’s totally motivating to be helping someone.”
Hollenbach said he wouldn’t turn down the opportunity to sign with a professional team, but he is not actively pursuing it. “In retrospect, I realize it’s not as glamorous as one might think,” he said. “It’s nice to be with a well-supported team and a group of cyclists who like to go fast together. I think Bobby’s program has been successful.”
The Burlington Criterium consists of 50 1K laps for the Pro/1 men, and Hollenbach said he has used the same strategy each time he has won: staying with the pack until the last lap and then accelerating after the turn off Church Street. “It’s not a trade secret,” he said. “If you’re in the right place at the right time, it works even if they know you’re coming.” This year, Hollenbach eked out a victory over his teammate Bailey on the last lap.
Hollenbach credits some of his cycling success to being able to take advantage of the other sports Vermont has to offer. “The first thing that helped me become better,” he said, “was cross-country skiing in the winter.” Hollenbach enjoys any time he has on his bike, whether it’s commuting to work or flying around the corners in a criterium, but admits he’s got a bit of race horse in him. “When there’s someone next to me, I go faster,” he said. “I need the stimulus.”