We caught up with Harmony Bar co-founders John Abate and Jessica Cerra to talk shop and here’s what they had to say about everything cycling:
TGN: Hey John and Jess, let’s start out by saying thanks for stepping into the spotlight and sharing your journey with us. Our readers are curious, what is your main discipline or sport that you participate in?
John & Jess: Road cycling.
TGN: You guys seem like pretty established athletes, so how old are both of you?
John: I am 41.
Jess: And I’m 31.
TGN: Great, so what part of the country do you two live in?
John & Jess: We live in Sunny CA, USA.
TGN: Nice, I grew up in California, great weather out west, beautiful riding conditions. How about you tell our readers what class you compete in?
John: I am a Category 1 Elite Amateur and race Masters 35+.
Jess: I race as a Category 1 Elite Amateur.
TGN: We are really interested to know, what’s it like to compete as a cyclist at the Elite Amateur level?
John: Road racing in Southern California, at the level we compete at, is some of the best racing week in and week out in the country. Every athlete here has the ability to train year round, so your competition never seems to ebb and flow, everyone is on fire all the time and the race calendar starts early Feb and goes until September!
TGN: So what made you decide to be a cyclist and how has affected your life?
John: I started cycling very late in life, in my mid 30’s actually. I was at a point in my life where I needed a physical outlet for work related stress and cycling was just the right answer for me!
Jess: When I was in Grad School I was a subject in a test study for VO2 Max and I tested high, which led me into the sport. I started racing XTERRA and Mountain Bikes and turned pro, but always trained on the road bike so naturally I shifted my focus to road where I found my true talent.
TGN: Amazing, sounds like things kind of just fell into place for you and led you right to your passion. What are your biggest goals and aspirations for this season? Any long-term goals?
John: Yes, to be very consistent as a top “all-around” style of racer. Every time I line up to race I want to be able to affect the outcome of the race in some way so that my team or I are in the best possible position to win. My long term goal for me has been focused on winning a National Championship in my age division which will be 40 – 44 for the next few years.
Jess: I want to race for an elite level or NRC level team and continue to bring focus and attention to Women’s racing in the US.
TGN: Those are all wonderful goals and we have no doubt that you’ll succeed. You both are driven athletes and determined to succeed and it shows with what you have done with Harmony Bar. In racing do you follow any strict training plans to help you perform at peak level on race day?
John: I work with a coach and place a high value on doing so. Because my racing is really only a hobby for me as I work full-time in my career and co-own our business, having a dedicated training plan and a coach to advise with really helps me make the best possible use of my time, which is very limited these days! I would say I’m most strict about following my training plan/workouts as closely as possible, but more importantly resting when I’m not training and racing.
Jess: Yes! I take advantage of riding the group rides with the men, race in some of the men’s races, train on Palomar Mountain and of course I eat my Harmony Bars!
TGN: Sounds like you guys have it locked down pretty tight in the way of training. Jessica, we’re glad to hear you’re out there showing those boys who’s boss! What would you say your biggest accomplishment as a cyclist is? Or, scariest moment?
John: I don’t think it’s one race or one incident for me but rather my continual improvement on the bike as a racer, always learning and adapting. Also building great relationships within my sport on and off the bike, would be my most prized accomplishments.
Jess: My scariest moment was being diagnosed with Iliac Artery Compression Syndrome and my biggest accomplishment was having the surgery done to correct it and overcoming it as a potential obstacle to be able to ride and race at this level.
TGN: Often, as endurance athletes, we find ourselves relying on a vast array of gear. In cycling what are the necessities to compete at your level?
John & Jess: We both agree that a reliable, lightweight frame such as John’s GIANT TCR and Jessica’s Envie. Also quality components in SRAM, ZIPP race wheels, a Garmin and/or power meter, and aero time trial equipment are very important.
TGN: Agreed! When you rely on your gear so often for results you tend to become partial to certain brands or styles of gear. What are some of your favorites and why?
TGN: Ha ha, and that’s what matters, right? So if you had to pick just one piece of gear, your one go-to item to have with you on race day, what would it be and why?
John: Racing as many crits as we do here in Southern California, I’d have to say my skin suit that is designed and created by Stage One Cycling apparel!
Jess: It’d have to be my ZIPP 303 Tubulars! Super lightweight and fast!
TGN: Definitely great choices there you guys. Now, nutrition is a very important factor when it comes to performance, what types of nutritional products do use regularly?
John: MRI Endurance products really get the job done for me. I’ve been using them for over 3 years and are a staple in my training. I use MRI’s EO2 Edge for training and racing and their Natrol Branded Glutamine for recovery.
Jess: I agree with John, MRI Endurance has been a staple in my training and recovery, but I have to be somewhat biased here and say that our very own Harmony Bars that we make are the go – to food for me during training and racing! Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip and White Chocolate Coconut Blondie’s are the bomb!
TGN: You aren’t kidding, you guys really have something special going on with the White Chocolate Coconut Blondie’s, but they’re all delicious. Yum!! Our readers want to know, if you could have a Jess or John pro model and design your own product what piece of gear would you choose? Or, do you already have one?
John: I would have to say my own pro handle bars. A super lightweight strong design with cow horns coming off the hoods to bump guys off into the corners!
Jess: For me, it would have to be an ultra-lightweight GIANT by Jess frame built for climbing.
TGN: That has to be one of the best responses we’ve heard, John. You need to pitch idea to the right people. Sounds like something you’d definitely find on a gravel grinder or a fat-bike don’t ya think?
TGN: So, I know you guys are both super busy with Harmony Bar doing so well and all. When you do find the time, what races are you planning on attending this season?
John & Jess: We will be racing most of the SCNCA regional calendar including some select NRC and NCC events. Of course, the Belgian Waffle Ride sponsored by SPY is a big one for us! We expect to see close to 500 racers competing in this one-day event for 130 miles and 11,000 ft of climbing, a true Spring Classic! The men’s teams will travel to Valley of the Sun, Cascade, Tour of America’s Dairy lands, Tulsa Tough, and USA Cycling Nationals. The Women are looking to do about the same plus Redlands and some other high profile NRC events.
TGN: Wow, that’s a loaded schedule. You have a ton of great events lined up, that’s for sure. We wish you the best of luck in your 2014 season! So with all those amazing events, are there any races that are above your radar that you’d like to compete in?
John: I have always wanted to race Tour of Battenkill in upstate NY.
TGN: Nice, those are some pretty epic rides you’ve chosen. Britain is beautiful but tough as nails, and Battenkill has been dubbed “America’s Toughest Race”.
TGN: Now that you’re in the spotlight, what words of advice do you have for our readers?
John: For me it really comes down to mastering balance and creating that Harmony! Racing at an Elite and Masters level while being present in my full time career working is an art. I believe that this balance is everything and being able to “let go” and sacrifice sometimes gets you further along in both areas of your life! Working hard and training hard are the constant, and it’s taken a few years for me to really hone this skill but when you have it you feel great about all aspects in your life. Family, career, friends and a life outside of racing is just as important as being on the top step of the podium.
Jess: Practice your nutrition on hard training rides and when trying to get to that ideal race weight, don’t try and “diet on the bike” – focus on good eating habits off the bike. For training, make your hard days hard (e.g – take advantage of the group rides, big climbs) and make your easy days easy for recovery.
TGN: That’s some really great advice coming from two amazing athletes. Thank you again for taking the time to step into the spotlight and share your story with us. We wish you the best of luck with your company and your 2014 racing season.
You can following John and Jessica’s company by liking Harmony Bar on Facebook and following them on Twitter for product updates and industry news. They are currently in the process of developing a new website so we can access their delicious bars just a little easier, so stay tuned.
You can also follow Jess’s Facebook page Fit Food By Jess for some of the most delicious and healthy meal ideas for endurance athletes.
See you on the trails!