Interview - Jacob Fetty

by Adam Myerson

I first met Cycle-Smart Senior Associate Coach Jacob Fetty at the top of a mountain in central California. It was at about a kilometer to go in the finish of the Oak Glen stage of the Redlands Stage Race in 2003. I had let go at the base of the climb to ride in at my own pace and was picking up stragglers as I reached the top. Jacob had tried to stay with the front group for as long as possible, and was one of the riders I was catching. None of us were “racing” at that point; just trying to get to the finish line. To Jacob, it must have seemed like I caught him right at the finish and was trying to beat him so I could be one place higher for absolutely no good reason, and so he made a point of passing me back at the line. To me, I thought Jacob was doing the same, passing me back at the line to move up one useless spot, when I was just riding to the finish. Words were exchanged, tempers flared, and it took a motorbike official and a couple of spectators to separate us. We finished 116th and 117th that day, 19:21 down on Nathan O’Neil, Chris Horner, Roland Green, Jonathan Vaughters, and Tom Danielson. But in that moment, the foundation of a lifelong friendship was started.

Eventually, Jacob became my teammate (in 2006 on Team Nerac), and as my marriage ended, his house in Athens, GA was the place to which I escaped. He was also running his own coaching business at the time, and we liked each other’s style and approach, on and off the bike. We spent that February and March doing 6-7 hour dirt road rides, talking coaching and training, working through our respective divorces, and becoming best friends.

A few years ago Jacob decided he was no longer interested in running his coaching business, and wanted to focus on the work of coaching itself. It was an honor for me when he and his associate Shawn Adams came to me with a proposal to join the Cycle-Smart staff. Since then, Jacob has become one of the senior coaches, along with Al Donahue, and a crucial part of the business. 

Because Jacob lives in West Virginia, he’s not always as visible as some of our other coaches. It’s a long commute from the mountains of Spencer to Gloucester, Northampton, or Warwick. So we decided it was time to make sure people know a little more about Jacob, and what an exceptional coach and friend he is. 

How different is your version of the story of how we met from mine? I tried to be fair!

Man, that was a long time ago.  I was pretty smashed from leading [Mike] Jones into Oak Glen. I was at that point that no matter how hard or easy you went, you only have one speed, so we'll use your version and move on.

Not everyone knows you raced with some success as an amateur in Belgium before coming back and turning pro for a few years in the US. What did you learn racing in Belgium that’s still important to you today?

I was fortunate enough to turn pro with Zaxby's in 2001 and did a full domestic schedule before going to Europe. It wasn't like I was taking a step back by being amateur in Europe. Going to Europe was something I just had to do. I grew up reading every nugget of material published. Remember, this was before the internet so information was not as free flowing as it is today. 

Going to Europe instilled in me the mindset to approach cycling as a craft, not just as an obsession. The experience taught me to be prepared and to focus on the process of training. Cycling very much is a craft, and like any good craftsman you have to be in tune with the process.

[Ed. note: Jacob's father is Jeff Fetty, a renowned artist and blacksmith. It's easy to understand why "craft" matters so much to Jacob.]

What result or experience are you most proud of as an athlete and an ex-pro? What about as a coach?

Not one thing stands out. I remember some of my better rides and remember them with fondness. I guess what I am most proud of is that I made it. What I mean by that is at a teenager I decided that I wanted to be a bike racer. I took out a loan from a local bank and purchased a mountain bike and set about accomplishing my goal. I had a good run of several years competing in road, mountain and 'cross. To come from a little dirt road in rural Appalachia and race the US Pro Championships is something I am proud of. So, the journey, I guess you would say.

As far as client results. Oh man, don't put me on the spot. I have and have had some wonderful clients. Many of them have done great things - Jered Gruber getting the Most Aggressive Rider Jersey at Nature Valley, for example. That was gratifying because that was as much mental training as physical. However, what really excites me is the client that is juggling a million things, and you work with them to keep it all from unraveling. Then, on the weekend, they go out and crush it. That is more impressive to me, actually, than what a lot of what the pros do. Pros live in a bubble, comparatively, and are paid to go crush it. Take a mom with two kids and a job or a dad getting up and doing intervals before working 10 hours, for example. They balance it all week then show up on the weekend ready to rock. That is amazing to me. Now that I have a family and added responsibilities, I absolutely get it.

So, yeah, my favorite client stories are the "normal" people that get it done.

How’s the riding in West Virginia?

Winters here are challenging, which is why I landed in Athens for so many years. Aside from the winter weather this area has some of the most amazing riding in the world. We need to do a camp here. I literally leave my house and am on single-lane roads for as long as desired. We have just as many dirt roads as we do paved roads and as such back road mountain biking or 'cross bike riding can be a fun alternative to the pavement. The geography is perfect for riding but can be challenging if you are trying to do specific training like 2 x 20s or even recovery spins. My recovery loop has over 1,000 feet of climbing for example.

What’s special about Cycle-Smart that made you want to work here and be part of the project?

I suppose the interest is based on a friendship and as such the transition to Cycle-Smart was very natural. As mentioned in the intro, we spent a great deal of time together. It was apparent that our core values were in line with each others, and being good friends it seemed synergistic to work together. Additionally, Cycle-Smart has tremendous equity in the cycling world as being reputable, knowledgeable and approachable. Approachability is important to me. We are all in this together and if I have a nugget of information that I can share to help someone enjoy our sport more, then I want to be able to engage with that person.

As I moved away from managerial duties of my own company, my desire was to put my energy into a company with solid values and with reputable, respected associate coaches.

It seems like we’d be letting a few people down if we didn’t talk about The Bike Game. What happened to the site? What did you learn about marketing and media from running it?

Man, we had some fun with that site. 

It was an interesting time. Picture a time before everyone was on FaceBook, and instead, we all were on MySpace. We used Myspace to reach out and engage people in what we were doing. That is what people want to consume now--relevant, engaging content.

Not one thing happened to end the site. [Jon] Hamblen grew up (sorta), Jered [Gruber]  fell in love and followed a girl around the world, and I was moving away from full time racing and towards some replication of adult life. 

We were visionaries and well ahead of our time. If we did that today we would be on TV or something.

What kind of experience are you aiming to provide for your athletes? You have clients at all ages and ability levels. What do they all have in common, and what makes them unique?

Clients come to us hyper-motivated. This trait is outstanding, but at the same time can be a death sentence for performance. What I strive to provide is balance and clear, objective guidance based on experience as well as science. We are lucky to live at a time when information is so easily obtained. The downside to that is that there is so much information out there and not all of it is good. I work diligently to help clients keep balance and perspective and to account for stress that can’t be seen in TSS data. 

Remember, everyone hurts doing intervals, some just go faster doing them. It is all about doing your best, and I aim to assist clients in doing their best.