Jen Luebke is a Montana-born professional road cyclist who lives in Bend. She started her career doing triathlons, eventually turning her focus solely to the bike. Her six years as a professional triathlete provided her with a toughness and resilience that serves her well while pounding out the miles in the professional peloton.
As a timetrial and breakaway specialist, Luebke is no stranger to digging deep, spending time "on the rivet," and pushing her internal tachometer to the redline. Off the bike, she's approachable, quick with a smile and an absolute pleasure to be around. But once she mounts a bike, her desire to perform at the highest level takes over, and the transformation begins. In honor of the Bike Issue, I sat down with her to talk cycling.
Source Weekly: What's your first memory of riding a bike?
Jen Luebke: I grew up on a dirt road, so learning to ride wasn't smooth sailing. I first remember riding down a dirt bank that I'm sure was taller than I was, getting the speed wobbles and eating it into the gravel.
SW: Who inspired you to race?
JL: I started racing (swimming) when I was pretty little (6 years old) but when I decided I wanted to be an Olympic swimmer was during the 1996 Olympics. Amanda Beard was a young breaststroker that made the team and I wanted to be just like her. I even swam an entire summer with no goggles, just like her. Chlorine is not good for your eyeballs, btw.
SW: Do you like the individual aspects of racing, or the team better? Training at home versus training camps? Time trial or stage racing?
JL: I love racing with the team. I'm a talented time trialist, meaning I'm racing by myself, but I'd much rather ride a one-day aggressive road race with the team over a time trial. On a similar note, I love training with others. Super-fast group rides, like the Hammerfest Tuesday night ride in Bend, are my absolute favorite way to train.
SW: You race on the road, but what about mountain bikes? Gravel? Endurance? Adventure?
JL: I love riding every kind of bike. It's taken me a few years, but I finally have a really cool bike of every kind. Mountain biking is hands down my favorite way to spend my off season. Really big, steep, six-hour loops cannot be beat. I train for the road on a cross bike on gravel roads quite a bit, too. I do this to get away from cars and keep the riding a bit safer. You also get to see some pretty neat places and expand the map of the places you ride when you ride different terrain.
SW: What is the best piece of (bike racing related) advice you've received?
JL: The most mind-blowing piece of bike racing advice has to do with descending and cornering—inside hand and outside foot. You really put pressure through both your inside hand and your outside foot when going through corners and also while descending. Never turn your bike. If you can corner and descend smoothly, you have a huge leg up on others.
SW: How do you balance being a pro athlete and maintaining a committed relationship?
JL: I think it would be pretty hard to have a relationship with someone who wasn't also an athlete. I'm pretty lucky to have a partner that understands and fully supports what I do. In fact, my partner, Matt Lieto, is also my coach. Not only is he fully supportive of what I do, how much I train/travel/race, but he's coaching me as a cyclist and sometimes we even get to train together. He's a great training partner as well as life partner.
SW: What travel tips do you have for us?
JL: I come from a pretty type A family. I wouldn't say that I am, but a few things rubbed off. I actually keep an itemized list of all the things I need to bring with me to a bike race. I have a picture of it that I have saved in my favorites album on my phone and I make sure I double check that I have everything before I leave the house for a trip. This checklist system stems back from childhood Jen that lost all sorts of things when I'd leave for trips. My mom would make me a checklist that I had to check off with a pen before coming home.
Sponsors/Team: Sho-Air Twenty20
Spirit Animal: What animal LOVES candy? That one.
Favorite meal: Brown Owl Rancher Salad. It's a salad with fried chicken in it.
Famous person you would most like to meet: Lady Gaga. I've seen a few documentaries and she seems super interesting and quite crazy!
When I was I child I wanted to be: An Olympic swimmer
Item you never travel without: Ground coffee and a coffee filter.