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Sports-Pictorial.com
 

 

Doing the Math with Jamie Paolinetti

Story by Jaime Nichols
Photos by Jaime Nichols and Scott Schaffrick



Jamie Paolinetti

At 38 years old, and with over 14 years of racing under his belt, Jamie Paolinetti is one of the most experienced journeymen in American cycling. A veteran rider who has raced with and against some the biggest names in the sport, Jamie is also a filmmaker and writer with a documentary about American racing almost in the can.

Last week he successfully defended his title at the Shelby Criterium in North Carolina, one of the toughest, fastest criteriums on the national circuit, beating the stiffest competition in the country to the line with only two other teammates from the first year pro-cycling team he now leads: Schroeder/Incycle. The Daily Peloton sat down with Jamie and talked about his career in cycling, his film, his approach to racing and leading a first year team on the National Circuit, and how he managed to repeat his win in Shelby.


Jamie races to team victory in the Pomona Valley Stage Race


Taking the start in this yearís Shelby Criterium as the defending champion, Jamie Paolinetti knew how impossible it would be to win on pure strength. With a scaled down team and the odds against him, he knew it would come down to smart racing if he had a chance to win. "We only had three guys there, and we knew we wouldnít be able to overpower the field. Going into the race we had a basic plan to watch the combinations of the breakaways; whoís in them, and what team theyíre on, and to make sure we were in the good ones. This involves riding at the front, being ready to cover, or bridge to, any break that goes and looks threatening. It's an on the fly evaluation that has to be done quickly, and you have to constantly be working to be in the right position."

Now a master strategist with the motor to bring his plans to fruition, Jamieís introduction to cycling was by chance: "a freak thing." He played baseball in college, but had stopped, and was in his last year of school, looking for something to do just to stay active. He was surfing a lot at the time when a friend of his, who was a Cat 2 racer, came to him "one day when the waves had been flat a long time and said ĎCome with me for a bike ride.í "

Jamieís fit with cycling was instant and perfect. Physically, mentally and analytically engaging, it satisfied "everything I thought I was about at the time." An immediate string of strong results and victories moved him quickly through the categories, and within a few months, he found himself on the start line of the district championships, encompassing all of the west coast. Out of a field of approximately 300, Jamie took 15th, which, along with his previous strong showings, qualified him as a Cat 2 racer within an amazing seven weeks of hitting the local circuit. His first start as a Cat 2 was at a race in La Jolla, California, where he found himself riding with the big boys: "Alexei Grewal, Davis Phinney, and Jeff Pierce were there; superstars who had just come back from the Tour de France. It was a huge step up, and even though I had been on a bike just seven weeks, I was hanging in there! So, I kind of figured out that I had something. Some knack you need to do the sport."

Jamie finished his first season with good results, got a spot on the best amateur team in Southern California at that time, and did a full year as a Cat 1. During that year, he and his team did over 110 races and by the end of the season he had an offer from a small pro team, and went on to ride the national circuit and a few international races for the first time.

In 1990, Jamie was offered a place on the newly forming Chevrolet/LA Sheriffsí team. "Jeff Pierce, of Tour de France fame, came over here and wanted to start a domestic program. He and I were the first two pros that were hired." On Chevy, he was part of a team that included riders like Malcolm Elliot, Steve Hegg, and Bobby Julich. They rode the National circuit, winning over half the races they entered. The team was dominant and the racing was great, but eventually the heavy schedule took its toll on Jamie. By 1994, he was really feeling it: "I had been racing since 1988, and by that time was doing 120 races a year; full-on, full-bore for ten plus months a year, and I was just tired." The last three years on Chevy/LA Sheriffs were especially intense. "When youíre on a team like that, Like Mercury or Saturn are now, youíre expected to win every race you go to. Thatís your job: win every race! For the strongest teams, the onus of making the race falls on your shoulders, and that pressure, that kind of workload, is insane. Every week you travel all over the country, youíre back and forth, and you never know where you are or what youíre doing. Itís impossible to get any kind of steady training schedule in, and thereís always pressure. I was physically and mentally exhausted."

There were some personal changes on the horizon as well: Jamie was getting married, and starting to worry about what the future would be like for a retired bike racer. In August of 1994, when the rumors that he might retire started to trickle out, he was approached by Bicycle Guide Magazine and offered a position as an editor, which he accepted, retiring from racing at 30 years old. The decision was a tough one, and being so near the sport he loved, but not racing proved to be tougher than he anticipated. "About halfway through the first year working at the magazine, I realized that it probably wasnít a smart thing to do for me, because I had just left the sport in a hard decision, but after two months of not racing, not training, and not getting ready for the next season, I wasnít tired anymore! I was ready to go. Three months off, thatís all I needed!" he laughs. By that time it was too late for him to go back. The season was underway, teams had long since been solidified, and for Jamie, being so close to the sport and following it for the magazine while regretting his retirement proved to be a bad combination. "I had to write about it and follow it when I couldnít be in it. I was 30 years old, and had just finished the most successful year in my career, it was just too much."

Opting to get further away from the cycling world, Jamie went back to school at UCLA to study his other passion: filmmaking. Eventually, he went to work for the local cable companies producing commercials. Before long, he had started his own commercial production company, and was working steadily. Around this time, he was approached by a friend who had just started what would become the NetZero cycling team, and was asked to join them in the local criteriums. "He told me ĎWe donít care what you do, just show up when you can!í " It was 1997 by then, and Jamie hadnít raced at all in three years, but when he came back, he came back strong, and was "Winning everything! I think I won about 15 races that year, including the Manhattan Beach Grand Prix, which is a National Calendar race."

By the middle of 2000, Jamie was racing again and running a successful business. That year the film and advertising industry suffered a huge blow when the commercial actorsí guild went on strike, shutting down all production for months. Jamieís production company floundered with no work for 8 months, and finally went under. During the strike, he found himself with a lot of free time, and "just started training and racing all the time, with NetZero." The team had a lot of successes, winning big local races and traveling to some national races and winning there as well. "By the end of that year, the strike was still on, and the guys from NetZero came to me and said Ďlook, we want to put in more money and have a professional team. What are you gonna do?í and I said ĎIíll do it.í "

Jamie saw another opportunity in his return to bike racing. In 1994 heíd written a treatment for a documentary about the sport. He wanted to make a film about domestic, professional racing, and saw his opportunity to race with NetZero as a chance to pursue that dream. "I decided I could look at the strike in two ways," he says, "I could either see it as something that put me out of business, or that it had finally given me the opportunity to make this movie Iíd been wanting to make for years." With the prospect of making the film, Jamie signed on to race with NetZero for one year as a rider and as the coach of the team.

Jamieís goal for 2001 became his documentary. Jamie Paolinetti the bike racer happened to play a role in the film, and was the coach of this team, "but for me, the real person, I just wanted to make this movie." NetZero went on to tremendous success as a first year pro team, and Jamie shot his documentary, capturing an inside view of grass roots American road racing. He is currently polishing and editing the film, and hopes that it will give people a unique vision of the sport: "I wrote it, directed it and am editing it for people who know nothing about cycling. I think itís going to get the people who are fans already. Hopefully, itíll get the bike riders, too, who will get view of the sport that they couldnít have, because you just canít know whatís itís like to race professionally until youíve walked a mile in those shoes. I think my movie is going to give everybody a really cool look at what this sub-culture is all about, and at the strange life that these people live."

Schroeder/Incycle
By the end of the 2001 season, things were going badly for the NetZero team, as their sponsors fell victim to the dot.com meltdown. By June, they were out of money, and still had the whole summer to go. "I had to pay my own way to races, and Iíd never done that, ever in my whole life; not in all my years on the bike! But," Jamie laughs, "the riders stuck it out. Thatís what bike racing is all about." By the end of the year, photography for the movie was finished, and the team was folding. Jamie knew it was going to be a huge job to edit and market his film, and that he wouldnít have time to train and race. He wanted to focus all his energy on the movie, and retired from cycling for the second time.

The film turned out to be an even bigger job than Jamie imagined, and "as can be expected with a project of this size, things go wrong, and take longer than you ever expect." Coming into this year, Jamie started to hear rumblings that a new team was brewing. Some of the riders on the Schroeder Iron/Incycle club were wanting to start a pro team, and they approached him and asked what it would take to get him to come and run the team. Jamie was approached by Frank Schroeder through some of the guys who rode with the Schroeder amateur team, and they told him "about a plan they had in the back of their minds, asking what would it take. We started a series of meetings, though at the time, I really had no intention of racing again." Jamie was still focusing entirely on his movie, but as time went on, and the film wasnít done, he started looking seriously at the idea of the new team, and started to see the potential of racing with Schroeder as an opportunity to promote his film, and dove back in.

The Schroeder/Incycle team is "really a rollover of some of the NetZero guys, and guys who were on the Schroeder amateur team last year, and thereís a huge range of talent and experience on the team. The NetZero guys have a year of pro-racing at a pretty high level under their belts, and thatís hard to get. The others are at the beginning of that experience. If you can press through an opportunity like that, and you can get to some of the bigger races and learn, thatís how you get better. For some of these guys, even though theyíve been racing forever, this is really their first year in the game, and theyíre going to have a learning curve, while others are ahead of that, have ridden under me for a long time, and know my style. Iím looking at it like the NBA. In the NBA, there are a lot of coaches who can come into a team and turn it around because they have a style of play that works. Thatís kind of how I look at what I am attempting to do as the lead rider and director of Schroeder. I have a style of racing, and a coaching strategy: a way of looking at the sport and itís been proven to work. Teams that Iíve been involved with have won every race in the country."

jpandfs.jpg (55788 bytes)
Jamie Paolinetti and team sponsor Frank Schroeder
(click for larger image)

Racing Philosophy
Asked to nutshell his racing style and coaching strategy, Jamie says he really canít. "The simplest part to explain," he says, "Is developing an understanding of the intellectual side of the sport: understanding that itís not an individual test of strength. If it were, we could all line up and do time trials and see who would win, but bike racing is not about that. Understanding that thereís more to it, and being able to develop yourself with that in mind is really what I preach. Understanding that what you do as a team is going to make the difference is the first step, and a lot of guys canít get past that. So, once our riders start to learn that there are a million things they need to know, thatís where the learning curve starts. Iím trying to teach these guys what I think the sport is all about."

The rest of it is impossible to nail down in black and white terms, as so much comes down to developing an intuitive intelligence that will lead a rider to respond with an instinctual acuity to specific racing situations. "In every race there are times when the smallest little thing can cost you a race. Itís something you couldnít see from the sidelines. Itís closing a gap at the wrong time, or not letting the gap open at the right time; itís jumping across to a move that you shouldnít have jumped across to, or not moving over on a guy in a turn that you should have moved over on; and literally, it can cost you the race. One tiny, tiny little thing. Of every race Iíve ever done in my whole career, there are only one or two where Iíd say that weíve done it perfectly. The harder the race is, the fewer mistakes you can make. The easier a race is, the more mistakes you can make and still win."

Although cycling is a competitive sport, Jamie says he doesnít consider himself to be a competitive person. "Cycling is my job," he says, "I need to try to win, but itís more than that. I know that if I do everything right, and my team doesnít make any mistakes and I have a good day, I will win. I guess I look on it as more like solving a math problem. If you have an equation, and you know the rules and do it right, youíre going to get the right answer. Itís not going to help to get all fired up and competitive," he pauses, "but, itís like itís the most complicated math equation there is, because there are so many variables!"

Solving the equation takes a willingness to work with a team, rather than every man riding for himself. I asked Jamie what he thought contributed to mistakes riders make in the races. "A lot of the time, itís that desire to prove yourself," he told me. "You have to put that in check. If you go into the sport like a raging dog, or like a guy going into a street fight and say ĎI gotta kick this guyís ass, no matter what,í youíre all pumped up and not thinking. If youíre riding on pure adrenaline, Iíll beat you every time. I donít care who you are. Thatís why I say Iím not competitive; because you canít afford to be in a competitive mind frame during the event. With all that flowing through you, you canít reason. The next time you get really angry and something just completely sets you off, if I threw the simplest algebraic equation at you, could you solve it? Not a chance. You couldnít even see what color shirt Iím wearing! You canít see anything in that state, and thatís how most guys race. You have to separate that."

jpandteam.jpg (86109 bytes)
Jamie grins from the start line with teammates Ken Toman, 
Peter Knudsen and Schroeder amateur rider Sean Watkins
(click for larger image)


Jamie has a background in Martial Arts. He started studying when he was young, and has studied at least a dozen martial arts over the years. He has a black belt in Shotokan, a form of Karate that stresses form and discipline: correct posture, correct joint alignment, and a formality of basic technique above all. It also teaches a measure of mind/body separation. For Jamie, this has a connection to cycling: "Once you can start to separate your mind and your physical state from one another, then you can start to reason out the really complex and complicated problems that are going on in the bike race. If you canít do that; if all you can think about is how badly youíre hurting, how badly you want to do well, and how badly you need to get up to that move and go harder, youíre not even in the race. What happens sometimes is that guys just get so jacked-up and want to do well so badly, that they canít think. When your heart rate is at 190 beats per minute, give me anyone on the planet, and Iíll ask them what their motherís maiden name is and they wonít be able to tell me. Youíve got so much adrenaline going through your body at that point, and youíre in so much pain. What makes a great bike racer is the ability to separate yourself from that."

jpthinkin.JPG (81411 bytes)
Jamie looks thoughtful at the startline

While the mental side is important, itís not the only factor. Thereís also the physical ability to race a bike at the professional level that is partly genetic, and partly the result of a lifetime of fitness. "Give me a group of guys who have that motor, and out of that group of guys, 5% are going to make it in bike racing. Give me another group of guys that donít have the motor, and Iíll try to teach them the same thing, and theyíll never make it. First of all you have to have the motor. If you donít have the motor, you donít have a chance. After that, itís a question of if you can learn the sport; if you have the mental ability. For the average pro out there, though, the motor isnít enough, and if you want to be one of those guys, you have to know whatís going on."

"What weíre trying to do right now on Schroeder is find out what weíve got. Who has the motor, and who has the ability to learn the sport." There are a couple of riders on the team who have a proven record, and Jamie is in the process of assessing the potential and strengths of each rider. "Right now, itís a matter of seeing if they can learn, develop the physical ability, sharpen the bike handling skills, and find out where they fall in the dynamic of this team, and it makes for some interesting racing."

jpandrb.JPG (82873 bytes)
Jamie with teammate Ryan Barrett, formerly of NetZero

pkjbjppcrit.JPG (102993 bytes)
Peter Knudsen, Jason Bausch and Jamie Paolinetti 

recover from their effort in the Pomona criterium.

Next - Victory at Shelby

 


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