Special to 303cycling
If you’re a local female cyclist who likes to climb hills then you’ve probably noticed Jennifer Cubillas’s name on the Strava leaderboards. At 48, Jennifer is routinely in contention for QoMs on popular climbs around Boulder (she is currently 3/2145 on Lookout Mountain and 2/1197 on NCAR) though she has only been cycling for four years. In 2016 she won the National Hill Climb Championship for MW40+, and in 2017 she came in fourth in the Pro/Open category. She is blazing fast—not just for her age, but for any age.
Jennifer and I both raced for the Old School Industries team this year and I got to know her as one of the nicest, most humble bike racers around. I recently had a chance to chat with her about her cycling history and goals.
Q: Tell me about how you got your start in cycling.
A: I started as a runner when I was 12. I ran and raced all through high school and college, then raced post-collegiate. In my 40’s I started having knee pain, and about four years ago we did an MRI and realized that I have no articular surface on the underside of my patella, the lateral side. Cycling was recommended because it pulls the patella back in place. I was resistant because I didn’t know how to maintain a bicycle; I didn’t even know how to pump up a tire. But I had a coworker, Eric Welch, who was a cyclist and he talked me into riding. I bought a garage-sale bike from my neighbor and rode that for about a year, then finally got a real bike.
Q: Did you know you were going to be a talented climber right away?
A: On one of my first rides—I think I’d had the garage-sale bike for about two weeks—Eric said, “Let’s ride your bike over some hills.” He took me up over Lee Hill, and then we turned left and went to Ward. He said, “Wow, not very many people who just started on a bike can do Lee Hill and then ride all the way to Ward. You might be good at hill climbs.”
At the time I had no other skills, I couldn’t even drink from a water bottle without stopping. The bad part was when we got to Ward and had to turn around and come down. I had no descending skills. I actually cried. I stopped at least a dozen times coming down that hill.
Q: How’s your descending now?
A: I am much more comfortable descending now but it is still a weakness. I get a lot of practice because when you get to the top of a hill you have to go down! I still train with Eric 2-3 times per week, and he is really patient. He’ll show me a good line to go through the descent.
Also, my reach is so short (I am 5’1”) that even when brake levers are adjusted as close to the handlebars as possible I only have the last joint of my fingers to get the brakes. I bought a bike with disc brakes and it really helped my confidence. I ride an XS Liv Avail now and love it.
Q: When you were a runner, weren’t you in some pretty high-level competitions?
A: Yeah, right out of college I raced with the Impalas out of San Francisco. There were 6 or 8 of us that were trying to make the Olympic trials. I didn’t make it but it was fun training with the girls who did. My best marathon was a 3:06 and at the time we had to break 2:50. The women’s marathon was new to the Olympics then so the qualifying time was a little soft.
Q: What do you think about when you’re doing a hard climb?
A: I get songs in my head. I really enjoy show tunes, so it might be a Disney song or something from Mamma Mia. I love Hamilton!
Q: As a cat 3 48-year-old, you can race as MW40+, SW3, or P123. What do you find the differences are?
A: The MW40+ riders are often cat 1 or 2 riders who maybe don’t want to do the longer race of the P123 category. They are more seasoned and they know what they’re doing, which is kind of neat. I learn from those riders every time I race with them. In the 3’s, the group is often bigger but there are more random things happening in the race, more attacks. The younger energy is there.
Q: What are your goals for next few years? Do you see yourself continuing to compete?
A: I’d like to keep competing, yeah. I am hoping to get more into the P123 category, not just on hill climbs but on some road races. I want to work more with other racers and learn how to help my teammates. I’ll be racing for Primal Audi next season. They have a lot of strong women racers on the team and I’m looking forward to getting to know all of them and working on some race strategies together. Like, there’s a gal named Valerie Sutherland who is an amazing hill climber, and Barb Lotze, who wins basically everything in her age category.
Q: What do you like to do off the bike?
A: I’m kind of your average Boulder-type person. I rock climb in a gym for strength training and I have a dog that I walk, Stella. My 14-year-old daughter fills my time with marching band. I go to a lot of theater and local shows with my husband and daughter, and I like to sew and cook.
Q: There is one food that I happen to know you are extremely fond of, and it’s not a health food…
A: I love candy corn! This is my favorite season because candy corn is in the stores. But it has to be Brach’s. The other kind is too waxy–you need the sugar to sort of squirt back by your molars. I make energy balls to take on the bike, usually with some variation of oats and a nut butter. I just started making balls that have candy corn in them. The peanut butter and candy corn combo is actually really tasty!
1.5 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/4 cup honey
3/4 cup chopped candy corn
Roll everything into balls, store in refrigerator or freezer.
Jennifer Eyre White started cycling at 43 when her daughter joined a high school mountain bike team. Over the last eight years she has dabbled in racing MTB, road, cross, and track, with varying success. She recently discovered the joy of races that last under a minute. She can be reached at email@example.com.