Three wins in four days for Jake Keough of the Kelly Benefit Strategies team at the Vuelta Ciclista del Uruguay, so far. The team won the first four stages and Keough leads the points competition with five stages to go.
Hailing from New England, the 21-year old Keough honed his skills on the BMX and cyclocross racing scene before switching to road a few years ago.
Keough caught Performance Director Jonas Carney‘s attention last year with his performance at USA Crits Speedweek where he won the overall for the U25 classification. Carney, one of the most successful U.S. riders of his era and four National Criterium Champion prides himself on finding and developing young talent and brought Keough on board last year in June.
I sat down with Jake the evening after the first stage at the Redlands Classic Criterium to get to know the young sprinter.
Oh and by the way, he has four younger brothers who are also singlemindedly focused on racing their bikes, Nick, Luke, Jesse and Ian. Keough – remember that name.
There are 5 of you is that correct?
Jake: There is. I have four younger brothers and we all race bikes. My dad also races bikes, we actually got my dad into bike racing.
So it wasn’t that you dad got you into bike racing but the reverse. How did that happen?
Jake: Well, everyone thinks that ‘yeah it was your dad’. No he had a friend – he always rode motocross and he had a friend – who raced BMX bikes and we went out to watch them and we were actually – it’s a funny story – we were signed up for, me and my brother Nick who is two years younger, and I’m the oldest and we’re all pretty close and we were signed up for soccer and it was like whatever soccer is, I guess the spring, before our first ever practice we went to see the BMX race and we went and saw that it was cool, we went and tried it out and we blew off our soccer and we’re racing our BMX bikes, we both won our first race (laughs), it was downhill from there.
How long ago was that?
Jake: That was when I was six. And then I started racing road bikes when I was sixteen.
You’re from New England. What about cross then?
Jake: Yeah, it’s mandatory. That’s actually what happened. I raced BMX and a friend actually recommended that I race cyclocross in the off season. So I did that for a season and was like well I guess I need road fitness for cyclocross and I did the road for one season. We’re all kind of smaller guys, BMXers are more gym, sprint oriented so we kind of took to road racing, our body types suited it and progressed from there.
So which do you prefer then, cross or road?
Jake: Road, definitely road.
Jake: Really, I’m a sprinter, kind of coming from the BMX background, my bike handling skills are really good and the high speed last corner criteriums, I live for the last lap of the criterium, full contact, just wide open (laughs)
I read that you actually train your younger brothers. Do you still do that?
Jake: I do. I coach three other athletes and I coach my younger brothers and my dad. I had coaches when I was younger and kind of just decided that I wanted to listen to my body more and learn about it and I studied a lot and I’m still going to school in the fall for exercise physiology, kind of picking away at that. I train them, they are actually my resume because my brother Luke is two-time National cyclocross champion, he was tenth at cyclocross Worlds last year, and Nick was second this year at cyclocross Nationals by just a hair. So yeah it’s pretty cool.
So they actually listen to you? (laughs)
Jake: Yeah, it’s awesome, we’re all best friends. When I’m at home, it’s a blast. I actually flew back from training camp to North Carolina where they were down there training and we got to train together and literally we’re best friends and we do everything together.
Okay, what’s the age of everyone. You’re 21.
Jake: 21, 19, 17, 16 and then 11.
No girls in there?
Jake: No girls, five boys. My mom is a little lonely I guess (laughs)
Would all five of you be considered sprinters?
Jake: I think that’s another benefit that we have, we all have different strengths. I’m a pretty pure sprinter, my brother Nick is actually a pretty strong time trialist. Luke is amazing on a cyclocross bike and then Jessie, I think he’s the same height as me, he’s 5’9” but I think he’s only 112 pounds so he can climb. And my brother Ian is racing BMX and he’s only 11 so who knows where he’ll end up.
Is Ian the only one still racing BMX?
Jake: He’s the only one. It’s perfect for young kids to get into bike racing. Spring through fall.
You joined the Kelly Benefit Strategies team last year.
Jake: Yes, I joined in the beginning of June, right before the Tour of Pennsylvania. I rode for a team out of New York, Sakonnet Technology for the spring and got talking to Jonas after I had a good Southeast crit series, had some other offers from teams, looked through everything and Jonas’ philosophy and what he’s done in sprinting, it’s a perfect match for me and he’s so knowledgeable, so it was a perfect fit.
What surprised you when you joined the team last year, that you didn’t expect? How different was it from your previous team?
Jake: Our team, Sakonnet Technology was a U23 team, up until last year I was always, even though I didn’t start racing road until my last year or junior, I had a certain amount of talent and I was the one that everyone was looking to to get the result and try to teach even though I started when I was eighteen and that was really, I was in a difficult situation because I felt I wasn’t learning as quickly as I could be from older riders. The first thing I realized when I came to this team, I still have a lot of opportunities to get results and win bike races but to be able to learn from guys like Alex Candelario, Andrew Bajadali and then Jonas who has won all the races that I want to win and that’s exactly what I wanted out of a team. And I wanted that for the past three years.
Is it as good as you thought it was going to be? Is it better?
Jake: Better because when I joined the team I didn’t realize some of these guys’ palmares, it’s really impressive and I have so much respect for all my teammates, especially the older guys. This is what I want to do for a career and these guys are living the dream as they say.
If you look at the team, who would you say that you want to model yourself after or learn from the most? Is it Alex Candelario as a sprinter?
Jake: It’s tough because, and this is another real big strength that we have on this team, my sprinting style is a lot different than our other to sprinters, Zach Bell and Alex. I’m a little more like Jonas he was really kind of punchy rider. Alex is definitely a sprinter and his career has been unbelievable, he presents himself in a professional manner and he gets the job done. So yeah as a sprinter Alex but I feel like, I definitely … we were just having our team meeting, he’s the guy for a strong, small bunch sprint whereas I’m more of a rider who can win out of a really bug group. So I think probably Jonas would be my model.
Have you ever done the leadout train and how does that work for you?
Jake: Last year, we worked a lot … we did all of Superweek specifically for training for the August Pro Criterium and it’s really good because every guy on the team is willing to put one hundred percent in for me for a sprint but I’ll also put one hundred percent in for Alex for a sprint or for Zach Bell for a sprint. If it’s Alex’s day, everyone from the team is in one hundred percent, including me and same thing, I know that I will be repaid with a win somewhere down the line because he’s going to be in one hundred percent too so there’s no competition between us, everybody has their role and everyone has their day.
So looking forwards to 2009, what are your goals for the year? Are there specific race that you are targeting? Anything that you want to accomplish or learn this year?
Jake: Yeah, definitely. Basically, I have a few objectives for races, Athens Twilight, I did well last year, it was my first year doing it and I feel I can definitely win that race. U23 Crit Nationals, I was second by about an inch. There was some bad publicity, for the record I didn’t put up my hands before the line, although the picture looked… it was a photo finish, me and Justin Williams in a bike throw. So yeah I want to win that, I definitely think that I can win that. And then US Pro Crit, hopefully Cando, learn from that and hopefully that’s a race in the future that I can do well and I think Cando can win that.
Are there any specific improvement areas that you want to focus on this year?
Jake: I think I’m really focused on criterium sprints and I think Jonas and Cando can teach me a lot on positioning. I have a good eye for where to be, my position in the last few laps but just that last 500 meters where to put yourself to win the bike race.
So how do you learn that? Is it by following Candelario’s wheel?
Jake: It’s through having Jonas in my ear on the radio and Cando guiding me through the sprints and just picking his brain when we go out for training ride. We’ve already had our training camp where we got to work on leadout and timing, so that’s the biggest thing, that last positioning before my sprint and that’s really what I want to perfect this year.
So you like the argy-bargy part of the sprint?
Jake: Exactly. That’s where I really like to be, that bumping. Last year, I had a lot of podium finishes and it wasn’t my sprint that was the problem, I never got passed in the sprint, it was 500 meters, I wasn’t putting myself perfectly and that’s what guys like Cando and Jonas know.
So you’re 21 now. Where do you want to be in 3 years, 5 years? Do you have a plan, a vision of where you’d like to be?
Jake: Well, one hundred percent I want to be racing my bike for a living and that’s the first and foremost. My ultimate goal would be to race in a ProTour team in Europe, that’s the holy grail of cycling but I think a lot of young riders flip it backwards, they do the National Team program or they go to Europe too early and they get burned out. I’d like to get to the top of the American program, the American domestic racing scene before making that jump. I think that I have the experience on my side with these guys helping me out, that’s kind of my goal.
So is there any specific sprinter in the ProTour now that you think that’s my style?
Jake: Yeah. Mark Cavendish, that’s who I want to be. That’s who I want to beat (laughs). Just his style and his speed is unbelievable.
His acceleration is incredible.
Jake: Yeah, that’s my kind of sprinting. If I can get to within 100 to 50 meters of the line, I can nip someone. I’m not a guy who can take it from 300 meters and wind it out. If you can get me to within 75 meters that’s when I can give a good pop.
What’s the plan for you after Redlands?
Jake: A busy spring. We’re flying Monday for Uruguay, 10 day stage race in South America.
At 10 days, I assume that will be the longest stage race you’ve ever done?
Jake: I’ve done week long stage race but 10 days will be a big one. And that will be good, there should be a lot of bunch sprints and we’ll have a really good team. Then I come back and do Tour of the Battenkill which is in my neck of the woods. And then I fly straight down to Southeast Crits again and it will be good to go back there. And then from there, it looks like CSC Invitational and then the Nations Cup in Canada.