After walking away with two wins during 2020’s abbreviated, three-race season, Jesse Melamed found himself in the top spot of the Enduro World Series rankings. And with the 2021 season rapidly approaching, he’s about to find out if his preparation during the long lull will pay off.
With no events to prep for during the majority of 2020, along with an initially uncertain 2021 season, you might assume that someone in Melamed’s shoes could kick back and turn the intensity dial back on training and bike setup. And, well, you wouldn’t be wrong. But that’s not Melamed’s style. He’s hard-working, dedicated, and very detail-oriented. In addition to a rigorous training schedule, he’s constantly tweaking his setup in an effort to gain any advantage. Despite an uncertain race future, Melamed forged on.
You can’t be successful in racing if you’re not a skilled bike rider, but there are a ton of skilled bike riders who have no success in racing. The delta between those points is measured in intervals, max heart rate tests, hours on the bike and trainer, and meticulous attention to detail. “I used to try and be perfect, and that kind of worked, but what I discovered is that perfection is not being, it is doing,” says Melamed. “Perfection is putting my best into everything I do and knowing I couldn’t do anything more. Hard work and dedication leads to results, there is no way around that.”
“I see Jesse doing things that seem way above and beyond,” says professional photographer Dane Perras, who is also Jesse’s friend and roommate. “Like, he’ll go out and spend a whole day riding, and swap out his handlebar six times, just to figure out which handlebar and what length feels the best. That’s his handlebar day. He’s going to figure out which handlebar feels best in which conditions that day.” He takes a scientific, logical, and level-headed approach to his preparation, even seeking out the worst trails in the most gut-churning conditions to practice on, because that’s what it takes to become a better rider. That’s why he ends up on podiums—he’s amassed more than 30 top-three spots during his decade-long professional racing career.
And while Melamed’s official job description is to race his bike as fast as possible, to be successful and valuable to sponsors, athletes need likes, clicks, and followers to accompany those hard-won results on their resumes. These days, there is a lot more to do to stay relevant and employed. This was especially the case during the COVID lockdown, when there were no podiums to stand upon. The role of “athlete” was uncertain, and what emerged were content creators, eager to contribute in some way and help brands continue the work of communicating while balancing public health restrictions and a historic bike boom. More people than ever were finding mountain biking, and brands found a wealth of opportunity reaching new riders. Melamed embraced the shift by starting a YouTube Channel—MGM Alternative—with Miranda Miller and Rémi Gauvin, in addition to his own. Managing social media, YouTube channels and staying connected to fans in a meaningful way is all above and beyond what is required for staying at the top of your racing game, but Melaemed has the drive and passion to roll with the ever-changing landscape of what it means to be a professional racer.
"Perfection is putting my best into everything I do and knowing I couldn't do anything more. Hard work and dedication leads to results, there is no way around that."
Along with social media and You Tube content creation, Melamed’s schedule is full of sponsor obligations such as video parts, photo shoots and interviews. One shoot can fill a week with physical activity that doesn’t fit into any particular training bucket, so he has to tailor his training around these projects. He’ll do a workout before call time, then hit the gym (or whatever can sub in for the gym) on the way home. As a result—and though still enviable—it’s a job and lifestyle that comes with a lot of sacrifices. “He doesn’t drink. He doesn’t stay out late. He’s in bed by 10 every night. He is very dedicated, and he does everything to perfection,” said Perras. “I think that was probably the most eye-opening thing to me is just how seriously he takes his job, and how much work it really takes.”
“Before the pandemic, Jesse’s job had always been a bit of a mystery to me,” said Perras. “I often found myself wondering what the hell he did all day. I would leave for work and he would be sleeping. When I got home, he would be on the couch. He doesn’t know it, but I gave him the nickname ‘The Housecat.’ But now, seeing how he managed his stress and workload, it’s really opened my eyes to how much it takes.”
At the time of writing, the 2021 season is finally about to kick off on June 23, for a double event in Val di Fassa Trentino, Italy, and Melamed is at home in Squamish, British Columbia, putting the final touches on filming obligations, fine-tuning his equipment and checking off training goals before packing his bags for a couple of months on the road in Europe.
Coming from Canada, Melamed is at a bit of a disadvantage compared to riders based in Europe. The time change, interruption to routine, and being away from home for extended periods of time all present challenges that European racers don’t have to deal with. And, with zero North American events this year’s nine-race calendar, he’ll have no opportunity for a home-court advantage. Plus, there’s an almost two-month gap in the middle of the season, so he may have to make two trips across the pond. But, with both of last year’s wins on the other side of the world, during a global pandemic, nothing seems to be able to break Melamed’s focus.
Photos: Dane Perras