After years of riding on the verge of success, Jesse Melamed found consistency in 2020. The Rocky Mountain Race Face rider won two of the three Enduro World Series rounds held that year, finally delivering the success that it’s clear he’s been capable of for a while now.
That started with a snowy win in Zermatt, Switzerland, the first international enduro since the pandemic disrupted the calendar. Then Melamed followed up with a win at the iconic Enduro World Series venue, Finale Ligure, Italy.
In 2021, the Whistler-born racer picked up right where he left off. After four rounds of racing, Melamed’s yet to finish worse than fourth. That consistency has him sitting third overall, going into the first break in the EWS calendar.
Earlier this year, we caught up with Melamed to get his insights on bike set up, why he’s always experimenting with equipment, the highs and potential lows of sharing all his secrets with a rapidly growing YouTube audience, and how skiing helped him keep his training balanced leading into the 2021 season. A shorter version of this appeared in the June/July issue of Canadian Cycling Magazine (12.3).
Canadian MTB: Let’s start with last 2020. You had two wins in a pretty hectic, shortened season. How do you come through a chaotic year of cancellations and everything to find that kind of consistent success?
Jesse Melamed: I was surrounded by really good people, and I took advantage of what the silver lining of the pandemic to really take a step back when it first started. The pandemic was definitely a big shock and I didn’t know what to do with myself when it started. But I was able to almost take a mini-career vacation at home. You train so hard over the winter and you build up so much that you need to release steam. So that break really helped.
I do what I do because I love what I do. So it wasn’t long before I was back training. Then I made myself build slowly through the Crankworx Summer Series. That series was a huge advantage for me. Everything came together.
I’ve been trying for 8 years, since Dre [Hestler] picked me up – which is why I owe him a huge favour – but it’s been a long time of putting a lot of pieces into place and last year it all just fell into place perfectly. I’m happy and I’m grateful that I was able to put a season together, especially considering how crazy and chaotic it was.
Your first win was in 2017 at home in Whistler. Since then you’ve had a ton of close results and podiums. Is there anything that clicked this year to get that consistency?
It’s hard to say. I think a few more things just came together. I wouldn’t say I stopped trying as hard during racing but I started letting it come to me a little bit more. So maybe I made less unforced errors – except for the one that I made in Pietre which dropped me back. But that I think combined with that new Altitude. I think it’s really easy to see that. I’ve had success on the old Altitude. And I was close, but really on the edge with the older Instinct. We’d made some modifications with that bike, then the Altitude came out and it was pretty similar to what modifications we had made. So I think just getting on that bike really suited me, and I was able to ride more calm and aggressive, which is kind of an oxymoron, but yeah – it was a combination of a few factors.
That Altitude just came out (last September). How much did you get to influence its development?
Honestly, the guys at Rocky are really good at what they do. I rode a prototype a long time ago – I think winter of 2017, going into 2018 and I gave some feedback. That was an aluminum mule. All the things we were doing to our Instinct over the last few years, they were taking note of that. We had some meetings along the way and they had their ideas and we just kind of helped them here and there. So I’m sure I had some influence, whether it was directly or indirectly.
The new altitude comes with a whole bunch of geometry adjustment options – wheel sizes, coil or air shock, Ride-9, and now rear axle chip – what’s your personal set-up?
There’s a few custom things we did at the start, which maybe got us in some trouble, but others understand why we were making changes. The Ride-9, I’m in position 2. For racing, we had a custom chip where we were 2.5 – which seems crazy, because you have nine positions already, why do you need another one, ha ha, but it just seemed perfect for me.
For an elite racer , at the highest levels, it’s all the little details that matter. That one to me, in my mind – whether its placebo or not – the bottom bracket drop I want, the head angle, it was just perfect in this position. So I was like “I just want that,” and it worked. Since then I’ve been testing and I’ve gone back to just 2. But same with the wheelbase. We got a middle chip for the rear axle, because I think 10mm is a bit of a gap, so taking it by 5 was easier. Just because I’m not the smallest and I’m not the tallest, so a middle-of-range chainstay length was suitable for me. So that was the two things we had done custom.
What about wheels? Are you running 27.5 or 29?
29 for sure. Not that it’s just faster but it’s more efficient. So you can save energy which you can put back into the racing.
You’re known as a pretty tech-oriented racer, and you’re obviously thinking alot about the details. How much time do you put into testing over the winter? And then do you leave it for race season, or keep playing with it.
I spend a lot of the winter thinking of things, because we’re buried in snow. Then, when it comes time to ride I try all these things out. Some of them work, some of them don’t. But I do spend a lot of time trying. Mostly stupid things, just so I know that they don’t work. Then sometimes they do work!
Then, once were in the season, like I said I made some changes to the bike going into Zermatt EWS and I won. So I was like, OK, well it works, I’m just not going to change anything.
Over on YouTube you have quite the following between course previews and tech tips and MGM Alternative. It’s safe to say you share more than people might expect from someone at the top of a very competitive sport. How did that start and do you ever have any reservations about sharing that much?
It started because of COVID. Without racing there were questions as to how much a racer is worth. And I was kinda bored, too. I had been doing the practice previews for my YouTube so I had quite a bit of a following just doing that. It was a natural move to make some more videos. My brother came up with the idea and I thought ‘Yeah, I can go out, spend the day in the forest and just film something.’
And to your point, I definitely… wonder if I’m sharing too much. But I’ve also learned that I am … very eager. And I want to be better. So I’ve always tried to go out and find how the pros are training, what are they doing. I find that yes, you learn some things. But there’s so much out there that you’re not going to find the perfect strategy or perfect combination of all the things you read because there’s just too much. So that kinda what I think with what I’m doing. Yeah, I’ll give some people information that they might not have thought of. But it’s almost more overwhelming than it is just good for them.
I guess we’ll see what happens next season and maybe I’ve burned myself. But it’s good content and part of me thinks, well, it’s just good content. I’m setting myself up for future jobs and obviously people really like it, so we’ll see. Until I start getting beat and I can’t win again, haha, then maybe I’ll go back into secrecy.
I was like that for a while. I was always pretty secret just because I liked working in the shadows and just trying all the crazy ideas that I had. And because it’d never really worked – or I don’t know if they worked or not – but I never really talked about those ideas. Now that I’m winning people will listen, I guess.
I’d say posting my race videos from last season is … pretty good content for some of my competitors, which I’d definitely use. I always try and look and study what Sam [Hill] and Richie [Rude] are doing in the races so … maybe I gave a bit too much away there. But what can you do? The world is full of social media.
For fans far away – it was a great way into the EWS, which can be a hard sport to spectate.
Yeah, and honestly, it did help me sign another contract with Rocky. They understand that it’s a lot of work for me overseas to be doing that kind of work while I’m racing. I’m glad that it didn’t take away from my racing. But I think it’s pretty beneficial for everyone involved. Except for me, if my competitors get an advantage, ha ha.
Speaking or Rocky, you’re with Rocky Mountain Race Face again this year. That’s a team where the riders and most of the support has been remarkably consistent for years, longer than most outfits. Does that change the team dynamic in a way that helps?
For sure. I’m very grateful for the sponsor list that we started the team with, and that that’s stayed consistent. Because honestly, I think that’s a huge part of why I’ve always been able to perform at the highest level. We have Maxxis tire, which you can’t argue against, same with Fox Suspension. We’ve had really good wheels over the years and the Race Face stuff now is amazing. Rocky’s always designed really good bikes. Shimano is faultless. Because of all that, it’s hard to complain. I don’t have to get used to anything new.
With the team staff, the last three or four years now we’ve had the same people around. I think that was a huge reason why I was able to go and do well. We’re all just friends, we hang out outside of the racing and it’s really easy to be away in these stressful situations and remain calm. It’s been a huge advantage for sure and it’s one of the reasons I wanted to stay. The whole team, and Rocky, has been so good to me and I really like where I am. I didn’t really want to leave that.
You’ve spent time this winter skiing. How important to you is it to mix up your routine and what kind of training are you doing off the bike?
Again that was a consequence of COVID. Normally I’d go down south and get a road training camp to get a bunch of base miles in. Because I couldn’t do that this year, I thought well, I’ll just do big ski touring days. Every day I’m on my skis it’s seven or eight hours out there and four or give moving time. That’s a big day. It was a win-win because I get the perfect long, slow base miles but I was able to ski. Maybe people thought I wasn’t training when I was doing that. But in my eyes, I’m training and I’m also getting to ski really rad stuff.
Also, I normally hold back a little just because I don’t want to hurt myself or – if it’s maybe not the best training I don’t want to do it. But because our season was delayed, I thought ‘Well, I need to make sure I’m staying sane and happy.’ It really helped me stay consistent in the other areas. I just do a lot of spin bike and gym through the winter and I’m very structured and very disciplined in that. The skiing allowed me to still get out and have a lot of fun and keep me disciplined in those other areas.
How important is getting that mental break from just doing the same thing?
I think it differs from person to person. I obviously love to ride a bike but I don’t think I could do it year round. I’ve grown up with seasons, skiing every winter and biking during summers so I think it would be a bit weird for me. I spent one winter in New Zealand and a winter in Chile one year. It was great, I didn’t really burn out. So it’s doable, but for me I just really like to get away from the bike. And just become an athlete and train. Then get back to the bike again and build speed. I find it hard to hold myself back on the bike, so if I’m just riding at a super-high level all winter chances are something’s going to go wrong.
So you’re top at your game in enduro, and a rider that many people look up to. What athlete’s – on or off the bike – do you look to for inspiration?
I feel like I’m inspired by anyone who is not necessarily really good at what they do but is really passionate about what they do, and you can see that. I watch a lot of racing – supercross, moto GP, Formula 1 – anything I can watch. And I really like to see people succeed when you know that they’ve worked hard.
In the sport, same thing. I’m just a huge fan of competition, I guess, and racing. So I have a lot of favorites, there’s not just one person. [Loic] Bruni is sick for the way he’s super smooth and controlled but so fast. Amaury [Pierron] and Danny [Hart] are just super fast and crazy.
I think because I understand the sport I’m more into being inspired by the bikers because you know how much work they’ve put in. Like, you can see how strong and fit these guys are, and how much they test their equipment and that inspires me. People who are doing the work, and passionate about it and disciplined.
Anyone who does that, really. Like, if I go out somewhere and a barista’s super stoked to make coffee and super chatty, I’m inspired by people that are passionate and stoked about what they do!
Last year you got to Crankworx Summer Series before the EWS started, which was a sort of return to racing after an extended off-season. How important was that to our EWS prep for the year?
I think that was huge. It was tough, honestly, because it was after such a big break and the field was very young. It’s funny to say that I was one of the older people, but I know what it’s like to be young. You just go flat out right from the beginning. I wasn’t really there yet, and it was tough to be I guess … slow, comparatively, in the beginning. But I just have to trust my process of building my speed.
You were all forced to race outside your specialty, as you mentioned, do you think that helped when you went back to just Enduro?
With all the different disciplines, honestly, it was things I’d never done. I’d never done dual slalom, I haven’t done too much downhill. So it was kind of a skills camp for me. I got lots of bike time, lots of race time. So once we got into Enduro World Series, I was ready.
I think dual slalom – and especially dual slalom with all the grass sections – really forces you to work on your cornering. Coming from cross-country I didn’t do much skills training, so spending a lot of time really trying to get better at that during Crankworx – treating it as basically a skills camp – really helped me gain some new skills. Same with downhill, where you’re going to that 100 per cent race level. Because you go to that edge, and then you can bring it back a little for enduro. So it made enduro seem different, easier to manage.
With last years results, you finished 2020 ranked #1. What pressure is there to repeat that this year?
I think we’ll find out when I get to the first race. I’m really relieved to finally put a season together. It’s not just winning again. Being consistent enough to put a whole season together is something that I’ve struggled with.
I didn’t lapse in my training at all. I’m very eager and keen to defend that, so I’ve been training just as hard, and working on other areas. I’m only going to do as good as I can do, so I wouldn’t say there’s much pressure, only that I’m confident that I can challenge whoever is going to be challenging me. I think it’ll be exciting and I’m looking forward to it.