A New Kind of Bike Racing Team: Meet Josh Saxe and Jackalope

Name: Joshua Saxe Age: 33

Family: Partner, Jessica Buckley; daughters Riley 3 ½ and Robin 2

Lives in: Montpelier

Primary Sports: Road, cyclocross, gravel, and cross-county mountain biking

Occupation: Principal agent of Jackalope Sports Group, Director of Jackalope Northeast Cycling

A bike racer in his own right, Joshua Saxe could have gone the traditional route when he and Jared Katz decided to pick up the mantle of the former 1K2GO bike racing team, which emphasized road racing and elite performance. Instead, they decided to focus on more than just speed when they formed Jackalope Northeast Cycling. Jackalope describes itself as a team of inclusion, acceptance, and community. Although they want to improve cyclists’ athletic performance, they believe that “being the best you” should be each rider’s goal. 

What got you into cycling? 

The biggest moment in cycling for me was well before racing. It was when I first started riding. I grew up with severe asthma. Aerobic pursuits through my childhood and teenage years were intimidating and scary. I knew what it was like to pass out from not being able to breathe. On a number of occasions, a flight of stairs quite literally knocked me on my back. 

When I was 18, I took the mountain bike I had gotten from Onion River Sports up the North Branch connector to Sparrow Farm on a whim. I had only ever ridden over to friends’ houses at this point and had no idea what I was in for other than a climb. It took me 45 minutes to get to Sparrow Farm, and once I was at the top, I distinctly remember being able to breathe (and smell manure). No rescue inhaler needed. Just a deep breath, and the next pedal stroke to keep riding home. 

That loop would be a 30-minute ride now, but it took me almost two hours that day. The next year I built a road bike with help from Montpelier Free Ride using recycled bin parts and a dirt-cheap steel frame I got on eBay. I used it to get to work faster. Steve Colangeli, who was my high school biology teacher at U32 and now owner of sponsor Paradiso Farm Coffee, saw me riding to work and suggested I try racing. That was the summer of 2008, and it’s been a ride ever since. Pun intended.

Tell us a bit about your racing career.

I raced with the University of Vermont from 2010 to 2012 and again when I returned to finish my degree in 2016. It’s been very cool to watch that cycling program come back to the glory it had when I was entering the sport. I raced independently as a Cat 3 and then I had a breakout season in 2016 in which I was never lower in the results than third —assuming I kept things upright during the races. In 2016, I earned an overall podium at the Green Mountain Stage Race, and I ended that year obtaining my Cat 2 standing on the road. I got my Cat 1 last year. 

What have been your race highlights? 

One of my best memories is my Stage 2 win at the 2018 Green Mountain Stage Race in Randolph, which was also about two or three weeks before my first daughter Riley was born, coincidentally at Gifford in Randolph. While I’ve won races before, I had never won in front of my family. To win at home, in front of a home crowd is as cliched as it sounds, but also truly special.

What were you doing when you left UVM? 

I wanted to experience life in the world. I travelled and worked for Green Mountain Valley School as a ski racing technician. When I got back to UVM, I started doing contract work assisting sponsorship agreements between U.S. based athletes and teams with Eddy Merckx USA. 

How did you start the Jackalope Northeast Cycling team?

In 2017 I joined the former 1K2GO cycling team and I took over operations in 2019. I thought the team needed to move its purpose away from high performance to trying to pull in riders who were challenged by high barriers for entry into the sport including cost of equipment, inability to find coaches or mentors, and difficulty getting to events.

We made a decision to repurpose how we’d function by creating a more welcoming environment. We want to build a community where kids and adults can thrive and explore healthy habits through cycling. 

Riders don’t have to perform at the top end of the sport, but at the top level of themselves. 

When Bobby Bailey [the founder of 1K2GO] moved to Delaware, he wanted to run a program there under the 1K2GO name. My company, Jackalope Sports Group, had already been providing sponsorship for our team, so we changed the name to Jackalope Northeast Cycling. We are not the same operating entity as when we were 1K2GO. The goals, purpose, and methodology are all entirely different.

Our aim is to be welcoming of all in a community-oriented manner and in doing so, we can rally to support each other in individual pursuits, through group participation and affiliation. 

Tell us about the team members. 

Anyone can join Jackalope Northeast Cycling. Most riders have spoken with someone on the team ahead of time and are put in touch with someone who is helping to organize to see what the benefits of riding with a team are, and whether it fits with their goals and needs for the year. We’re looking for active and regular participation and anything from a minimum vague goal to very specific targets throughout the year. Where appropriate and warranted, we will link riders with coaching services to further their individual efforts. As one rider rises from within the group, the riders around them will rise to the challenge too. It’s pretty cool to see that happen. If joining the team isn’t for you, but you or someone you know believes in the mission to cultivate a safe place to participate in sport, we happily accept donations for a number of infrastructure projects or for the general use fund.

Who are your team members? 

We have 33 cyclists. Five are U23 racers and four are in the “fringe division” which is how we refer to the performance racers. Cycling has a history of elitism, especially in competition. To reference elite performers is to perpetuate that rhetoric. While we have athletes who aim to perform at the top of their sport, we do not refer to them as elite, but as a fringe division of the team focused on high performance.

The rest of the team ranges from 25 to 75 years of age. Most are from Chittenden County, but we have a few new riders from the Montpelier area and a few from New Jersey and Massachusetts who spend considerable time in Vermont. The idea is that we’re supporting individual goals throughout the year, be it getting new equipment, riding with new people, or just building community. Each year, the level of riding is elevated. 

And your top racers?

One of our junior athletes, Griff Larson, was coached by Jake Hollenbach last year and we provided him with funds for travel and races. Griff has tackled gravel and mountain bike racing and has mostly raced in Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. He works in the summer at Catamount Outdoor Family Center as a counselor for the summer programs, and races regularly on Wednesday evenings for Catamount’s XC series which Jackalope Sports Group sponsors.

This year, we’ve gained two U23 riders from UVM, Tanner Putt and Kaitlyn Agnew, who will be heading to nationals for road racing. The three of them join me in the fringe division. These kids are exciting to watch. We also have two new juniors named Lela and Leita Griffith who just joined us. They are sisters from Connecticut who just moved to Stowe. They are focusing on road, gravel and cyclocross. I’m really happy they’re interested in drop handlebars since most kids aren’t interested in road cycling anymore. 

We are pretty well aligned with the local gravel scene and the Green Mountain Stage Race. We treat that as our home race. We provide volunteers and we are the lead riders for the Kids Crit.

What do you mean about the team being ‘community oriented’?

Members of the team have to do community service like Green Up Day or trail clearing. They can also opt to organize or lead rides or volunteer at races. We don’t dictate what they do and it’s an honor system. We don’t hold anyone’s feet to the flames.

The team is based on five tenets which are borrowed from taekwondo: Courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self-control, and indomitable spirit. I was bullied as a kid, and in middle school and high school in Montpelier, I turned to taekwondo which gave me confidence and stopped the bullying. In talking with friends years later, they would say it was something different in the way I walked. I think it was a confidence boost, ego boost, however you want to look at it. Taekwondo is something beautiful and ferocious. Discovering that would make anyone walk a little differently. 

When we were reworking the purpose of the team, I felt that we needed some kind of code, and this fit really well. In the old days, coaches taught juniors racers that their goal was to prove their value to their sponsors but that’s not the way we operat.e

What does the team do for the Jackalope riders?

One of the keys is coming up with a stock of equipment. Niner has been giving us frames and we build them for the fringe division of the team. We got four frames for the new riders and their old frames get recycled into our inventory. We keep building that inventory year after year. We’re looking for investment in long-term infrastructure from our sponsors. Money going into travel doesn’t come back, but money going into equipment can be reused. It’s more important to get someone on a bike than to a bike race. 

If I recall, you had a bike building business years ago so you should be good at recycling those bike parts. 

I’ve always been doing that sort of thing. Building bikes is the core of my business and where my knowledge base comes from. Jackalope Sports Group is a consultative sales agency. As the principal agent I strive to keep our selection of brands within the space of innovation and inspiration at all levels of participation in the outdoors. When I go to sell products, it’s from a very technical standpoint. 

On the team side, bringing in frames and building them up is a carryover from when I ran Flahute Bikes in Burlington while I was in college. I started that business largely because I needed a nice bike and couldn’t afford to buy one. I had that brand for six years before I shut it down. Now, I’d rather collaborate with the brands I work with who are known for integrity and innovation.

Tell us about collaborating with the Richard Tom Foundation and Green Mountain Bicycle Club.

Our collaboration with the Richard Tom Foundation came from a few different places. I worked briefly with Richard at Earl’s Cyclery in Williston. Richard, who was hit by a car and killed while cycling in Hinesburg in 2015, was very influential and had a lasting impact on me. RTF advocates for safer roads and cycling infrastructure, and we do, as well. We set out to find ways to promote each other’s missions and ideas and get the word out there. The Foundation is very well known in the Burlington area but not beyond. We travel across the country. One of our riders, Doug Coker, is living in Spain and wearing our kit while racing there.

Our collaboration with the Green Mountain Bicycle Club has been a carry-over affiliation from 1K2GO but we’ve worked closely with [club president] Kevin Bessette in trying to build community. IK2GO was the racing leg of the bike club and we’re taking that over and are happy to work together.

Is the team where you want it to be right now?

Unfortunately, no. We are still predominantly white males. I very much would like to see more diversity. I believe we’ve done a good job showing that we’re welcoming to all and to lower the barriers of entry, but the result hasn’t been seen yet and will probably take a little longer.

—Phyl Newbeck

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