Valente 2022 Champions League 1130x600
Team USA

Jennifer Valente on her First Champions League Experience

By: Jim Rutberg  December 22, 2022

Valente has been having fun and ticking off wins all season, and now has her sights set on qualifying for Paris 2024.

Track cycling champion Jennifer Valente is on a winning streak, having fun, and working hard to stay at the top of sport. After winning the Olympic gold medal in the Omnium and the World Championship in the same event in 2022, Valente finished her 2022 season by winning the Women’s Endurance League title at the UCI Track Champions League. With the race for Olympic qualification points beginning in early 2023, Valente is already gearing up for her next challenge.

Queen of the Omnium

Jennifer Valente grew up riding mountain and BMX bikes in San Diego, California before being introduced to track racing at 10-11 years old at the San Diego Velodrome. Although her greatest sporting accomplishments have occurred on the track, to this day Valente considers herself a bike racer first and foremost and competes on the velodrome as well as some road racing and criteriums. In 2017, during the same period she was winning Team Pursuit World Championships with Team USA, she won the Stage 1 of the Colorado Classic and finished 5th Overall in the Cascade Cycling Classic stage race. Eventually, the draw of an individual Olympic medal pulled Valente to the Omnium.

Reintroduced to the Women’s World Championships in 2009, the format for the Omnium has evolved over time. Originally a mixture of timed and mass-start events, the most recent iteration consists entirely of mass-start events: Scratch, Tempo, Elimination, and Points Race.

At the same time, she was earning four World Championships, a 2016 Olympic silver medal, and 2021 Olympic bronze medal in the Team Pursuit, Valente was steadily moving up the leaderboard in the Omnium at World Cups and World Championships. “For me, the Olympics was always the goal, and the Omnium is the only endurance event for an individual,” she commented. “After Rio, the three predictable timed events were removed, and the Tempo was added. The current version of the Omnium might not be as well suited to me, but I worked hard to strengthen my weaknesses and learn the event. And it’s not just me, everyone has had to learn the event. For instance, the International Tempo plays out differently in almost every race, which makes it difficult to predict and to train for.”

Different Flavors of the International Omnium

After racing and winning the International Omnium at the Olympics and World Championships, the 2022 UCI Track Champions League presented the opportunity to race a familiar event in an entirely new environment. “For Champions League, we were competing as individuals as opposed to national teams, so I had my trade team – Virginia’s Blue Ridge Twenty24 Professional Cycling Team – on my jersey. It was more of a throwback to how I got into the sport. It made me think back to when I was 17 or 18 and you change all your own gears, you put together your own wheels, pack and unpack your bikes.”

The camaraderie among the riders was different as well: “The Olympics are the priority for lots of riders, and the Track Champions League doesn’t directly impact that. So, we were competing to simply race hard and have a good bike race. And from week to week there were no lasting repercussions or pressures related to Olympic qualifications.”

The Power of Knowledge

The unpredictable nature of mass-start events on the track is further complicated by the number of multi-discipline racers. Valente estimates that about half of the field, including her, are primarily track racers. The other half are primarily road racers who bring varying strengths and weaknesses to the velodrome. “The track has always been my priority, but sometimes that means I’m chasing the fitness and endurance of someone who spent the summer riding road races and stage races. And the riders who did that are chasing the power and speed you need to compete against a track racer.”

To devise a plan for the Omnium, Jennifer and her coach, Benjamin Sharp, go to the tape. “We watch tape of my races, tape of previous races on the same velodrome, and tape of athletes who we expect to be competing in an upcoming event, and even tape of men’s races or other events from a tactical standpoint,” said Valente. “And then we train for the efforts required to execute specific tactics as well.”

Approach to Training and Race Prep

Although she specializes in track racing, with the support of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Twenty24 Professional Cycling Team, Jennifer Valente’s completes most of her training on the road and mountain bike in Colorado Springs, Colorado. “For me, training partners don’t need to be your gender or discipline or event. They can be anyone, so I’m happy training solo or with the people who live here.”

From a track-specific skills standpoint, Valente falls back on experience gained by racing road, track from a young age. In the lead-up to major international competitions she sharpens those skills with training camps and regional competitions. Asked for advice she’d give to young athletes looking to follow in her footsteps, Valente recommends what worked for her. “I’d say race as much as you can, but to race everything. There’s no reason to specialize in one particular thing, whether it’s one track event or one discipline. A bike race is a bike race and a lot of the skills transfer. And you don’t know if your discipline or event will change by the time you go from Juniors to Elites.”

Looking toward Paris 2024

With the Tokyo 2020 Olympics delayed until August 2021 because of COVID, athletes faced a shortened Olympic cycle leading up to the 2024 Olympics in Paris, France. For Jennifer Valente, that means the chase to qualify for a spot on her third U.S. Olympic Team starts in February 2023 at the Tissot UCI Nations Cup in Jakarta, Indonesia.

Valente’s 2022 season ended later than normal because the UCI Track Champions League ended in early December, and she used the opportunity to take a substantial year-end break. “It’s been a while since I took a full break. The awareness that Olympic qualification starts in just a few months is on my mind, but I’m glad I took a few weeks off after getting home from Europe,” she commented.

Having achieved her goals of winning gold medals at the Olympics and World Championships, Jennifer Valente feel more freedom to expand her training and competitive horizons. “Being Olympic and World Champion has opened the door to do anything because I’m no longer chasing one very specific thing. That’s allowed me to come up with new goals and move forward in a lot of ways I was unable to until I achieved that.”