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Jo Celso, winner of RHC Brooklyn No.7 Women’s race

Clever eyes and irresistible smile. Jo Celso bicycle carries blood. Californian, rider, vegetarian, physiotherapist, tattoos… it’s hard to find any aspect that is unattractive in a girl who is defined as “clumsy” and within months wins two of the biggest races in the field of urban bikes fixed gear such as the Unified Series Wolfpack Hustle and RHC Brooklyn.

1. Who’s Jo Celso?

I’m an awkward, 25 year old goofball from So Cal who generally can’t get through the day without walking into a table or a wall. I seriously have no idea why they let me race bicycles.

2. You’re a rider of different kind of races. What’s your favorite?

I pretty much love all the time I can get on a bike. I’ve always been able to climb pretty well, so long, hilly road races came pretty naturally to me. I used to HATE racing criteriums because they were all about tactics and the ability to ride close to other people and not freak out. The whole sanctioned USACycling scene is kind of stiff and it’s a lot of older people. It’s a lot of training with numbers and focusing on nutrition and going to bed at 9PM and blah blah blah… I totally love it– I’m actually in between stages at Redlands Bicycle Classic right now, where I crashed during the crit!– but sometimes the environment’s a bit too straight-laced for your average 20-something year-old.

I wandered into the San Diego velodrome community sort of on a whim thinking I’d work on something I wasn’t good at (sprinting) and the community kept me coming back. It’s a really great little scene. The races are free to watch for spectators, which was how I originally got involved but I’ve got too much of a competitive streak to sit on the sidelines too long. But, it collects a lot of awesome people of all ages. And the organizers there are really great, funny, warm people. It’s a lot more laid back.

The urban stuff is cool in a different way. It’s a lot of young people who are just really passionate about bikes and there’s a certain aesthetic about it that’s just, for lack of a better word, cool. Definitely a lot of appreciation for design and details, and it’s a lot more inclusive than any sort of official racing which is why I keep coming back. I really hate elitism and exclusion, and sometimes that creeps in though– it pisses me off when people pull the whole “anti-gears” attitude or talk about having to have a certain type of bike to fit in. But I have to say, the urban race scene is like, ahead of the curve in terms of gender parity. We virtually never get the same purses as the men in sanctioned racing.

3. Wolfpack Hustle. What can you tell us about WH? What is wolfpack hustle in LA? What represent for you?

So I got involved with Wolfpack Hustle back in 2012. I’d heard of them from back in 2011 when they raced the Jet Blue jet across L.A. during the closure of the 405 (a.k.a. Carmageddon) back in 2011; I’d always thought that was really rad and pro-bike, and I think it turned a lot of heads. Almost like, a bunch of people can’t possibly fathom how they were going to function without cars for a day and so their answer is a jet plane and here comes this group of guys who point out how going car-free for the end of the day isn’t the end of the world. Their LA Marathon Crash Race was also picking up a lot of momentum.

In 2012 I was recovering from cancer and I had a real love-hate relationship with my bike because I was so freaking slow from the all the chemo. But I decided to do the crash race anyway and I somehow won, which was really unexpected. That was how I connected with Don first– he heard my story and thought it was great, so he interviewed me. I came back for his race in 2013 and by then I had a little bit more of my fire back, and then with a win at the Civic Center Crit and an overall win in the series, I was really connected with the group. For me, I felt like they were really inclusive, especially with women, and that’s something that’s always been important to me.

LA’s got a great bike scene. So Cal in general is such a cool place to ride– the weather’s great, everyone’s chill, there’s a bunch of beautiful scenery. And LA’s got this cool mix of urban climbing, so you see a lot of really strong athletes who also get to ride around in the city and connect with a lot of other people. And there’s a lot of art, music and culture that gets really intertwined with the cycling.

4. Red Hook Criterium Brooklyn No.7

Oh man, I was totally not prepared for RHC Brooklyn. Everything surrounding the race was really messy. I was supposed to fly out with my sweetheart but it ended up not happening, and then we booked our lodging too late so we ended up in a really loud part of town in an apartment without furniture. I barely slept all weekend– I don’t get how New Yorkers sleep. And then the weather was insane. I have no idea how to race in the rain, so I just kind of guessed based on things people told me last minute and felt it out. I’ve been racing road for a little while now, so I guess my crit instincts kicked in and in a way, it was just a combination of luck and practice that resulted in a win.

I got to spend Sunday in Brooklyn with the guys which was really neat. I’d never really met the St. Louis guys and I’d only briefly met Zach Morvant so it was cool to get to know them better and celebrate the win as a team. Don was particularly ecstatic. He told our cab driver to the airport on Monday all about it.

5. What about JO outside the bike’s world? What inspires you? What do you do when you’re not on a bike?

If I’m not at school or working (doing massage), I make a lot of art and crafts. I kind of dabble in everything, clay, paint, a lot of needlecraft. I don’t own a TV; I feel like they’re too distracting and you end up watching things you don’t necessarily want to just because you can, and it eats up time. But I like watching things online; you have to decide you’re going to watch something. So I end up watching a lot of bike content. I’ve got some tattoos which I like a lot, including the wolf on my forearm that I got to celebrate my dog tag win in 2013. I hear a lot of negative talk on tattoos, like how you’ll regret them or they’ll affect your ability to get a job, but for me I feel like they help define me, like I’m not afraid to wear my heart on my sleeve. They make me interesting.

I also spend a lot of time raising hell about women’s issues. Not just cycling, though I get really ruffled about the really low level of seriousness given to female athletes. But I’m huge on reproductive rights, critical of rape culture, body issues, those sorts of things.

6. You’re vegetarian right? Nowadays vegetarians community is growing and so the vegs athletes… Can you tell us a couple of suggestions for people that is vegetarian and wants to train hard?

I’m vegetarian. It’s really easy to be meat-free and be an athlete. There’s a ton of protein in meat-free sources. I eat a ton of eggs and Greek yogurt, but even if I didn’t, tofu is the most versatile food on earth. Not to mention quinoa, beans, peanut butter, nuts… the list goes on. “Where do you get your protein” is the dumbest question ever, especially since most vegetarian and vegan athletes I know eat more protein than normal meat eaters.

7. Do you remember your first time on a fixed gear bike? How did you get introduced in this world of track bikes?

I totally fell for the hype back in 2010, before I even owned a bike. I’m really visual, and there were all these kids on neon fixies doing cool tricks. I didn’t even know what a velodrome was at the time, I just thought it was really cool. I met a guy who rode fixed right after I bought a little townie and we rode around. A couple months after that, I bought a Bianchi Pista– that was like, late 2010– and we threw a brake on it pretty immediately. My friend tried teaching me to skid and track stand, which was really awkward because I’m not a terribly graceful bike rider. And of course, I forgot I couldn’t coast quite a bit.

8. For the future? Are you coming to the European RHC? BARCELONA and/or MILANO?

I’m planning on racing the whole RHC series at this point. So I’ll be in Barcelona and Milan– totally exciting, because I’ve never been to Europe before! I’m also racing the Wolfpack Hustle Civic Center Criterium in July on the west coast. Other than that, I’m not sure as of yet, I’m sort of just waiting to see what pops up.

9. One short phrase o motto that express your passion for cycling

The greatest victories are those that you have to turn yourself inside out for.

10. Thanks to…

Don Ward and Wolfpack Hustle for saying, yes, in fact, girls do race and would I like to go to New York for some crazy fixie race; all of my Holliday Rock/ZOCA (road racing) teammates for racing with me, cheering me on and putting up with my eternal unpreparedness for virtually every race, and especially my team captain Crystal Howard for saying “you’ve got it” all those times when I didn’t believe I was racing material; and Matt Maxfeldt for keeping me rolling through the rough patches as well as the smooth ones.