One of the highlights of this summer’s race season for me was watching young Conor Klupar win the Second Ascent Ballard Criterium category 3 race. It turns out that was just the start of a very successful summer season that also took him to the Junior Nationals where he found more success, and to the Worlds in New Zealand which turned into a wake-up call.
As a former high school teacher, I wonder how athletes like Conor manage to fit in (the crux of adolescence…) He’s competing at the top level of his sport, but in a sport that probably seems odd to most of his classmates. As Conor notes below, “Being a high school athlete is tough if your sport doesn’t involve a ball.” Fortunately here in the Seattle area, there are organizations like Rad Racing NW, which support young cyclists in their pursuit of excellence on the bike.
School & Grade:
I’m a senior at Mount Si High School while also taking classes at Bellevue College through the Running Start program. Running Start is a great program that allows me to get college credits while in school. Bellevue College also has a much more flexible schedule that allows me to schedule my training during the daylight hours.
Place of Birth:
I was born in Mesa, Arizona, moved to Washington when I was 1.
Favorite subject(s) in school:
History is probably my favorite, with math a close second.
What are your plans after high school?
I’m planning on finishing my AA at Bellevue College and then focusing on training for the Olympics in 2016. While training I hope to finish my BS degree hopefully someplace near the Velodrome in Los Angeles. That’s where the national team trains.
Are you involved in sports other than cycling?
I also wrestle. Wrestling is such a physical sport that it helps my cycling because it helps me to learn how to work hard and how to deal with feeling uncomfortable for periods of time.
What bikes do you own?
I have a lot of bikes, most of which are Konas. The main two that I ride though are my 2012 Kona Zing Supreme with Mavic Cosmic Carbone wheels for crit racing. It’s very solid platform to launch off of in a sprint. I also have my matte black Tiemeyer with a Mavic IO and Comete for the track. I picked it up from Benny Swedberg who got it from Colby Pearce. Colby rode the bike in the Athens Olympics.
How did you get into cycling?
My dad is an avid bike rider and always used to take me out on rides with him when I was younger. He bought a tandem and we would train for philanthropic rides like the Chilly Hilly and Seattle to Portland (STP).
How did you get into racing?
I started through doing the awesome VeloKids programs at Marymoor Velodrome, which got me out on the velodrome at a very earlier age. I got coaching from great riders like Ryan Miller and Tela Crane, who helped me get into racing out on the Velodrome and started my whole racing career.
Tell us about your training program:
My schedule is very dynamic and usually depends on how I’m feeling, but on average I’m training 15 hours a week. Most of that time is spent at the velodrome. Track workouts are different then road training, though. I might spend three hours total at the track, but I’ll only have around 6 efforts with 20 minutes of off the bike resting in between. It’s a lot of sitting around and resting. You have to wait until you are 100%. Then your explosive effort may only be 15 seconds to a minute long. During the winter I do some weightlifting.
How are you able to combine school and racing bikes?
That is a challenge. Being a high school athlete is tough if your sport doesn’t involve a ball. I’ve gotten a lot of support from Jim Brown and my team RAD Racing NW. They have had a lot of athletes in my same situation. Running Start makes training and getting away for races much easier.
What are some of your racing highlights?
Ballard, Marymoor Grand Prix. Junior Nationals, Junior World Championships.
The Ballard Crit is a special race. Big crowds, cool venue and it all boiled down to a sprint finish. It couldn’t have gone better if I scripted it myself. It was the start of a roll.
A couple of weeks later I went to Junior Nationals at Trexler Town. T-town is another special venue. It might not be the best track in the country. But, it has the biggest crowds and nicest surrounding facilities. It is also known for dramatic racing. I qualified for the sprint tournament with the fastest time. That built my confidence. I won each match all the way to the finals. The finals were filled with excitment and in the end I won the jersey. Winning a National Championship has been a goal of mine since I was 13.
I was on form so, when I returned from Jr. Natz I jumped into an Elite/Pro Grand Prix. The Marymoor Grand Prix the biggest track race in the Northwest. Anyone who is anyone attends this race. The Keirin final was a who’s who of american Olympians and Olympic hopefuls. I got to go head-to-head against two-time Olympian Giddeon Massie. Taking second behind him in the Keirin was more than I could have even imagined. It was a pretty special night. I took 5th in the Matched Sprints that weekend as well.
Finally, the Junior World Championships gave me a taste of international racing, and it tasted good. There where 34 countries attending and maybe 40 or 50 sprinters. The team coach and the guy to hold me for the start of the races was Olympic Gold Medalist Jamie Staff. It was also the first time I raced and had a sougnier, physio and a mechanic almost as good as Big Cat. I qualified 16th fastest time in the world. I was right in the fastest group. But, there where a few riders that where just on another level. That was the wake up call to pick up my game. They had been selected to represent their countries almost a year ago and have been training the entire time. Me, I had only trained for maybe a month.
At Worlds the junior team was coached by Jamie Staff from USA Cycling, who won a Gold medal in the ’08 Olympics for Great Britain. 50+ sprinters from 34 countries competed. Conor trained for a month before the world championships to lower his 200m qualifying time and turned a personal best 10.962, which equates to over 40 MPH.
Only 24 riders advanced from the qualifying round (less than half of the riders). Conor was seeded 16th–a great result for his very first international event.
What’s your favorite Seattle-area ride?
The last 200m at Marymoor is always the most exciting ride! But, from Fall City I like to ride north to Carnation and out to the Red Barn. I also like to ride into Redmond and take a loop around Lake Sammamish.
Do you have any advice for other teens thinking about getting serious about cycling or racing?
Start with racing at the velodrome. It might not be your final destination but, jump starts your carreer. Wiggins and Cav both started on the track. You get to race 3 times a night. Some races give you 4 looks at the finish line. And there is plenty of advice from riders on the infield to help you get better. More often than not that advice is correct.
Pick an event you love. Set some goals. Join a team that has experience with Juniors. But, most important make sure you are having FUN!
Video of Conor’s win in the 2012 US Junior National Championship sprint gold medal round against Kaleb Koch:
The National Championship sprint competition was held in US track cycling mecca Trexler Town, PA. The sprint event was best two out of three. In the first race Conor received a warning for head bumping, and in the second race his bike slipped a bit coming in to the home stretch (possibly due to a light rain that was falling). Conor decisively won the third race.