Archive for Monday, May 3, 2004

Lawrence teen Schmalz wins VeloTek GP age title

May 3, 2004

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The next time Lawrence's Joe Schmalz participates in a time-based stage cycling race, he said he hoped he'd have to miss school.

A day or two away from classes probably would be OK considering Schmalz's next scheduled stage race would be the national championships in Park City, Utah, in late August.

"That wouldn't be such a bad thing," the 14-year-old Schmalz said with a grin.

His domination over the 13-14 age group this weekend during the inaugural VeloTek Grand Prix had to feel pretty good, too.

"It was just a great weekend to get to compete against a lot of kids that you normally wouldn't see," said Schmalz, who capped off his three-tier championship Sunday by winning the 28-mile stage race around Perry Lake. "I've never participated in a race like this based on time, so it gave me a chance to see what some of the more elite races look like."

Schmalz, who attends West Junior High, was one of nearly 50 kids who raced for free this weekend as part of the Lance Armstrong Junior Olympic Road Series race, hosted by local race promoter Jim Whittaker.

The LAJORS series is set up to develop junior riders within the USA cycling program.

Several talented youths from the Midwest attended the two-day event -- which also featured a 2.5-kilometer prologue time trial and 1.1-mile loop criterium Saturday at Clinton Lake -- including a reigning national champion.

Keely Shannon, a 14-year-old from Des Moines, Iowa, hung on for as long as she could during her race against her 13- and 14-year-old male counterparts, but "finally faded" near the finish.

"It was a great chance to try and prove myself against some of the other top youth riders," said Shannon, who won her age division's national championship last year in College Station, Texas.

Whittaker, who helps coach Lawrence's VeloTek team of more than a dozen area youths ages 7-18, said the weekend exposed the youngsters to a different racing environment and showcased their potential.

"These guys can all go as far as they want to," Whittaker said. "Whether or not that means the highest level in the sport, I don't know.

"But I tell them all, 'If you believe, then you can do it.'"

That message certainly inspired Wichita's Ron Wade.

After racing in several of Whittaker's events in Lawrence last year, Wade decided to create a youth team of his own in the southern part of the state.

Sixteen riders, ages 10-16, have joined the Oz Junior Racing team based in Wichita.

"He planted the seed and provided me with the model to get things going," Wade said. "We're gaining a couple of kids every month."

Schmalz, too, said he had gained plenty from Whittaker in his five years of riding.

With the help of a strong performance over the weekend, and perhaps a few more tips from Whittaker, Schmalz said he thought he had a shot at a national championship this summer.

"It's going to be a lot harder, but that's what we're working toward all the time," Schmalz said. "With the kind of help of my teammates gave me this weekend, we should all be able to ride well up there."

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