How one team became Junior Club of the Year by focusing on fun
Born into a cycling family, Rachel Cross began riding at age 4 and was racing by age 9. Already a three-time California state champion at 14, she’s one of the main faces of the Velosport Junior Team.
“There were just five or six of us on the team when I joined,” Cross said. “It’s like a family-based club with parents and kids riding together. It’s a low-pressure environment that allows you to have fun and get better at the same time.”
The team has grown to 40 members in just four years – while adding a pair of prestigious lines to its resume – and is offering a new version of what it means to be an elite club.
“I don’t think there’s another team like it,” said Jason Lupo. “Success for our team isn’t just about winning races. It’s about personal improvement. Our goal is to develop cyclists.”
That’s what happened to the 20-year-old Lupo, who joined the club to train for triathlons but now rides collegiately for the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs.
“Everybody supports each other,” Lupo said. “I’ve never seen a sense of community in other sports like our group has. The team was great for me. I was training for triathlons by myself but really enjoyed the camaraderie of the group and they transformed me into a cyclist.”
Now the Velosport Junior Team – officially called the Sho-Air/Rock ‘N Road Junior Team – is well-known throughout Southern California and even the entire country.
The cyclists based out of Irvine, Calif., won the prestigious SoCal Cup in 2011 and were named USA Cycling’s 2011 Junior Club of the Year.
“I was thrilled,” Lupo said. “When I came to the club, we only had six or seven riders. We weren’t winning races but just training and having fun.”
The growth and improvement of original member Michael Shein mirrors that of the junior club his father helped create. Shein, 18, has blossomed physically and won the SoCal Cup Championship in the 17-18 division.
“Most clubs are either new or there is great pressure to win,” Shein said. “I understand the need to not put pressure on riders. It gives people time to learn how to win.”
Lupo also supports the philosophy.
“If the goal is to win races, you’re going to burn out riders,” he said. “Part of why we’re keeping riders and why we keep growing is they’re not being pushed too hard. And that’s why we’re a lot bigger than most junior clubs in the United States.”
Michael’s father, Jeff Shein, is sticking to that belief even though many of his cyclists are now winning races. One adjustment that’s being discussed is that on team rides, the group will start together before breaking into different skill levels, “so everybody can get what they need,” Michael Shein said.
The Sheins remember when a neighborhood ride wasn’t an option.
“When Michael really got interested in cycling, there were no teams in Orange County,” Jeff Shein said. “So we drove to Los Angeles for team rides.”
Before long, Jeff and another parent started the Velosport Junior Team. They’ve kept costs low and parents involved, both factoring into the club’s success. To be honored by USA Cycling just four years later brought a myriad of emotions.
“I was shocked, amazed and happy,” Jeff Shein said. “There are so many elite clubs out there. A few months earlier, we were talking about being No. 1 in Southern California. Then we heard about the USA Cycling award and it was like, ‘Pinch me!’ The Facebook and email responses were immediate and fun. We got a plaque from USA Cycling and a great article in our local paper. The whole thing was a blast.”
Michael Shein was proud for more than one reason.
“It was pretty cool, especially with all the work my dad put in,” he said. “We’re promoting junior cycling and that’s important. We had fun celebrating.”
Jeff Shein, whose title is Junior Team Coordinator, is quick to share credit with many other parents in the group, along with sponsors and a trio of coaches: Tim Ferreira, Brandon Gritters and Rahsaan Bahati. The main sponsors are Team Velosport and Rock ‘N Road Cyclery while Junior Team sponsors include Specialized Bikes, GU Energy, Park Tool and Mavic.
“Jeff Shein plays a tremendous role in building the team and holding it together,” said Lupo, who returns in the summer to help with team camps and mentor younger riders. “Jeff sends out weekly emails telling about team rides, upcoming race and results from races. That keeps everybody pumped up.”
Team rides are well organized, with a parent assigned as the “back door.” A medical kit and cell phone are always available, and perhaps a contact car.
“We try to keep it fun and communicate with our riders at least once a week,” Jeff Shein said. “We’ll take anybody that’s interested if they want to come and ride. In the emails, we’ll give choices on the rides. We get a tremendous amount of support from the parents. If they didn’t haul their kids to the training rides and the races, assist on the team rides, or help pay for this expensive sport, then we wouldn’t have a team.
“I also want to thank USA Cycling for their support, development programs and the structure to make this whole thing work.”
To learn more about the team, go to www.jrcycling.com or www.teamvelosport.com. Aspiring cyclists can even fill out a form online and join the group for a ride, with no commitment, just a chance to see if the team is a fit for each rider’s needs and goals.
“I emailed Jeff and contacted two other junior teams but Jeff is the only one that responded,” said Albert Martinez, 14, who lives 30 miles away but was glad to join the group. “Their approach is to just have fun. It’s not so serious that there’s a lot of pressure. You get to meet a lot of new people and the hospitality is just great.
“Some of the riders – like Michael Shein and Kyle Torres – are very good but nobody’s conceited and everybody helps the new people.”
When Martinez learned his new team had been honored as USA Cycling’s Junior Club of the Year, he was thrilled.
“My dad was really impressed,” he said. “He was bragging to everybody.”
Other prominent members of the team include state champions Christian Husband and Doug Hall, Jordan Hirshmann, Taylor Tongate, Massimo Lucidi, and Drew and Grant Kalasky.
“We’ve basically grown from word of mouth and from being on the road,” Jeff Shein said. “At Time Trials if a rider isn’t wearing a club shirt, I might talk to their parents. And our website helps.
“We just want to develop young riders. There are Elite teams out there that are a lot better than us. We’re kind of like a farm team and we develop them for an Elite team. We don’t hold people back. We try to showcase them and allow them to move on if they have the chance.”
Cross is determined to win at nationals and go to Junior Worlds, with a long-term goal of racing in the Olympics. Michael Shein wants to race in college, and return to Europe for a second straight summer of competition.
“We’ve got about 20 riders in our club that are very active,” Michael Shein said. “I think we’ll keep growing. People are learning about us, and that’s really cool.”By Bob Stephens
This Article Updated May 3, 2012 @ 12:21 PM For more information contact: