The day Julian Levy (12) learned to ride a bike came not long after he took his first steps.
“My dad put me on a bike when I was one or two,” Levy said. “He cycled and raced, too.”
Fast forward 16 years and Levy is a competitive cyclist with a spot on the VeloSport Junior Development team, the largest junior and U23 road cycling racing program in America.
Levy competes in events for both road and velodrome cycling, two vastly different types of racing.
“Velodrome races are more fast-paced than huge, long races,” Levy said. “At most, the races will be five to 10 miles, so they’re really fast sprints and super intense.”
The velodrome itself is a 45 degree banked track, while road racing can be on flat ground, hills or around curves.
Levy also noted that he cannot even use the same equipment for the two events.
“Track cycling and road cycling are completely separate,” Levy said. “The track bike has no brakes and has a fixed gear so you can’t stop pedaling.”
Levy’s schedule is heavy during the season — he could be competing every weekend if he wanted to. As for crowds, races might have as few as 10 people but can stretch into the hundreds, and similar variety can be found in race duration.
“For the road, basically 45 minutes on the lower end for a criterium to an hour,” Levy said. “For the races that aren’t criterium, anywhere from an hour and half to three hours.”
Road races can be in the form of criterium, which is doing the most laps around a set of city blocks with a fixed time limit, or they are what Levy calls “a to b,” which is typically a race of around 80 miles in the least time possible.
While Levy might participate in 25 to 50 competitions a year, only a small portion are national selection races, which can lead to more high-profile events.
“[National selection races] are really big races that you want to win, because if you win them or do well you can get selected for the national team and compete over in Europe,” Levy said.
Before he mounts his Specialized Tarmac 2015, Levy prepares for race day by eating to succeed.
“Diet is pretty big for cycling. It’s really focused on lots of protein and lots of carbs,” Levy said. “The nights before races, I’ll eat like 3 big bowls of pasta.”
Breakfast before the race is traditionally eggs and oatmeal, but don’t be fooled: eating the right food is not all it takes to be race-ready. Pre-race jitters always appear on race day.
“It’s not like a bad nervousness, it’s more like an anticipation nervousness where you kind of get anxious,” Levy said. “It fades.”
Levy firmly believes that a large component of cycling, while it does require participants to be physically fit, is the mind game.
“A lot of [cycling] is psychological. In cycling, you can be really fit but if you’re not there mentally, you can perform terribly,” Levy said. “And it’s the same vice versa. Like, if you’re not fit at all, you won’t be able to race well.”
On the fitness side, Levy must train religiously to maintain his level of performance. What he describes as a normal practice ride is from Carmel Valley to Oceanside and Escondido — and back. Workouts and training sessions tend to occupy a substantial amount of time, especially during the season.
“Twelve [hours] right now in the off-season. When it’s the on-season I’m really training hard, so anywhere from 15 to 20 hours per week,” Levy said.
Levy admits balancing school work with cycling can be quite difficult, especially when he rides in big races or when he has to travel three to four days at a time, but Levy that otherwise, he can balance his training with school somewhat easily.
“It’s easier for training during the week because I can only train as long as the sun’s up. So I can train during the afternoon and then come home and do my schoolwork,” Levy said.
Although he has a multitude of medals, including two second-place national medals for velodrome, Levy hopes to win at least one gold medal at the velodrome nationals and at least one medal at the road nationals in the future. He is also interested in moving to collegiate cycling and, afterward, a U23 team.
When it all comes down to it, Levy cycles not just to compete, but for general enjoyment.
“I just really like being able to get on my bike after school … and just going out riding,” Levy said. “It’s just enjoyable, and when you’re really fit it’s just really fun to be able to go super fast on your bike feeling good.”