Wolfpack Civic Center Crit Racer Profile:
Sean “Young Blood” McElroy
Sean McElroy had only known about the Civic Center Crit for a week, maybe two, before coming to claim the dog tags in the men’s road category in 2013. None of L.A.’s local bike racers had seen him before, and none of them had any idea that their biggest competition that day would be a 14-year-old from Palmdale.
“It was really last minute, to be honest,” said McElroy, who had found out about the race from his friend and mentor, Rich Bartlett. “He told me it was going to be a pretty big turnout, and it was in L.A., so I just decided to go do it.”
The young cyclist may have been a last-minute entry, but he was prepared nonetheless: With three years of road racing under his belt, McElroy was already gearing up for the Junior National Road Racing Championships that would be held just a week and a half later.
“I was definitely fit, but I didn’t really come expecting to win the race,” he said of the fateful day he joined the elite ranks of dog tag holders on 2013—Jo Celso, Willo Juarez, Kathryn Donovan, Veronica Volok, Craig Streit, Evan Stade, Walton Brush, Nate Koch, Shelby Walter—and Sean McElroy, the youngest among them by nearly a decade.
And while there was much surprise to see a 14-year-old even entering the race, his performance is ultimately what blew everyone away. With Barlett in the race with him, the two were able to work the peloton and split the field.
“Rich told me that there’s going to be people just going off the front, and the guy that went, Jon [Budinoff], was right in front of me so I was on his wheel, so when he went I just went with him, not really with the intention of getting a break,” he says. “As soon as we saw the gap, I just started working; when people tried to close the gap Rich would chase them down and slow down the pace of it. He really helped me to win, it was really just a real team thing.
“After I won the race people said ‘That guy’s a Cat 1, and that guy’s a Cat 2, that you just beat, and I was a cat 3 14-year-old,” he said, “that was a definitely a big boost in my confidence going into nationals, because I knew if I could beat men I could beat kids my age.”
The next week McElroy brought the dog tags with him to Junior Nationals in Madison, Wisconsin, where he took first in the road, time trial and criterium races—wins which furthered his impressive resume even more, adding to his first Nationals title at age 11, along with his Cat 2 win at the San Dimas Classic, where he earned a green jersey as the strongest sprinter in the road stage.
McElroy has been a competitive athlete nearly all of his life. By the time he was in kindergarten he was also playing in baseball and soccer leagues. Perhaps because of these early sports, his competitive edge runs deep.
“I’ve always wanted to win, so that really drives me—just wanting to raise my hands up in the air by the finish line.”
He grew bored with soccer and baseball quickly, and started racing BMX by the time he was 8. The pump track excited him, but he really found himself at home once he hopped onto a road bike.
“I’m definitely better at road than I was at BMX,” he says, “I noticed that in the beginning, so i just started to get into it more, figuring out all the riders—eventually I just fell in love with it and just started racing.”
He says his competitive edge drives him to do well in school as well, though his daydreams often take him outside the classroom and across the Atlantic, where he hopes to one day become a World Tour racer. McElroy knows every step he needs to take to get there: working hard, staying humble, learning from those around him and having the nerve to approach the right people.
“Let’s say, if nothing goes according to plan and you know someone who can help you, you gotta be able to come up to them and approach them and know how to speak to them,” he said, “If you’re able to do that, maybe they can help you.”
This is perhaps the first lesson McElroy took to heart in bike racing: Eager to race BMX, he mustered up the courage to approach Bartlett, owner of Block Bikes and veteran racer, to ask to join his team. Ever since, Bartlett has watched the young cyclist grow into a focused road racer, and occupied a spot on his short list of heroes, along with his father Norman, and Greg Lemond. Bartlett was instrumental in helping McElroy get onto the Specialized juniors team, and his bike shop is something of a second home, a place where a budding bike racer can soak up technical and tactical wisdom like a sponge.
“He is dedicated, focused and gifted,” said Barlett. “He is one of those kids who found the sport that he is naturally assigned for.”
With the Tour de France in his line of sight, he’s putting his head down to stay grounded on the steps that will get him there, and the Wolfpack dog tags sit atop a table in the entryway to his home, a daily reminder of the taste of victory and the rewards of discipline.
He’s been tapped to join the USA Cycling team in Belgium this August, and although he’s never been there, here’s already fallen in love with Belgium.
“It’s cycling crazy over there,” he says in anticipation of the trip. What really gives him his edge?
“My biggest strength is just to have the mindset to win the race. I can sprint, I can climb, I can time trial—but if you don’t have the mindset you can’t do what you want; you definitely have to have the mindset to say you’re going to go out there and win.”
Having gotten a taste of Wolfpack brand victory, he is excited to face this year’s competition at the Civic Center Crit on Saturday July 12, where the bar has no doubt been raised as the race draws serious contenders from across the country and overseas. His only real competition in 2013 were the three men with him in the breakaway—Budinoff, Brian Forbes and Evan Stade—and all of them are back in 2014, but McElroy will be coming off Nationals, which falls ahead of the crit this year, so he’ll be poised to pose a threat to anyone who takes a place at the starting line.
About Krista Carlson
A regular contributor to the print edition of Urban Velo, Krista Carlson is a cyclist obsessed with bike polo, baking, pickles, and all things bike-y. She is a native Angeleno and is madly in love with the city and everything that makes it the beautiful, crazy place that it is.