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As Sheffield pushed a massive 60 x 15 gear around the velodrome at 110 rotations per minute, he felt his legs burn with lactic acid, and his arms became stiff in the bike’s aerodynamic extensions. And as Sheffield pushed harder, he noticed that his peripheral vision had become darkened.
“I felt like I was looking into a tunnel that was getting smaller and smaller, with my eyes only able to focus on the straight line in front of me,” Sheffield told VeloNews. “I was just trying to keep as clean a line as possible but those last two laps were really painful.”
Sheffield pushed through the pain and completed the 3,000 meters in a time that appears to be a new U.S. and world junior record. His final time for the individual ride was 3:06.447, more than 10 seconds faster than the previous U.S. record, set by Taylor Phinney in 2008. The current world junior record is 3:09.710, set by Finn Fisher-Black in 2019.
USA Cycling must now recognize the time as a record and submit the time to the UCI before the governing body officially recognizes it as the new world record, Sheffield said. He completed his challenge according to the rules — he had electronic timing equipment to record an official time. He also had a UCI official present to officiate the ride and check his equipment prior to the ride.
Finally, Sheffield submitted to an anti-doping control following the ride.
“I checked all the boxes,” Sheffield said. “Everything was under UCI rules. It was like any other World Cup or Nations Cup event.”
Those painful final two laps came after Sheffield rocketed to a fast start around the 333.3-meter velodrome. Sheffield’s completed his first of nine laps more than a second faster than he had originally planned to, and after the fast start he had no choice but to keep on the gas and hold on.
The short race is a test of strength and of smarts — go out too fast and you risk blowing up. Go out too slow and you might not hit the right time.
“Your plan is only as good as your ability to adapt,” Sheffield said. “We knew I’d probably go out a bit ambitiously and then settle in, and there would probably be a slight fade in the last two or so laps. That’s my style, and we’ve seen it in training. In the future I want to maintain a more consistent speed and go out a tad slower. I’m still happy with how I rode it.”
Sheffield said his lap times hovered in the 19- to 21-second range. He hit a max power of 1,100 watts, and maintained an average power of 530 watts, with a normalized power of 545 watts.
Across the world several hundred fans watched Sheffield’s attempt live on the Instagram page of Hot Tubes Cycling, the Massachusetts-based development squad that has helped guide Sheffield through the junior ranks.
American rider Emma White narrated the ride, and fellow junior rider Zoe Ta-Perez was at the velodrome to cheer him on. Otherwise, the COVID-19 restrictions meant that few people could see the ride in person.
Like all individual challenges — be it a daylong Fastest Known Time attempt or a three-minute track race — Sheffield’s race came down to a test of will. As he sped into those final two laps, with his vision constrained and his legs burning, Sheffield simply had to push through the pain and discomfort to achieve his best.
And that’s what he did — and he learned a lesson that will undoubtedly help him throughout his pro cycling career.
“You get to that limit where you think you can’t go any harder, your body tells you that you can’t push any more, and that’s the most important part,” Sheffield said. “The reality is that you can give a little bit more if just push it. If you really want to leave it out there — I think that’s the difference between a world record and a personal best.”