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Magnus Sheffield is making lemonade out of 2020’s many lemons.
Earlier this year Sheffield, the bronze medalist at the 2019 UCI junior road world championships, watched in anguish as the UCI called off the junior and Under-23 races at the rescheduled 2020 UCI road worlds in Imola, Italy. The decision meant that Sheffield, 18, lost the chance to ride for the win in his final year in the junior category.
“At first I didn’t believe it because I had been really optimistic after the [Switzerland] worlds were rescheduled,” Sheffield said. “So much effort had gone into training, so to lose it was pretty tough.”
Rather than sulk, Sheffield came up with another way to test himself and put his fitness and training to good use. Sheffield plans to attempt to break the U.S. and perhaps the world record in the 3km individual pursuit at the junior level, a solo test against the clock on an indoor velodrome.
Sheffield will embark on this challenge on Thursday, November 19 at 2:30 p.m. at the 7-Eleven Velodrome at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, CO.
“This is something I could train for on my own time. It’s a little bit like a FKT [Fastest Know Time] challenge because you can do it by yourself,” Sheffield said.
The current world junior record in the 3km pursuit is held by New Zealand’s Finn Fisher-Black, who set the mark of 3:09.710 in February 2019 in Cambridge, New Zealand. Taylor Phinney holds the U.S. record in the junior 3km pursuit — he stopped the clock at 3:16.589 in June, 2008.
Sheffield says his efforts in training are hints that the U.S. and world records are attainable. During a dry run effort earlier this month he recorded a 3:08.8, he said. While not official, the time is a sign that Sheffield is capable of setting a new mark. For his training race, Sheffield pedaled a massive 59×15 gear ratio. Unlike road racing, junior track efforts of this nature do not require riders to pedal smaller gears.
Sheffield described the effort as both a feat of strength and of patience. A rider must start extremely strong and then gauge his or her effort in the opening laps as to not blow up at the race’s midpoint.
“It’s like doing a standing cyclocross start — you’re doing 1,200 watts from the beginning, and then you have to sit down and hold on,” Sheffield said. “You’re never doing less than 500 watts the whole time.”
He has studied Italian pursuit champion Filippo Ganna‘s efforts in the 4km pursuit as a model for his 3km attempt. Ganna, Sheffield said, tends to build speed throughout the effort, trimming hundredths of a second off each lap time until the final lap. That’s how Sheffield hopes to pace himself.
“You can go out too hard and really pay for it on the back end,” he said. “It’s this balance of pushing yourself to the limit and holding it for three minutes.
“It’s a tricky game,” he added.
Sheffield rides or the Hot Tubes development team, and for 2021 he is slated to join Rally Cycling and make his professional debut in European racing. A former ski racer, Sheffield got his start racing cyclocross before committing himself to road cycling in 2019.
This is the first time he’s trained seriously on the track, and his preparation for the attempt has included three sessions per week on the track with USA Cycling coaches. Whether or not Sheffield is able to set the fastest mark will come down to his strengths, smarts, and ability to manage pain. As one could imagine, a three-minute all-out effort is highly uncomfortable.
“The first few laps you feel awesome — you feel like you’re flying,” Sheffield said. “The real pain comes after you’re done. Blood in your mouth, your throat is one fire, that kind of stuff.”