By John McNeilly, Contributing Writer
When Justin Mauch was a wee lad, his parents would strap him into the family bike carrier for weekend jaunts on the many cycling trails in the Washington, DC, area. The family spent vacations in exotic locales abroad, exploring bike trails there as well.
Cycling was in Mauch’s blood at a young age.
“It’s definitely a lifestyle,” he laughs. “It helps there’s so many great cycling roads around Loudoun County.”
Mauch graduated to riding tandems, then to his own bike, to regularly ride with his cycling-enthusiast parents—Larry, an aerospace engineer at Orbital Sciences Corp., his mother, Pam, an interior designer, and his older sister, Joellen (who he calls his “biggest supporter”).
By age 11, the Sterling resident was racing competitively in cyclo-cross events, a kind of cross country racing with bikes. The races include running on foot, cycling through obstacles, thick sand and hills. Mauch built a reputation as a top amateur rider and was encouraged by experienced cyclists and seasoned coaches to take up road racing.
“Justin was a bit of a late bloomer in cycling. But he’s always had a great work ethic and is willing to listen to coaching and advice,” said Susan Hefler, a cyclist and fitness physiologist who’s coached and mentored Mauch for more than a decade. “He’s always been wise beyond his years.”
As a sophomore at Dominion High School (he graduated in 2012), his road racing success attracted the notice of elite cycling teams. Mauch was a professional cyclist by 18. The past two years he’s competed in the national professional circuit under the sponsorship of the Airgas-Safeway team, as well as in U.S. national races, which determines the under-23 Olympic team.
Mauch, now 21, is about to enter into a new phase of his already accomplished cycling career.
Next year he’ll ride for the highly regarded Herbal Life-Nature’s Bakery cycling team. Although that involves racing a level below where he competed last year, Mauch said the new sponsorship allows him to ride the same races, but with far more personal freedom and flexibility, something he’s not previously experienced.
“It’s an exciting opportunity for me,” he said. “It’s going to be big for my career.”
Mauch also had a productive 2015, finishing in the top-five of the top-three U.S. national cycling races, leading the manager of the national team to label him the season’s clear MVP.
Despite his age, Mauch is freakishly focused and disciplined about his career.
He makes no bones about what he wants to accomplish during the next two years. First, to be signed to the European world tour, which hosts the crème de la crème of bike races—the Giro d’Italia in Italy, the Vuelta a España in Spain, and France’s legendary three-week-long Tour de France. He also wants to win the under-23 national championship, something he believes will bring him an important career spotlight.
Mauch says that despite his youth he feels right on schedule.
“Peaking in cycling actually happens late. The average age of a world tour rider is 29 and I believe I can compete on the world tour during the next two years,” Mauch said confidently, without the slightest trace of arrogance.
When home, his grueling training rides in Loudoun County, which can involve up to 100 miles of cycling a day, take him through the hilly terrain of rural western Loudoun. This takes him through Bluemont and Middleburg, along the Snickersville Turnpike and the brutally steep climbs and adrenaline-fueled downhill glides of Blueridge Mountain Road.
The day after Christmas, Mauch was readying for a flight to Nice, France. He’ll train there for a month with his friend and fellow Virginian, Joe Dombrowski, also an up-and-coming professional cyclist who rides for the Cannondale-Garmin team in Europe. They’ll be riding the hills and mountains surrounding France’s most cosmopolitan city, home to many of the world tour’s top cycling team managers and cyclists.
In February, Mauch will return to Arizona to resume training for the 2016 professional racing season in California, held between March and late August, where he hopes to have his “break-through moment.”
Mauch credits much of his success to the Leesburg-based bike shop, Bicycle Outfitters, and especially co-owner Mark Warner, also a rabid cycling enthusiast.
“Whenever I’ve needed equipment or assistance, Mark has helped,” he said. “His store has been unbelievably supportive of my career.”
He also speaks glowingly of Hefler, his life-long coach who recently opened a training/fitness/cycling shop, HPC Coaching, located next to Bicycle Outfitters. Mauch credits her and her husband, Pierre Pelletier, a former professional cyclist and skier, for using the latest fitness technologies to measure and set effective training metrics and regimens.
“It’s state-of-the-art,” Mauch said.
Hefler said area cycling enthusiasts are avidly watching Mauch’s career. She says no one should be surprised to see him one day riding in the Tour de France.