The 18-year-old Askervold, a 2014 graduate of Snohomish High School, had been doing well in races in the Puget Sound area. But as his father, Jim Askervold, explained, “Because he races locally, he didn't know who the competition was (at nationals) or what it was going to be like. ... So we went in with zero expectations.”
As it turned out, Thorsten Askervold was in for a very good surprise. Competing against other riders in the 17-18 age group, he finished first in international omnium, which is a multi-event competition similar to the decathlon in track and field, and in a scratch race, where several riders start together and race for many laps to the finish line.
Two national championships was great, but there was also even better news. By winning twice, Askervold qualified in both events for the 2014 Juniors Track World Championships, that begin their five-day run Friday in Seoul, South Korea. For the first time in his young racing career, he will represent the United States in an international competition.
“I'm still having a ‘Wow' moment,” Askervold said with a grin. “It's really crazy. I've always dreamed of doing something like this and now it's actually coming true.
“Representing the U.S. is something really big. Not many people get to do it, so it's definitely a huge opportunity,” said Askervold, whose family moved from Snohomish to Lake Stevens about a year ago.
On Sunday, Askervold traveled to San Francisco where he met up with other members of the U.S. team. The contingent then continued on to Seoul for a few days of practice before the 26-nation championships formally begin.
Much like his earlier experience at nationals, “I still don't know what to expect,” he said. “But I'm probably going to be a little intimidated at first just because this is definitely a much bigger experience from nationals.”
Askervold took up cycling about four years ago, initially as a way to cross-train for his primary sport at the time, speedskating. He was good enough in skating to win state championships, but after a few months on a bike, he decided to switch sports.
“I did a couple of races and immediately got hooked,” said Askervold, who subsequently quit speedskating.
He joined a youth cycling club called Team Zoom at Redmond's Marymoor Park, where he began training and competing. He now rides almost every day, sometimes doing vigorous workouts, other times racing, and even going for leisurely rides on what would otherwise be his off days. He is on his bike about 20 hours a week, and in the winter his mileage increases significantly as he builds endurance.
Becoming good at cycling “definitely takes a lot,” he said. “It takes talent, a lot of hard work, a lot of good coaching and it takes eating right. And definitely a good work ethic is one of the main things.”
Having athletic bloodlines helps, too. His grandmother, Francoise (Lucas) Askervold, was a two-time Olympic speedskater for France in the early 1960s, and his father was an All-American swimmer at the University of Alabama in the mid 1980s.
“He's definitely a natural athlete,” Jim Askervold said. “He's a very talented kid.”
His coach, David Richter at Seattle's Herriott Sports Performance, which offers cycling instruction and other services, said Askervold has the potential to be an elite international cyclist.
“He's still learning ... but I see a lot of young talent,” said Richter, a former pro cyclist. “Every once in a while you get someone who can go all the way if he wants, and Thorsten is one of those kids. ... It's not going to happen overnight or even in the next year, but in the next five years he could take it to the top level.”
Askervold enjoys competing in a velodrome, but he also loves road racing. And given the economics of the sport, he expects his future will be in the latter. Unfortunately for track cyclists, there is scant money available either from sponsorship contracts or national team support. Most of the money in cycling goes to the road racers.
So if Askervold's dream unfolds as planned, he will someday have a lucrative contract with a pro team and he will be racing in, and perhaps winning, the Tour de France.
In pursuit of that goal, he expects to devote his coming years to cycling. College is on hold for now, and any job he takes would probably be part-time so he can devote himself to training.
“I want to focus on cycling and see where it goes,” he said. “This is definitely my life. It's what I like to do and it's definitely something I can see in my future.”
As far as a professional career, Richter said he believes it can happen.
“It's just a matter of putting the whole package together,” he said. “That's the hard part. He's young and things have come pretty easy for him so far. But things are not always going to be easy, and that's what we're trying to prepare him for.
“But if he's willing to step up his game, he's definitely got the talent to be at that top level.”
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