17 year-old Jacob Rathe will have a lot to tell his Lincoln High School classmates when he returns to school for his Senior year this fall.
On Monday, he’ll board a plane to Cape Town, South Africa where he’ll compete in the UCI Juniors World Championships.
I caught up with him on the Eastbank Esplanade today to find out more about his past, his preparation, and how he feels going into the biggest race of his life (so far).
Rathe is a quiet, unassuming kid who has been racing since he was 13. From his demeanor, you’d never guess that he’s such a fierce (and fast) competitor.
Earlier this year, Rathe won the Banana Belt race series (near Hagg Lake) while racing against men twice his age. Rathe says racing in Europe and competing alongside pros has opened his eyes and has helped him mature. “I took myself more seriously when I was 14 than I do now… I know now how many good riders there are out there.”
He credits his success to good coaching and help from local bike-racing mentors.
Rathe, dressed in his sharp-looking “Team USA” kit, says coach Butch Martin (a former Olympian himself) has helped him gain a keen “racer’s sense” that gives him an advantage over other Juniors.
A “racer’s sense” he says, is knowing, “…when to go [in a breakaway], who to go with, and knowing your competitors.”
In addition to good coaching, Rathe is the product of Portland’s excellent racing scene. A diverse range of races every week — from circuit races at PIR, the legendary Mt. Tabor criteriums, and track racing at Alpenrose — give Rathe myriad opportunities to test himself.
Local pros like Evan Elken and Doug Ollerenshaw have also acted as mentors for the young racer. “If we’re in a break, and I leave a gap [between his wheel and the person in front of him], they’ll point to where I need to be. That’s what it takes to win.”
Rathe says he’s not nervous for what he calls, “the biggest race I’ve ever done.” At least not yet.
Now an experienced veteran of competition, he says he doesn’t usually get nervous until he gets on the plane and arrives at his hotel.
“You don’t realize what a big deal it is until you get there. I get most nervous when I’m out pre-riding the course… you’re thinking about suffering on the climbs, flying through the corners, the finishing straight… it freaks you out.”
Several years ago, as a fledgling 14 year-old, Rathe says he “didn’t sleep for a week” before competing at Cyclocross Nationals. He ended up calming his nerves enough for second place.
How will he do in South Africa against 100 of the world’s best Junior racers? He’s hoping for a front-of-the-pack finish and at least now, he says, “I know what to expect.”