“Going into this weekend, I really had no idea of what any of the competition was going to be, it was unknown. A lot of the people I raced with last year are now under-23s, I just had no idea.” Sam O’Keefe (C3-Athletes Serving Athletes) told podiuminsight on Sunday after sweeping the Planet Bike Cup races.
Racing four out of the eight races of the series last year, O’Keefe finished seventh behind overall winner Yannick Eckmann. He placed sixth in the US National Junior 17/18 Cross Championships won by Jeff Bahnson. Through it all, he enjoyed racing and learning.
“I think last year was really good for me, I didn’t win very much but I was pretty consistently second or third behind Yannick and Jeff and I think that was just a great experience to be able to race with those guys, even if I didn’t get to win I think it was great to ride with those guys.”
Not only was O’Keefe learning about new competitors last weekend but he also had to dust off his mud legs earlier than in most season.
“Dry conditions Saturday were pretty good just to open up the legs and see how many masters I could go through, and I ended up winning so that was good for confidence. Sunday completely different, I hadn’t ridden in mud in a year, also I’m glad I could do well both days.”
The 17-year old, on his last year as an junior rider, caught and passed most if not all of the masters 45+ riders that starting 30-second before the Junior 17/18 got underway. He now holds a 20-point lead in the USGP series over Lionel Rocheleau (Geargrinder) who finished second in both races.
“It’s pretty good.” he said with a laugh when asked what it’s like to pass the masters on his way to victory, with hecklers screaming ‘pass the old man’.
The Baltimore resident starting mountain biking at the age of 11 at a two weeks summer camp through a local shop and was hooked.
“I was actually too young for the camp but I convinced them that I was going to train and get myself ready and ended up loving it” he explained. “And then, Kris Auer who’s now my coach, was starting a team C3 Athletes Serving Athletes and I became a part of that. Then he got me into racing cyclocross and coaching me and since then I’ve been trying to develop, I just want to keep on getting better.”
“I like the power sections I think.” he replied when asked what his strengths are as a cyclocross racer.
Before the Planet Bike Cup weekend in Sun Prairie, WI, O’Keefe also swept the two UCI Charm City races.
“Last weekend at Charm City was one of my favorites, it’s got this great flow and it was tacky and it was really fast. I just like to really open it up but also, with a background of mountain biking, it’s fun to move through some turns.”
His racing was relatively light this year in preparation for the cross season. “Just training on the road and some mountain-bike races. This season I really didn’t do that much, I’ve just been doing a lot of training.”
While he was rested and fresh coming into his first races, he didn’t know how his legs would feel. “I was worried I wouldn’t have any racing snap in my legs but it’s good to know that, my goals are a lot further down the line this season.”
His ultimate goal is to make it to the Cyclocross World Championships at the end of January in Koksijde, Belgium.
“It was last year too but it didn’t end up happening but this year definitely everything sort of points to that.” he said about Worlds. “I’m hoping to go to all the USGPs, if I can keep this jersey yeah and then, Nationals of course. Also, I love doing local races and racing with my friends, have a lot of fun this season definitely.”