Photo by Vishrut Garg
Track racing came to a grinding halt this summer amid the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving many athletes hanging as goal race after goal race was canceled. For 18-year-old Sophia Shuhay, this was particularly upsetting. This track sprint sensation had racked up multiple junior national titles in 2019, one elite title, and a 6th place finish at the Junior World Championships in Germany. Her sights were set on repeating her National Championship wins en route to another shot at the rainbow stripes at Junior World Championships.
Sophia resides very close to the Valley Preferred Cycling Center in Trexlertown, PA. Timed events were able to return this summer, with very strict COVID precautions, and Sophia took the opportunity to stamp her dominance on the junior leagues by breaking a pair of 19-year-old track records set in 2001 at the Junior World Championships and by legends, like Anna Meares.
We caught up with Sophia to get a little bit of insight on her season, breaking the records, and what's next!
Pre-COVID, what were your plans and goals for 2020?
Sophia Shuhay (SS): My plans for the 2020 race season were really exciting! I was planning on moving out to Los Angeles, California where I would be able to train and prepare for racing alongside my Olympic Development Teammates. As for racing, I planned to compete at the Valley Preferred Cycling Center while I was home to gain more experience with international riders. It was expected that more exposure to UCI racing would prepare me for racing at Junior World Championships, to be held in Cairo, Egypt. There, I would be competing in the match sprints, 500-meter time trial, keirin, and team sprint with my teammate Kayla Hankins. After this, I would have started preparing for future Elite World Cups.
How did you refocus after learning that Nationals and Junior Worlds were canceled?
SS: Although this was very unfortunate news, I had to keep the bigger picture in mind. My coach, Lee Povey, has done a great job at helping me understand that there will be bumps in the road, such as these. I have learned to embrace the news, and think about the future. I am in this sport to make it to the Olympics. Yes, it is sad that one of my favorite races is canceled, however, it gives me time to prepare for the future.
I also had time to remind myself as to why I really love cycling. I allowed myself to go to training... and just enjoy it, without stressing about the next race. It was also a great mental health break for me. Sometimes, racing and training consistently can be overwhelming. That is, it takes away time from the things that keep me mentally and physically healthy. So in conclusion, I was able to refocus myself because I made this time into a “recovery” period, where I was able to make myself the healthiest, and strongest version of myself.
Breaking track records from riders like Anna Meares [a multi-time Olympic and World Champion from Australia] has to feel amazing, can you tell me a little bit about how you decided to target that record and what breaking it feels like?
SS: I knew that those records stood for a long time. I also knew that based on my past performances, I would be able to break those records. So, when I did, it was a great feeling of accomplishment! I know how accomplished Anna Meares is, and I certainly look up to her. Knowing that I beat her record is a lot of motivation, showing that I too can accomplish things that she has.
The weather wasn’t ideal for your record attempts on Sunday, there were high winds, how did you work through that?
SS: At first, it was a little frustrating knowing that if the conditions were better, I would have gotten better times. I am a little hard on myself, so knowing that I only broke the record by .056 of a second, I was a little disappointed. However, I was able to move past that, and give the best performance that I could at the time. I reminded myself that I cannot control the weather and that it is what it is.
What’s next for you in 2020? Riding and school-wise?
SS: For the rest of 2020, I plan on training consistently and preparing for future racing. I have decided to wait a year to start college so that I can focus on getting out to California, and settle down on training. If possible, I'd like to be in San Diego, where my team, the American Sprint Cycling Program, is located so that I can train with them.
What is the American Sprint Cycling Program?
SS: The American Sprint Cycling Program is a Non-Profit Organization run by Rex Ainslie. The team consists of the athletes who were previously on USA Cycling's Olympic Development Program [which folded amid the pandemic]. This team was formed in hopes to gather all of the best sprint cyclists in the country and put them in a house in San Diego where they can all train, and prepare for races together. Having the athletes out in California will allow them to train on a velodrome all year round in an encouraging and motivational environment. Obviously, this would show great improvement in the riders, which would lead us one step closer to our future goals of the Olympics and World Championships.
How do you have your Fuji Track Elite set up?
SS: I have the Fuji Elite Track Elite frame. I race with Alpina handlebars, a variety of gears (smaller gears for warm-ups and larger gears for sprint workouts), an SRM crankset to measure my power output, and I use either a Campagnolo front/rear disc set up or a Mavic 5-spoke and disc combo for race day depending on the conditions and the track.
What are your long-term cycling goals?
SS: My long term cycling goals are attending the 2024 Paris Olympics, and 2028 Los Angeles Olympics. Obviously, winning the gold is the ultimate goal and what I have been dreaming of doing that ever since I was a little kid! I am also planning on attending the World Championships every year. I would also like to aid in the creation of a stable, and strong sprint program for our country, to help the development of upcoming juniors!