Juventus Cycling Club knows a thing or two about developing young cyclists. Stefan Ritter is the latest example: a LAMP graduate, Stefan progressed to ride with Tracy's Juniors, continuing his road, mountain bike and cyclocross education. He joined in Jeff's track training, riding rollers in the winter, and Edmonton's outdoor 333 m Argyll Velodrome on warmer days. He regularly raced Thursday night Track League(!) to develop his track savvy.
It was obvious early on that Stefan was born to be a sprinter (he chose his parents well). A couple of years ago, Argyll Velodrome Racing Academy (AVRA) coach Cam Jennings tested Stefan to see what sort of power he could generate. The results got the attention of national sprint coach Erin Hartwell . . . "we need to keep an eye on this kid!" But Stefan was still 'just a kid' . . . and so he continued with a variety of cycling disciplines, doing well enough to compete in the Junior World Cyclocross Championships in February 2015.
Later that year, Stefan qualified as Canada's top junior sprinter for the 2015 Junior World Track Cycling Championships in Astana, Kazakhstan. He rode a respectable 200 m, yet quickly realized that there was much to practice and experience if he was to become a truly great sprinter. He continued training in Edmonton, guided long distance by Erin Hartwell.
Meanwhile, Cam Jennings of AVRA had been appointed as the Canadian Women's NextGen coach and had moved to Milton. Fortunately, after a careful talent search, AVRA was able to hire Olympian Alex Ongaro as its new head coach.
The timing was perfect. Alex and Stefan started working together at the start of 2016. Between weight room sessions at the Juventus clubhouse, and work on the track, trust developed and a bond formed. Alex Ongaro, 1984 Canadian Olympic Sprinter, had an athlete ready to absorb and practice strategy - an athlete committed to taking on the best in the world.
It was great news when Alex was named to coach the sprinters of the Junior National Team. He would be on hand to mentor and coach Stefan in Aigle, Switzerland at the 2016 Junior World Track Cycling Championship.
It became apparent to Alex that Stefan's engine and power suited the 1 kilometre (Kilo) time trial. Coach and athlete continued to work on skills and fitness necessary for the 200 m, Match Sprint, and Keirin, but focus was put on the Kilo. Rounding out Stefan's training was an emphasis on good nutrition, maintaining regular sleep cycles, and oh yes . . . finishing high school. Stefan is an honour's student, fluent in German, who plays trombone in his high school band. Diplomas were written, graduation celebrated and the intense month of June was complete.
The Canadian Junior National Team met in Milton, Ontario at the Mattamy Velodrome for a final tune up before heading to Switzerland. After a couple of weeks of hard work, Stefan and Alex were ready to see how the past months of training would pay off. The velodrome of the UCI training centre would provide an additional challenge, as it was 200 m rather than the traditional 250 m.
Stefan's first event was the Keirin and he won his qualification easily. It was in round 3 that he would turn heads: after getting boxed in at the back, he slowed to extradite himself from his poor position, then accelerated to come up and over the top, passing the entire heat to win in a stunning blast of speed.
Now the young Canadian was marked. Stefan would go on to dominate the final, but end up 4th in a photo finish. Time to regroup and refocus for the next day's event.
The Kilo is an event just long enough to send an athlete into an anaerobic state. It is a one shot, individual, timed bit of torture. A calm and steady influence, Alex provided words of encouragement as Stefan warmed up. Stefan was staged early in the line up, and was ready.
The 5 second beeped countdown, and then Stefan burst from the starting gate with phenomenal power. Riding a clean line, he delivered an exceptionally solid ride of strength and fitness, finishing in 1.01:673 - only 0.3 off the current Junior men's world record.
One by one, fellow competitors took their turn on the track, but Stefan's time continued to hold against the best the world had to offer. Stefan Ritter becomes the 2016 Junior Men's Kilo World Champion! - with a rainbow jersey, a gold medal, the Canadian national anthem echoing thoughout the track centre, and Canada's flag rising above the rest. The win is Canada's first ever Junior World Championship!
The celebration with coaches, teammates, family, and well wishers was all high fives and hugs, filled with sincere excitement. The jubilation was eventually curtailed . . . as there was still one more event on the sprinter's race card.
Stefan arrived at the track the next morning in a very happy, and enthusiastic mood. He went through his race routine and put down the second fastest 200 m time, clocking a 10:245. It was time to combine tactics with speed. Stefan easily dominated the 1/16 and 1/8 sprint finals.
Against Korea's rider, it would take until the decider for Stefan to win the 1/4 final.
Each ride takes its toll on the sprinter and each match requires a focus of energy and concentration. Thus with each ride, Alex provided support; Stefan cooled down and warmed up, prepared to give his best. The semi final was a drag race with Australia's Connor Rowley: Stefan raced 2 laps at top speed on the outside as the two vied for the lead, but Rowley prevailed. Stefan was into the Bronze medal final.
Each sprinter had raced multiple times and both were taxed. Stefan was successful in his first match against the rider from Poland. That left just one more win to access the podium. Alex knew the Polish rider, as first starter, would head down track. In a calculated fashion, he waited and with a massive heave, threw Stefan into action. Stefan delivered one last acceleration and held on to win the bronze medal.
All three junior men on the Match Sprint podium with Stefan are World Champions: Australia's Connor Rowley in the Keirin, Stefan in the Kilo, and New Zealand's Bradly Knipe in the Match Sprint. That is pretty fine company to keep.
Congratulations on your World Championship, bronze medal, and performance Stefan! Well done.