Producing 400 watts of power on a bicycle is no small feat. To sustain that output for three and a half minutes, and you’re talking about an elite cyclist who is at the very least, dedicated to the conditioning and “suffering” that mark the sport.
John Willcox, 16, qualified for Canada’s junior national track cycling team in April when he circled the Burnaby velodrome (with a much steeper bank than the West Shore Velodrome) for a total distance of three kilometres in three minutes and 30.92 seconds.
It was .13 seconds off the standard but still the fourth fastest among juniors (aged 16 to 17) in the country, enough to earn the Reynolds secondary student selection to Canada’s junior team for the UCI Juniors World Track Championships, Aug. 19 to 23 in Kazakhstan.
“Willcox is an athlete first and foremost, he’s quite talented at picking up movements quickly,” said his coach Jeff Ain. “You can see it in the gym, or if he runs. Without pumping (Willcox’s) tires too much, he’s an exceptional athlete, and you can definitely see it on the bike.”
During the school year Willcox spent mornings in Canadian Sports School at the Pacific Institute for Sports Excellence, and afternoons at Reynolds. Otherwise he’d train on his bike, checking in on a regular basis with Ain, head coach of the the Cycling NextGen program run by the Canadian Sport Institute at PISE.
Ain has coached top cycling talent with NextGen at PISE since 2013, including Oak Bay’s Adam de Vos, 21, who many consider Canada’s top male cyclist in the under-23 age group.
Willcox started in the sport as an 11-year-old, competing in the Victoria Cycling League’s open category D. But his true passion for the sport started as a 10-year-old, when his family, mom, dad, and older sister, did a 5.5-month bike tour of Europe.
“I think the gear and bike together weighed as much as me,” Willcox said. “I remember the front and back panier were loaded, and I only weighed 75 pounds, maybe.”
They hit Britain, Holland, France, Czech Republic, Germany, Switzerland, and about two hours of Italy (during a day of Swiss riding).
“It definitely grew my love for cycling,” he said.
Until this year Willcox wasn’t a follower of the international pro cycling scene, such as the Tour de France. But that’s changing now.
“I’m starting to watch it more now that I understand it.”
Last year Willcox took a big leap towards his current status as a national team member when he won the cadet age (15 and 16 year old) national individual pursuit track championship.
His fourth place finish this year is just as big an accomplishment, as he is the only first year junior (17-18) to earn selection onto Canada’s five-member world junior track team. He doesn’t turn 17 until October, when he’ll be in Grade 12 at Reynolds.
“The individual pursuit is a key indicator for selection, to be fourth among all the juniors is exciting,” Ain said. “It allows the selectors to judge how well you’re able to do in other events, such as bunch races, to see if you’re tactically and technically smart too.”
Willcox’s focus is a mix of track endurance and road cycling and will continue that way. He enjoys road racing, evidenced by his Cat. 3 win of the Legislature Grand Prix during the Robert Cameron Law Cycling Series on June 7.
“What Willcox has shown is he’s progressing quickly,” Ain said. “The next step is the national men’s track endurance program, which he has access to as a member of the national team.”
The next big race for Willcox is the Cycling Canada Junior Road National Championships in Thetford Mines, Que., July 2 to 5.
Following that, Willcox will travel to Amsterdam in August for a two-week prep camp ahead of the World Juniors Track Championship. That’s when Team Canada will decide which races Willcox will compete in Kazakhstan.
Willcox does have to pay a portion of his way and is open to sponsorship at johnwillcox.com.