Fifteen-year-old Max O'Neal attempted to win the Wenatchee Omnium in the men's category 3 last weekend in honor of his grandfather who never saw him race. He didn't win it but took second instead, becoming one of the youngest riders to make the podium in the history of the event.
Ballard sophomore finishes second overall in the Wenatchee Ominium men's category 3
Becoming one of the youngest riders to make the podium in the history of the event
Max O’Neal, a sophomore at Ballard High School, finished second in the Wenatchee Omnium this weekend, racing in the men’s category 3 division.
At the age of 15, he was the youngest rider in the race and one of the youngest riders to make the podium in the history of the event.
Nicknamed “The Missile”, O'Neal did his very first road race as an eight-year-old and this is his third season racing in the adult categories. In preparation for this season, he has been racing and training with an elite group of riders at Herriott Sports Performance, spending 10 to 14 hours on a bike during the week and racing on the weekends.
"We have high expectations for Max. He wants to be a Pro," said David Richter, a Ballardite and retired professional cyclist who has been O'Neal's coach for a year.
"Max best attribute is determination. He has the drive and will to get him there. He's doing the right workouts and I think he's on track."
O'Neal accomplished his impressive podium placement at the Wenatchee Omnium by earning a second place finish in the time trial and a third place finish in the hilly road race.
"This is my biggest achievement yet as a Cat 3," said O'Neal, who started racing in category 3 exactly one year ago at that very race.
"Last year I finished nearly last so to go from that to almost winning it is a huge leap," O'Neal said.
The Ominium consisted of three races over two days - a time trial, a criterium, and a road race.
O'Neal had to battle not just his competitors but also geography and awful weather conditions. The Wenatchee Omnium is known for its hilly course and windy conditions, but this year Mother Nature added low temperatures and pouring rain, causing part of the course to flood and some rider to develop hypothermia.
O'Neal said this race suits him well because he considers himself a time trialist and a climber.
"I like time trials (TTs) because I'm good at them," he said.
But in this race he had to battle headwinds up to 40 miles per hour and a hill.
Yet he managed to work through it and came in second with an average of 25 miles per hour.
"That's pretty good for that course," O'Neal recognized.
The criterium that followed the time trial was "not fun at all," according to O'Neal. "It started to pour down buckets and all the people that came out to watch just vanished. I thought they were going to cancel it"
O'Neal said that he likes to hear the bells, clickers, and cheering of the crowd as it motivates him.
Criteriums are his weakest event, O'Neal said. But despite the weather, a bad clip-in at the start, and swerving around a bad crash, O'Neal finished with the pack.
The road race was pivotal to do well in the general classification (GC).
The weather was no better for the second day of racing and what awaited the racers was a loop of nearly 12.5 miles and almost 1600 feet of elevation gain which they had to conquer four times.
"The road race is what got me the results in the GC but it was just nasty," O'Neal said. "This course is hard as it is and when mother nature gives you a twist like that, it makes it 10 times worse."
Even prior to the start, O'Neal said they were receiving flood warnings and some riders in the other categories had gotten hypothermia.
The race was a struggle but O'Neal fought through the weather, mudslides, the hills, fatigue, and his junior gearing to stay in the lead five people throughout the race.
The scariest moment, O'Neal said was when the leading riders came screaming down the descent and when they turned the corner, officials were frantically waving their arms, yelling at them to slow down while fire trucks and police cars stood beside the road. The course had flooded and the riders were about to go through one foot of rushing water.
"I though I was going to get swept away with the rushing water but our aero wheels just got right through," O'Neal said. "From then on it was just a game of chess of who was going to win it."
The lead racer had an eight-minute lead on O'Neal but he could still claim second on third place.
Fighting until his legs gave out, O'Neal finished third and earned second place on the GC podium.
"I liked doing this race not because it was grueling but because my grandfather passed away in Wenatchee," O'Neal said. "He never actually got to see me race."
O'Neal raced the Wenatchee Omnium for the first time in 2006 but his grandfather was on the east coast helping Hurricane Katherine victims. The following year his grandfather died of leukemia.
"I wanted to win the GC for him and I came close," O'Neal said. "I think he would be very proud."
O'Neal is competing in the Enumclaw Stage race this weekend and will be seen speeding by downtown Ballard for the Ballard Criterium on June 4, which O'Neal intends to win.
"I want to win in front of the home crowd," he said.