Junior Rider: Doing the Homework

If you are thinking about riding with the Junior team, you will quickly get to know Joe “Pepe” Sullivan and his trusty steed, El Diablo. Pepe only started riding four years ago. He happened to come across a bike just his size and decided to give this cycling thing a try.

Joe Sullivan Pepe Higher Gear Gearhead Junior Juniors RacingHe did his first race in 2010, the Glencoe Grand Prix (a fun day of racing and spectating, for anyone in the area who doesn’t already know). Pepe looks back on that day and sees many areas where he could have done better. But that was only his first race, and many were to follow. Each year, Pepe added more races to his schedule. Now he’s doing about 20 races per year.

Pepe regards most of his past experience on the bike as riding versus racing. “I didn’t truly begin racing until last year.” Last July, Pepe watched – really watched “end-to-end” – the Tour de France in its entirety.

Watching cyclists at that level, especially the sprinters like Mark Cavendish, Andre Greipel and Kittel, inspired Pepe to take a really hard look at what he was doing on the bike. The Tour sparked him to get into gear. “Before that, I hadn’t actually done a full year of training. Before that, I was just riding.”


Monsters of Midway Criterium Crit Joe Sullivan Pepe Higher Gear Gearhead bike bicycle race racing


For the 2014 season, Pepe has kicked up his training and his ride. He’s currently racing on a Specialized Venge, a menacing looking aero road bike in black and red that he’s dubbed “El Diablo.”

On his new steed, Pepe is currently riding 120 miles per week. Once school is out for the summer, he anticipates putting in 160-170 miles per week. He currently does the bulk of his training solo, but is inviting other Junior riders to join him Friday evenings, beginning June 13th.

Pepe says that most days, he rides north from Evanston to Tower Road. That gives him enough time to warm up and then decide which route he’ll take from there. He doesn’t have a regimented training schedule; it’s more about getting out and riding.

Pepe’s more of an intuitive cycling pupil. He learns from his mistakes in racing. He’ll watch races to check out the pros’ techniques. Often, he’ll talk with James Little, a mechanic in our Wilmette location and a former cycling coach, to get pointers. Then, Pepe takes to the streets to do his homework. Practice, practice, practice.

Joe Sullivan Pepe Lincoln Park Criterium Crit Chicago XXX Higher Gear Gearhead warmup warming up bike race bicycle racingWith work, Pepe has seen a real improvement in several areas. He says he has a better understanding of how to properly fuel before a race and he has more respect for the role of warming-up prior to a race. He’s worked to improve his cornering. “Fort Sheridan is a great place to work on hugging corner after corner.”

Another area Pepe has grown as a racer is in something less tangible. Pepe describes it as “how to feel out when you’re racing – which people to stick with, what people will do and how to react.” That’s something that comes with experience and with a level of attention only someone passionate about a sport will comprehend.

While he will race cyclocross in the off-season and participate in road races and time-trials, Pepe says his favorite races are criteriums. “It’s a lot faster than anything else. It’s really fast.” Another element that he finds exciting about criteriums is how you have to be on your game the whole race. “One mistake, like not hitting one corner, could be the end of your race.”

With the amount of time Pepe is putting into his training this year, he should be making fewer and fewer mistakes. With each race, he’s learning something new and practicing his skills on El Diablo during the week.

Pepe’s advice to anyone considering racing as a Junior: “Ride your bike. Ride it a lot. The moment you think you’re prepared enough, you’re not.” With that in mind, Pepe keeps putting in time in El Diablo’s saddle, doing his homework.



Joe Sullivan Pepe Higher Gear Gearhead cyclocross CCC Chicago Cup




Need Help? Have Questions?

Highland Park | 847-433-2453
Wilmette | 847-256-2330

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