A Winning Summer Around the Globe
Thomas Wrona had quite a summer last year. An amazing summer, actually.
The 17-year-old Union Pines High School junior traveled all over the globe competing in cycling events and along the way became a national champion and the Tour of Ireland champion.
Wrona has worked hard to accomplish such impressive feats, beginning in 2005 when he first raced a bicycle competitively. Prior to last spring, most of his races had been in the southeastern United States with Hot Tubes, a cycling team based in Massachusetts.
Last summer, though, he hit the international road. Cycling took him to Belgium, France, Switzerland, Ireland and Russia.
It all started in April with his first trip to Europe. In Belgium, he rode in a road race that covered about 80 miles and more than three hours. In France, he competed in a three-stage event. He finished fifth in one of two road races of around 65 miles.
“I was really happy about that,” Wrona said. “It was the first day, and I got into what is called a breakaway with the group at the front.
“There was also a time trial where individuals are started in intervals, and the rider with the lowest time wins. I didn’t feel too good and didn’t do too well.”
After returning home, Wrona thought he would be there for a while. Instead, he headed for Switzerland in mid-May.
“I went with the National team,” he explained. “I wasn’t planning to go, but I was a replacement for a guy who’d had a concussion.
“It was kind of a rough time for me in Switzerland. First, we had a four-stage road race, and I felt like I didn’t have any energy at all. It was like that the whole time — around 240 miles — and I was struggling at the back of the pack all of that time.”
Following the road race, the team trained for a week on a velodrome, an oval track consisting of two steeply banked circular bends connected by two straightways.
“It was my first time doing that,” Wrona said. “Those were really hard rides.”
A Win in Georgia
Back in the U.S., he competed in the Juniors (17-18) division of the National Championships in Augusta, Ga., in late June.
Things started well with fifth place in the time trials. “I was very happy with that,” said Wrona, whose best finish had been seventh in four previous Nationals.
He had two days to enjoy it before the criterium, which is a lap race around a track, approximately one mile long. There were 150 riders in the field, and the day was sweltering.
“I got into a breakaway with two other guys with probably eight laps to go,” Wrona recalled. “When it came to the last lap, the three of us were still together. About the middle of that last lap, I attacked and won the race.”
He was presented a medal and a red, white and blue National championship jersey.
“I get to wear that in any criterium I enter until somebody else wins it,” Wrona said. “Winning that was really cool. I didn’t expect to win, and when I did, it was shocking.”
Asked if he jumped up and down or shouted in celebration, Wrona said, “No, I don’t show a lot of emotion. I was happy, but I basically kept it inside.”
Two weeks later, in the middle of July, he was off to Ireland with four other members of the Hot Tubes team.
The Junior Tour of Ireland was a six-stage race for 320 cyclists. “It was the biggest race I had ever been in,” Wrona said. “One of my teammates, Austin Boswell, had the yellow jersey (signifying the overall leader) for the second and third stages. On the fourth, I got into a breakaway and ended up winning that stage, and I got the yellow jersey. That was thrilling.
“Starting the fifth day, I had the yellow, and three of my teammates were third, fourth and fifth, and the other one was right near the top 10.”
Wrona had three flat tires that day, and he still made it back to the first group of riders.
“I managed to catch up with a kilometer to go and finished in 10th place or so, but I didn’t lose any time. They do it by time, so I kept the yellow jersey. I was really relieved and really tired.
“The final day was a really steep climb,” Wrona said, “and it finished going up. It was scary because I was only 30 seconds ahead of the second-place biker. I could have lost it easily.”
But he didn’t. Wrona won. At the ceremony, he stood on the podium and was presented a trophy. But that was not the most important thing.
“I got the final yellow jersey, which was very cool. Hot Tubes won the team championship, too, so it was a great day all around.”
One More Trip
Wrona had one more trip, and it was a long one.
“I flew back to Belgium to be with the National team. We did a lot of stuff — a couple of training sessions and two stage races — and then we went to Moscow.
“We were on the track for a team time trial. For that, there are four riders on the team, and you have to finish with at least three together. Our team averaged 35 miles per hour in a four-kilometer pursuit.
“We didn’t do great in terms of where we placed, but we broke the Americans’ Juniors record by 10 seconds. It was a record that had stood for over 10 years.”
It was near the end of August when he finally got to come home for good.
“It was a great summer,” Wrona said, “but I got really tired after Ireland. It was a long summer, but it was definitely a good summer.”
This is his last year in Juniors competition. So, what’s next?
“I’d like to turn pro,” Wrona said. “I want to keep racing bikes as long as I can.”
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