Summit 12-year-old surprises fellow cyclists with Tour of the Moon finish
Austin Johnson completes 41-mile loop from Grand Junction through Colorado National Monument with dad in tow
When Jacob Johnson and his 12-year-old son, Austin, toed the start line of the Tour of the Moon bike ride Saturday, Sept. 25, in Grand Junction, Austin expected to see some more kids around his age.
“There didn’t even seem to be anyone below 20 (years old),” Austin said. “I found that surprising. I thought there’d be kindergartners left and right.”
It was at the rest stop at the top of the first hill on the 41-mile, 3,100-foot elevation gain loop up and into the jaw-dropping Colorado National Monument when a race official said Austin was the youngest rider of the more than 2,000 who took to the course and one of the youngest — if not the youngest — in the event’s history.
It was quite the experience for father and son as it was a return to Jacob’s sporting roots. The father grew up in Grand Junction and remembers the days when the same Tour of the Moon course was a part of the fabled Coors Classic. Jacob can still remember when he was Austin’s age going out with his brother to cheer on the road racers. He fell in love with the sport following Colorado native Greg Lemond’s Tour de France win, becoming the first American to win the biggest race in road cycling.
Jacob never became a professional rider himself, but his love of road riding led him to try some long-distance rides of his own. That included taking on La Vuelta in his wife Astrid’s home nation of Puerto Rico. It was at the 375-mile ride, a circumnavigation of the island that stops at 42 coastal towns, where a young 5-year-old Austin first watched his dad ride, manifesting the son’s love for the sport, as well.
Since then, Austin has grown to love several mountain sports, whether that be skiing, cross-country running — he’s a member of the strong Summit Middle School team — or bike riding.
Then earlier this year, he told his dad he wanted to do the Tour of the Moon.
Knowing the Tour of the Moon would be the first organized, long-distance ride for Austin, father and son set out to prepare for the challenge. They rode on Summit County’s recpaths around Lake Dillon, up Swan Mountain Road and all the way up to Vail Pass as part of their training days. They made it a habit to do one long bike ride a week throughout the summer and even more than that during big training weeks.
As for Austin’s young age, it enabled him to register for free. And once he got to the downtown Grand Junction start line, seemingly everyone around was cheering the little guy on.
“We rode together the whole race,” Jacob said. “And I’m going to say I was keeping an eye on him, but that’s not entirely true. He kept an eye on me at times, too, and we stuck together the whole route.”
Once the ride got started, Austin soon saw he could ride with some of the faster cyclists in the pack uphill thanks to his lighter frame and endurance from living above 9,000 feet.
“It was a lot more fun because I got to pass a lot of people,” Austin said. “Also, because we were coming down in altitude from here in Frisco, it was a difficult climb, but it was still not as difficult as I thought would be. The road was in really good condition, and it was a ton of fun.”
When father and son returned to downtown Grand Junction, Austin felt what it was like to get a huge boost of energy and motivation from the crowd, capping a one-of-a-kind family ride day.
People were surprised he even took on the challenge, but Austin was surprised there weren’t other kids his age racing.
“I think one of the things you can take away from this is you … can only be the youngest person at a race until you are a certain age,” Austin said. “And don’t think that just because you’re younger you are going to get dead last. And I did better than I thought. Generally, have higher expectations for yourself. Don’t think you can’t do something just because you’re at a lower age.”
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