A new hope for American track cycling is on the rise. Matt Baranoski has proven to be one of the fastest riders in the USA and now he’s ready to show that he’s got the legs to be a world-class elite racer. Last weekend, he made the crowd roar as he won every sprint event at Revolution 40 in Glasgow. This week he’s representing USA at the Pan American Continental Championships in Mexico City. So far, he’s won three National Champion titles and — as of Wednesday — holds a national record (with Kevin Mansker and Nathan Koch) and he hasn’t even celebrated his twentieth birthday yet. Despite his super fast-paced schedule, Matt was able to slow down a bit for a little Q&A with RTBL…
Matt celebrates a Keirin victory at the Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome. Photo by Gringo Rojo. RTBL:I remember seeing you win your first National title in the Keirin in 2010. At 17 years old, you became the youngest Elite National Champion in USA Cycling history. I’m bad at math — how old are you now?
MATT: I am currently 19 but it is my 20 year old race season. Last year was my first season as an elite rider.
RTBL:So how do you feel you’ve grown as a racer since that year?
MATT: Wow. I think everything has changed since then. I went into that season as ‘the kid’ and then ‘the upset of the week’ but now I am one of the top guys in the country. I have really made the transition from junior to elite racer in the past two years and have been lucky enough to have a lot of success come with it. I have definitely had my fair share of hardships and trials but I have been able to push through it and continue to do what I love.
RTBL:Between racing, training and school you’re probably a pretty busy guy. How do you balance all of that?
MATT: My life is very busy and it is not close to that of your typical college student — or your typical pro athlete. I go to school every morning this semester and then come home and train for a few hours then homework and bed. There really isn’t much time for anything else. My life is riding and school so everything else is put on hold most of the time. I have an awesome support system at home with my family. Especially my parents who make sure I can do everything I want to at the level I want. I also have some great friends who understand that I’m far from your typical teenager or college kid. I strive to be the best in everything I do so that puts a ton of pressure and sometimes stress on me. Even in school I am in the Schreyer Honors College at Penn State University and hold a 3.9 GPA. It was a sad day when I lost my 4.0 GPA.
Matt (left) sprinting past teammate Andy Lakatosh (right) last Fall to claim his third National Champ title. Photo by Pat Benson. RTBL:T-Town is your local track but you’re no stranger to traveling around the world for a race. How is the competition different from racing in the States?
MATT: The competition in Europe is great compared to the US. The sport in general is much more popular there and the programs they have are much more robust than what we have. That is not to say the competition in the States is not good — we have some amazing racers here and some of the best in the world. We just don’t have the depth of talent that countries like the UK have.
RTBL:And now you’re competing in legitimate spectator events like Revolution last weekend. How exciting was that for you?
MATT: Competing in Revolution was a great experience for me and I was looking forward to it from the day I got the invite. I had always heard of how awesome the racing is and how loud the crowds are so to be able to experience that for myself was huge. There really is nothing better than doing what you love and work so hard at in front of a stadium full of die hard cycling fans. It was definitely one of those nights where I went, ‘Damn I have the best job in the world!’
RTBL:You’ve got the Pan American Championships in Mexico City this week and possibly World Champs later this month. What are your expectations or goals?
MATT: My goals for Pan Ams are to just do my best really. I have not been on hardly at all in the past four months or so. I know my form is not ideal but I was surprised at the speed I had in Glasgow so who knows. The US Flying 200m record is a 9.8 seconds so I think it would be awesome to go under 10 seconds here in Mexico. As far as the other events we just posted a new national record in the team sprint and got bronze last night. I want to make the keirin final and have a good ride and see how it pans out.
USA’s Team Sprint with their Pan Am Championship bronze medals and a new national record. Left to right: Nathan Koch, Matt Baranoski & Kevin Mansker. Photo from Team Nater. RTBL:In American sports, track racing is on the fringes of a fringe sport. Do you have any advice for other young riders seeking support and recognition for their talents?
MATT: Haha. Track cycling is not very popular in the States so getting recognition is hard. There is an awesome cycling community though that will recognize your dedication and support you. Being a small group of people compared to other sports, we all stick together a bit and have that comradery. I think the best advice I could give is just do your thing and become the best at it and everything will fall into place. Going at it with realistic expectations helps. You’re not going to sign a million dollar contract and as crappy as it is, the cute cheerleaders in school aren’t gonna care if you just broke a national record in a sport they never heard of. Gotta do more than ride a bike to get the girls.
RTBL:You just can’t impress everyone, right?
MATT: It’s a very strange and sometimes difficult situation being a student and an athlete in this sport. On numerous occasions I have come back from trips abroad as well as in the States where you ride well and are basically a rock star and treated like that — signing autographs and the whole bit. Then you have to go to class the next day and your teachers couldn’t care less how you did. All they want to know is why your homework isn’t done. It does keep you on an even keel though — sometimes knocks ya down a few pegs.
RTBL:Last question, what is the last component you’ve changed on your track bike and how are you liking it?
MATT: The last component I changed on my track bike was my handlebars. I crashed in September and broke my collarbone and also my bars. I got hooked up with a great company, 3T, who make some of the best bars in the sport and they got me rolling again with a set of Scatto sprint bars. I absolutely love them! They are so stiff and pairing that with the front end of the Felt TK1 frame, there is no flex whatsoever. Actually took me a few starts to get used to the bars because they didn’t flex at all like my last ones. I am really happy to represent 3T and the great products they make. If your ever in need of some bars check them out.
Matt is also contesting the Keirin, Sprint and Kilometer Time Trial at the Pan American Track Championships this week. Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with us, Matt!