On Saturday, 16-year-old Henry Lord will hop on a plane and fly 3,000 miles to Ireland for the biggest competition of his life.
Those are the easy miles.
The Traip Academy junior and Kittery, Maine, resident has been involved in bicycle racing since he was 9, the oldest child in an athletically competitive family.
On Tuesday, he’ll begin the Junior Tour of Ireland, a six-day stage race that will cover nearly 350 miles and pit him against some of the best under-18 cyclists in the United Kingdom, Europe and beyond.
“Yeah, a little nervous,” he said earlier this week. “It’s the biggest race I’ve ever done against the best people I’ve ever raced. But I’m really excited. It’s going to be an awesome experience.”
Lord earned the right to compete in the largest junior stage race in the world by his performance at a New England Talent ID camp last month in Northfield, Mass., sponsored by USA Cycling. The weeklong event recorded cyclists’ performance in three rides, including a four-mile uphill test, and took measure of their watts per kilogram, an important cycling power metric.
Candidates, who had to be at least 16, were also graded on their ability to handle a bike and their demeanor, how they would represent the U.S. in an international event. When the team of five was chosen -- a similar West Coast ID camp produced another team of five -- Lord was on it.
“He kind of eyeballed this opportunity and decided, when he was old enough, he wanted to do everything he could to make it,” said his mother, Olivia. “Basically, he’s just had his head down and has been training so hard. … I’m so proud.”
So what makes a strong cyclist? Physically, there’s not much about Lord that stands out. He’s 5-foot-9 and wiry, just another teenager growing into his body.
But if work ethic and will could be measured, say those who know him, he’d score off the charts.
“For a 16-year-old, it’s pretty impressive,” said Bill Shattuck, his coach with the AP Junior Development Team. “He’s a pretty driven kid. I have adults that I coach that will tell me their goals, and two weeks later they’re doing something else. With Henry, no.”
Both of Lord’s parents are athletes. His father, Matthew, a New Hampshire native, was a competitive mountain biker. Olivia Lord, who is from New Zealand, competes in triathlons, including grueling Ironman triathlons. Younger sister Poppy is involved in cyclocross racing.
“We all race and ride,” said Olivia.
Henry Lord has also raced in cyclocross, which is largely off-road, competing in last year’s national championships and also the World Cup in Waterloo, Wis. He said he enjoys all forms of cycling and doesn’t want to focus on just one.
“I’d like to become a professional cyclist,” he said. “That’s my goal, to turn this passion for racing into a career.”
The six stages of the Junior Tour of Ireland, which begins in County Clare, are broken down, in miles, roughly like this: 30, 59, 56, 68, 77 and 48. For cyclists like Lord, whose weekly mileage is between 250 and 350 miles, it’s manageable.
“I haven’t really set any specific goals because it’s going to be the hardest race I’ve ever done,” he said. “I’m just trying to go into it and do the best I can.”
As one of the youngest and least experienced members of the U.S. team, Lord’s role will likely be a supporting one on the team, said Shattuck. Just being there, regardless of where he finishes, is a big achievement.
“This is the first major step,” said Shattuck, who has coached Lord since he was 14. “He’s on U.S. Cycling’s radar.”
One of his teammates in Ireland is Chris Golden of Proctor Academy, whom he competed against in the Northern New England high school league. Lord was instrumental in starting the three-member Traip team, which his mom coaches.
Next week will be the next step on his cycling journey. An international one.
“A kid like Henry, for lack of a better term, is a little obsessive-compulsive,” said Shattuck. “He’s detail-oriented and he doesn’t like missing out on the best rides.
“He’s going to have to be able to handle bad roads, bad weather and a different culture. But he can do it.”