Young cyclist from Arden Hills competing in North Star race

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Kelly Catlin is the youngest rider competing in the North Star Bicycle Festival and she’s keeping pace with the pros, even beating quite a few of them.

Through the third stage of the five-day competition, the 18-year-old from Arden Hills held onto the top amateur jersey — a feat considering her age and experience.


She also pushed to the 17th spot among a field of 104 women cyclists during Thursday’s 97-mile road race in Cannon Falls, Minn. Catlin’s time was 12 seconds behind the winner.


She’ll continue the competition Saturday in the Menomonie, Wis., road race. The race concludes in Stillwater Sunday.


“It’s amazing… Kelly is riding next to the best women in the nation,” said John Barron, manager of the Kakookie Collegiate All-Star Team, the group Catlin’s riding with throughout the competition. “We’re over the moon.”


Though she just graduated from Mounds View High School last week, Catlin was one of eight young women across the country selected to race with the collegiate team.


As evidenced by her team’s performance so far at North Star, she is a young cyclist to watch, said Charlie Townsend, her local coach with NorthStar Developing Cycling.


“She is as talented as anyone I’ve seen in the last 40 years of racing for her age,” Townsend said. “She is already racing at an international level and her skills are still being developed… That’s very, very exceptional.”


Olympics material?


“Without speculating too far out I’d say its definitely young athletes like Kelly that do get developed with an eye for that,” Townsend said. “It’s not out of the question.”


Catlin hopped in to competitive cycling on a whim in late 2012 after getting sidelined from soccer with shin splints. With only recreational bicycling under her belt, her brother encouraged her to sign up for the Hopkins Criterium.


“Somehow I won, which was nice,” Catlin said. “It was very encouraging.”


That was the first of many wins for Catlin, who raced last year on Roseville’s mountain biking team and the University of Minnesota’s Cycling Club.


Her biggest victories include placing second among 17 and 18-year-old women at the USA Cycling Amateur & Para Road Nationals last fall and then winning in the junior division of the international tour in Rimouski, Canada.


Her performances earned her an invitation to the UCI Road World Competition in Italy, where she performed as one of three junior women for the United States team.


In a field of over 100 junior women, she nabbed seventh in the time trial event and ninth in the road race, Townsend said.


Catlin describes the experience as “terrifying.”


“I had only been cycling for a year up to that point so it was very scary to be riding among women who are a lot more experienced and I would say more aggressive,” Catlin said. “But it was also good because it helped boost my confidence.”


She trains constantly, cycling about 2.5 hours a day on top of regular practices with her local team to improve her bike control.


Both Townsend and Barron both noted her coachability.


“She has incredible motivation and mental focus and work ethic,” Townsend said. “The sport of cycling is a lot about fitness and strength… but at the highest level it’s also about tactics and tools… Kelly is a person who is really open to working on skills that are going to improve her well beyond where she is now.”


Catlin planned on going in to North Star with her usual pre-race ritual, a gentle cycling session listening to one of the violinist’s favorites: Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5.


Her biggest worry was twitching or moving around to much in the peloton, a pitfall she tries to avoid by placing her mind elsewhere, like on a fixed point down the course.


Emboldened by the unique “embrace” of the cycling community and her newfound love of racing, Catlin said she’d love to get picked up by a professional cycling team.


She’ll keep her eye on that goal as she starts in the University of Minnesota’s pre-med program this fall.


There’s just something about the way she feels cycling that keeps drawing her back to it, she


“I think my brother describes it best. He says it’s the closest you can get to flying, and I think that describes it well,” Catlin said. “You’re under your own power and you can go really, really fast. It’s just very liberating.”


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