A total unknown on the junior cycling road-racing circuit just two months ago, Chilliwack’s Thomas Schellenberg (left in Team B.C. blue) burst onto the scene with solid showings at nationals and the prestigious Tour de l’Abitibi in Quebec.

Chilliwack cyclist bursts onto international scene at Tour de l’Abitibi

Unknown in road racing circles two months ago, Thomas Schellenberg is making a name for himself.

Things can change in a hurry.

Just ask Thomas Schellenberg.

If you’d told the Chilliwack cyclist two months ago that he’d be traveling to Quebec to ride against top international competition in a road race called the Tour de l’Abitibi, he’d have laughed it off.

But that’s exactly what happened for the teenager who started this year riding purely for fun and fitness and now has far bigger things in mind.

“Now that I’m into the racing thing I think maybe I’ll have a go at it and see where it takes me,” the 16 year old mused. “The ultimate goal I guess would be going back to nationals and the Tour de l’Abitibi and doing really, really well.

“Then maybe the national team, and going to Worlds would be a good goal.”

The absurd has become realistic now that the GW Graham student has tested himself against some of the top junior cyclists on the planet.

Schellenberg didn’t think he belonged on the same road with them until he saw an internet posting for a national selection camp and, on a whim, traveled to Vancouver.

There he joined a small group of about a dozen B.C. riders.

“They sent us up Seymour and had a time trial to see how fast we could go out and back on our own,” Schellenberg recalled. “There was a group racing simulation too and they were evaluating us the entire time.”

Schellenberg relied on his training, staying calm and composed. The toughest part wasn’t anything he encountered on the road, it was trying to explain where he was from.

“Most of these people have been doing this for their entire lives, and I showed up and nobody knew who I was,” he laughed. “They kept asking me where I lived and when I said Chilliwack they kept saying, ‘Where’s that?’

“At first I thought I was out of my league, but I figured I’d give it a shot, and when they selected me (to go to the Canadian National Championships) I stopped thinking that I wasn’t good enough.”

If his competitors couldn’t pick him out of a lineup in Vancouver, they certainly knew him after nationals in Ottawa. Racing for the first time against this level of competition, Schellenberg wasn’t the least bit intimidated.

He placed 34th in the race and 23rd in the time trial, covering 26 kilometres in 40:16.

Not long after, he got an email invite to the Tour de l’Abitibi.

“It’s a seven stage race, with each stage about 100 kilometres long, and the winner is the one who has the lowest cumulative time,” Schellenberg explained.

The tour took place in Amos, a town in northeastern Quebec.Schellenberg struggled in the first stage when one move cost him three minutes and several places in the standings. But he was solid after that, finishing in the top half of the field (approximately 140) each day.

He saved his best for last with a 34th place showing on stage seven.

The most challenging moment came on stage four, when the cyclists hit the road on a rainy day after a lighting storm had delayed the race by a half hour.

“When we finally got out there it was really sketchy,” Schellenberg said. “About 20 kilometres from the finish there was a huge wreck that took down about 20 guys.

“I was right behind it and I just stopped in time.

“You just hope no one is seriously injured and you go on because it’s ‘everyone for themselves’ at the junior level and you have to.”

Schellenberg felt good about his performance in Quebec and picked up some valuable lessons.

Most important, try to stay near the front of the pack so you don’t get caught in 20 bike pileups.

“If you can stay near the front third, I think that’s the sweet spot,” he said. “That’s where you can respond to what’s happening and hopefully not get crashed out.”

Schellenberg will still be a junior at this time next year, with a chance to apply lessons and improve his times.

He’s on the radar now, which should open doors.

“When teams are looking for riders they look to see if you can keep up at a high level,” Schellenberg said. “They’re more likely to choose you if you can, so this has given me something to add to the resume.

“I’ll just keep trying to improve throughout the year and see where that takes me.”

— Schellenberg added another entry to his resume at B.C. Provincial Youth (U-19) Championships, July 29-30 in Vancouver, finishing second in the road race and third in the time trial.