Aspen’s Kevin Callahan chases cycling dreams
The Aspen Times
Every time Aspen’s Kevin Callahan hops onto his bicycle, he chases his dreams.
But these days, Callahan is riding so fast his dreams are chasing him.
Callahan, a 17-year-old Aspen High School student, is in the midst of a breakout summer season of road racing. The AHS senior turned heads at the five-stage Tour of the Gila in Silver City, New Mexico.
And then he stepped right onto the podium at the annual Iron Horse Bicycle Classic in Durango.
In two weeks, Callahan will race in the USA Cycling Junior Nationals at Lake Tahoe.
“I’m excited to see how I can do against that competition,” Callahan said in an interview with The Aspen Times. “I’ve never been to Junior Nationals. I’m just going out there open-minded, going out there to have fun.”
He’s also going to Junior Nationals fresh off his racing experience at the Iron Horse, where he finished among the leaders in the prestigious road race from Durango to Silveron. And one day later, Callahan finished second in the Iron Horse criterium racing in the top men’s division.
Callahan said he broke from the Durango start with the lead group in the 50-mile road race to Silverton.
“I tried to stick with Keegan (Swirbul),” Callahan said of the second-year pro and Aspen High School graduate who went on to win the Iron Horse road race. ”But I blew up when we hit the passes.”
The Iron Horse route on U.S. Highway 550 took the cyclists from Durango and then up and over Coal Bank Pass and Molas Pass before the final descent into Silverton.
“I was cool to see Keegan out there … cool to ride with him again,” Callahan said of his fellow valley cyclist.
While 17-year-old Swirbul won the Iron Horse road race, 59-year-old Durango cycling legend Ned Overend finished second. Overend has won the race five times with his first win coming in 1983.
Callahan, who rode with the second group on the road, went on to finish sixth in his first Iron Horse race.
He moved up five spots in the criterium the following day.
“That was a really fun race,” Callahan said of the downtown criterium that included the steep climb up from downtown to the mesa where Fort Lewis College overlooks Durango.
“It was a pretty hill course,” he said, recounting the four-lap course that required four ascents of the Fort Lewis hill.
He said he and a group of five riders broke away on the second lap.
On the final lap, he said Swirbul pulled away to a solo lead.
That left Callahan dueling with the veteran Overend for the second position.
Callahan eased across for his second-place podium finish.
“Ned was … very fast. I couldn’t believe the guy,” Callahan said of Overend.
The Aspen cyclist had opened the road racing season in New Mexico a month earlier. The long-running Tour of the Gila included five consecutive days of racing — a new experience for Callahan.
“I didn’t know what to expect,” Callahan said. “It was definitely a learning experience.”
He raced in the Cat III men’s category for the first time.
Last fall, Callahan led the Aspen High School mountain bike team as its No. 1 racer.
Callahan, the son of John and Kathleen Callahan, said he grew up around bicycles.
“My family was always into bikes,” Callahan said. He raced a bit as a youngster, but mostly rode with friends.
But as a teenager, Callahan said he wanted to race again.
His father set up a training plan and a race schedule, and Kevin Callahan was off and pedaling.
“Last year, I really enjoyed (racing),” Callahan said, adding that he wanted to take his racing to a higher level.
He said he really enjoyed the team camaraderie of high school mountain bike racing.
“And those are some hard races,” he said.
Road racing, he said, is a completely different sport from mountain biking.
And he’s really enjoyed his foray onto the road.
“There is a lot of suffering (in cycling),” Callahan said, adding that intense sports help take your mind off school or work.
“I just like racing … being in a pack and making split-second decisions,” he said.
Callahan said he’s advanced in part because of the support of Aspen cyclists.
“There is a whole cycling community in Aspen,” he said, adding that he regularly races in the Aspen Cycling Club weekly races. “Everyone is super-supportive.”
Callahan said he hopes to pursue cycling when he graduates from Aspen High School.
“I think I’ll take a gap year,” he said, “and race.”
Depending on how that transpires, he said he may race collegiately when he does go to college.
“It would be really cool to take this to the next level,” he said.
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