Two Former Penn State Lehigh Valley Cyclists to Compete in the Rio 2016 Games

Posted by Brittany Garzillo on

Shortly after 9 a.m. on a quiet summer morning in Berks County, Bobby Lea is more than halfway into his first workout of the day.

“An average training day usually has three workouts, and I’ll start first thing in the morning with an indoor workout,” Lea said.  

He breaks for breakfast and rides the road; a road that leads to the Rio 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil.

“We are going all in for a medal. Make no mistake about it,” Lea said.

In June, we followed the three-time Olympic cyclist on a day of training as he gears for the games.

“It’s long days. It’s ten to twelve hours, from the beginning of the first workout to the end of the last workout,” Lea said. 

Circling the track at the Valley Preferred Cycling Center in Trexlertown, he prepares for his upcoming event called the Omnium. It consists of six events, both sprint- and endurance-specific. Points are rewarded for each event, and the person with the fewest number of total points wins.  

“As they say, ‘it’s chess, not checkers,’” Lea said. “We have spent four years working very deliberately on all of the moving parts.”

They work in pursuit of one perfect ride.

“The Olympics is the destination, but really enjoying the ride and appreciating it for what it is, is really the beauty in the whole sport,” Lea said. “Really, for any sport, the destination is just that; that is the end of the road, and then the journey is over.”

Bobby’s Olympic journey almost ended after he tested positive for the narcotic, noroxycodone, in 2015.   

“I had to spend a lot of time figuring out how to come to terms with the fact that maybe my career was already over,” Lea said. “But now, every day is a bonus here.”

After nearly a lifetime pushing pedals at 32 years old, Bobby said that this year will likely mark the finish line of his full-time cycling career.

“This will definitely be my last run with the Olympics,” Lea said. “As the saying goes, ‘you never say never and always,’ but the most likely scenario is that this will be last year of full-time racing.”

For Bobby’s teammate and fellow Pennsylvania native Matt Baranoski, the journey to the Olympics has just begun.

“It’s a lifelong goal to go to the games, and now we have a couple weeks to prepare and try to go from being an Olympian to an Olympic Medalist,” Baranoski said.

In his hometown of Perkasie, you can watch Matt and his father and full time coach, Mike, whiz by at speeds around 40 miles per hour. 

“I race in what’s called the Keirin,” Baranoski said. “The Keirin is probably the most fun you can have on a bike. It’s eight laps on a 250-meter, which is the standard international racing track.”

The 23-year-old student at Penn State University said he learned how to ride a bike at three years old, and was racing on the track by age six.

“Bobby’s actually played a fairly large role in my cycling career,” Baranoski said. “He was one of the guys, when I was six and seven years old, that taught me how to race on the track and really helped me fall in love with the sport.”

In 2010, at age 17, Matt became the youngest American to win an elite track national championship, according to USA Cycling. Today, Matt holds multiple collegiate national championship titles, among other awards.

“Somedays you can’t tell if Matthew won or Matthew lost. That’s just how he is,” said Linda Baranoski, Matt’s mother. “He’s very calm, and that’s how I think Matthew can stay in the game. He doesn’t ever let anything get to his head.”

Matt holds on to one word—“believe.” It’s written on his handle bars and on the wall of his home gym.

“It really started when I was like 14, and I think my mom was the first one who did it,” Baranoski said. “I think she wrote it on my bike and was like, ‘you just have to believe.’ If I believe in myself, I can win any race,” said Matt.

Together, Bobby and Matt will represent the U.S. Olympic track cycling team during the Rio games, which run Aug. 5-21.

“Medal or no medal, we are a part of the same club,” Lea said. “We are all Olympians, and we are all appreciated for the same thing and are there for the same purpose,” said Bobby.

That purpose may not be about winning or losing, but enjoying the ride.

“At the end of the day, it’s still just a bike race,” Baranoski said.

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