On the climb
ASHLAND — The 14-mile climb up Dead Indian Memorial Road from Ashland is a grueling 5,000-foot climb, listed as “extreme” in bike guides and touted as a ride in which cyclists climb like a mountain goat from the get-go and go all day.
Jade Rohde calls it a Wednesday after-school ride.
“It’s about an hour long,” Rohde says. “Most of the climb I do in 20-minute intervals until I get to the top.”
That’s what it takes to be the fastest 15-year-old in the country on two wheels.
This Ashland High School sophomore with the lungs of a blue whale is an Olympic hopeful in road cycling, and he’s logging the time and miles to help one day make that dream a reality.
Rohde is fresh off a 6th-place finish in December’s national finals in the 15- and 16-year-old age category, coming up short only to riders who will no longer be in his racing category next time.
He managed to grind his way into one place short of the podium filled with, you guessed it, all 16-year-olds.
So Rohde’s the reigning rider returning to this two-year classification in 2022, putting him into the pipeline for potential greatness on the international stage. He’s set to become a top dog among junior riders in an international sport in which he wasn’t even on the local radar two years ago.
The affable Rohde takes it all in stride, with little struggle to compartmentalize his basic teenage life from his wowza persona on two wheels.
“A lot of my classmates do weight training or play soccer or football after school,” Rohde says. “But I’m probably one of the only ones who goes riding almost every day.”
The road to the upper echelon of road-cycling is the same as the path to Carnegie Hall, and Rohde’s mantra is practice, practice, practice.
He rides up to 30 miles a day, six days a week. Tuesdays are his off day, but he can’t wait to get back on the tires that have catapulted him to early success. Winning races and hearing the Olympic prodigy moniker can be a bit tough for a guy who tries very hard to sink into teenage anonymity the rest of his days.
“It’s a little weird,” Rohde says of his potential future. “It’s such a huge achievement. Just that it’s possible is ...”
Rohde shakes his head. He still struggles to grasp how he’s climbed this ladder to cycling’s junior elite.
Rohde’s rise to prominence began as innocently as his smile two years ago when he asked Jennify Slawta, the mother of Rohde’s friend Fugui, if he could join them on a mountain-climb race in California.
A quick trip 6-mile trip up Old Siskiyou Highway from Ashland on a “clunker” bike exceeded expectations, Slawta says.
“I looked at (husband) John and we said, ”junior cyclist,“ Slawta says.
John built Rohde a decent bike for use under the conditions. Fast-forward six weeks with virtually no training, and Rohde joined the Slawtas at the 3,000-foot-elevation Mount Diablo climb, where the then-13-year-old Rohde won his age group by 20 minutes and earned second overall in the 18-and-under category.
Rohde was just 30 seconds out of first, and only a broken chain kept him from from top honors, Slawta says.
After various races in myriad cycling disciplines, Rohde ended up at the U.S. Nationals, where he garnered the top time for a 15-year-old in time trials.
Rohde already has landed a spot on the prestigious LUX Junior Road Team, the youngest on one of the most prestigious junior teams in the world.
Besides his demeanor and drive, Rohde has the lungs for such success, says Slawta, a long-time international cycling racer who also happens to be a Southern Oregon University professor in exercise physiology.
Rohde’s lab tests found his lung capacity was off the charts, with his maximum numbers “in the Olympic category,” Slawta says.
“I believe Jade has the talent, physical attributes and mental capacity to become an elite pro racer on the European circuit — if he chooses,” she says.
Rohde smiles off the notion of international greatness, but he doesn’t shy away from it.
His rise from goofing off on a bike to turning heads on the international scene is not lost on him.
“Since this all started, I think I’ve become even more devoted to the sport,” Rohde says. “I didn’t know what I was going to do. Maybe soccer or long-distance running. Now I know what I want to do. Cycling.”
The power ride up to the Dead Indian Plateau goes as planned. Those Olympic-esque lungs are barely taxed. The destination ride of a lifetime for some cyclists is over, for at least this sunset.
“For training, actually, I’m just going to do the same thing tomorrow,” he says.
Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.