Newman grad Piasta making swift cycling impressions

By PHIL BARBER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

It was the recurring nightmare that follows some of us decades after we’re no longer suiting up for gym class. John Piasta got to downtown Augusta, Ga., site of the USA Cycling Junior Men’s 17-18 National Criterium Championship last Friday, and discovered he had forgotten his padded shorts at the hotel.

A recent second-place finish might help Newman grad John Piasta land trip with U.S. Junior National Team. Photo courtesy of Anne Hamersky

Piasta’s mom saved the day and retrieved the shorts, but the race proved equally unsettling. The strategy for the Sonoma County-based All Sport-Team Swift group was to set up sprinter Tyler Williams for the finish. Piasta’s job was to draw out top opponents and wear them down, giving Williams an edge when it mattered most.

Instead, Piasta hung on for a second-place finish, an impressive result that might help the recent Cardinal Newman graduate land a trip with the U.S. Junior National Team.
Conditions in Augusta were less than ideal for a California kid: over 100 degrees, with humidity at a withering 95 percent. Team Swift coach Laura Charameda covered her riders with icy towels and shaded them with umbrellas before the 50-kilometer race, but the efforts were nearly futile.

“You were just drippin’ sweat,” said Piasta, who flew home to California on Thursday. “Some riders were taking four water bottles for an hour’s race.”

Of the 132 cyclists who started the race, 47 dropped out because of fatigue or crashes.
Piasta, however, felt strong. He inched his way toward the front of the pack, then watched as one rider after another tried to pull away from the pack, only to fall back after failing to draw a response.

“There were a lot of strong teams there, and everyone wanted to get noticed,” Piasta said. “Everyone was like attack, attack, attack.”

With 10 laps left, Thomas Wrona of the Hot Tubes team mounted a solo attack, pushing his gap to about 15 seconds before Piasta joined the chase. Piasta was still focused on forcing Williams’ main opponents to pick up their pace, but he overestimated them. Orlando Road Club’s Lucas Wardein bridged the gap with three laps remaining. The other contenders were pooped.
Wrona made a final sprint on the last lap and proved uncatchable. Wardein cramped up. Piasta cruised to a silver medal, two seconds behind the winner.

“I’m so happy for John that after that hard work and dedication, he was able to get a podium finish,” Charameda said. “I can’t think of anyone who deserves it more.”
Piasta can add that result to a victory in the Northern California/Nevada Junior Criterium State Championships and a second-place finish in the Northern California/Nevada Junior Road Race State Championships this year.

Those are satisfying accomplishments for a young man who didn’t even own a bike when he joined Team Swift 3½ years ago. He describes himself as “terrible” that first season with the team, and even his athletically oriented family — he’s the youngest of seven siblings — was a bit mystified by cycling. But Piasta was fascinated with the bikes, and once he gave up soccer and focused on the road, he gradually became a strong racer with the help of Charameda, mentor Tim Farnham and Team Swift “graduates” like Steven Cozza.

Along the way, Piasta had to do some bulking up. He grew four inches his freshman year of high school, without adding a pound, and was 6-foot-1, 135 pounds when he started cycling. That was fine for endurance rides, but he needed power for sprints.

“Last year, I made him gain 15 pounds — then I told him to gain five more,” Charameda said. “He grew so fast, he was just a string bean.”
Piasta added some weight and has blossomed into a versatile cyclist. He can climb, he can ride for endurance and he can hold his own in time trials. He’s also a natural leader, a team captain who spends a lot of time helping the younger riders.

That’s par for the course at Team Swift, which has quietly become one of the nation’s best developmental programs under the direction of Charameda, winner of more than 250 races in her cycling career. Unlike some top teams, this one doesn’t recruit from other organizations. It trains its own local athletes, some of them as young as 10.

The results have been incontrovertible. Team Swift’s honor roll includes the likes of Cozza, who currently rides professionally for Team NetApp and owns a stage win in the Vuelta a Chihuahua Internacional; Ryan Eastman, who recently traveled to Europe with the U.S. Junior National Team; and Lindsay Myers, who took second place in the Women’s U-23 Road Race at Augusta.
Piasta would like to follow them, but must wait to see if he gets an invite from the national team.

In the meantime, he has enrolled at UC Davis for the fall. It wasn’t an easy decision. Some young riders delay college for the sake of immediate competition. Others go to school for a year or two, then take a break for riding. Some try to balance the two concurrently. Piasta isn’t sure which way he’s going, but he chose Davis for a reason. Besides the strong academics, he will have access to good weather and competitive races in Northern California.

He also will be close to his support network, including Charameda and Farnham. In case he, you know, forgets his shorts again.

You can reach Staff Writer Phil Barber at 521-5263 or phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com.