As the Tour de France makes its way toward Paris, a 16-year-old from Fresno is hoping and dreaming to someday be part of the peloton.
Except Jack Maddux does more than watch cycling on TV. He's also a decorated road racer who later this month will be competing in Europe as a member of the U.S. Junior National Team.
"I want to go as far as I can with cycling," Maddux says. "And if that means going pro, then it means going pro. Right now, all I want to do is race."
Maddux comes from a family of cycling enthusiasts, but neither his parents nor his older brother took the sport as seriously as he did. Jack rode his first metric century (62 miles) at age 11 and started racing soon thereafter when members of a local team convinced his mom the sport wasn't too dangerous.
That was four years ago. Today, Maddux stands 6 feet tall (and growing) and weighs 140 pounds. He's basically all arms, legs and thin torso — the ideal cycling physique.
Cycling has several disciplines with climbing and sprinting the most common. But Maddux's favorite is the time trial, an individual race against the clock that requires riders to put out maximum effort for anywhere from 20 to 45 minutes.
"Time-trialing is 60% mental and 40% physical," Maddux says. "It's something I've always loved. I guess I'm one of those people who likes to go hard all the time."
Riding for Specialized Racing Juniors, Maddux has seven race victories this year, including a state title in the time trial. But most of those wins came against riders his own age. He's even more proud of top-10 finishes in races against adult pros and Category 1 amateurs.
Maddux wasn't at top form during last week's USA Cycling Amateur Nationals in Madison, Wis. Battling a stomach bug, he was 16th in the time trial and 17th in the road race.
"Jack beat the majority of those guys by a minute less than a month ago. He definitely would've been on the podium had he been 100%," says Felicia Gomez, a former pro cyclist from Fresno who has coached Maddux for four years.
"Despite that, he was a great teammate and had a great attitude."
Later this month, Maddux will get a taste of velodrome cycling when he heads to Pennsylvania for the USA Cycling Juniors Track Nationals. After that, it's off to Europe for 20 days of racing in Belgium and the Netherlands.
This will be Maddux's second trip to Europe as a member of the U.S. Junior National Team, so he knows what to expect: a deeper talent pool, narrower roads and competition that's a lot more cutthroat than what he sees on this side of the Atlantic.
"It's almost like how football is treated here," Maddux says. "There are fist fights on the bike it's taken so seriously. If you mess up someone's race, they'll crash you out or run you off the road."
Maddux has two more years as a junior racer. The next step is the under-23 level, which serves as a recruiting ground for pro squads like those in the Tour de France.
A handful of young American cyclists have made that leap in recent years, including Evan Huffman of Elk Grove, who's also coached by Gomez. The 23-year-old is in his first season with the Astana Pro Team.
Gomez says there's no reason Maddux can't follow in those footsteps.
"From a physiological perspective — and I don't say this often — Jack is an exciting talent," she says. "He's got incredible (testing) numbers, and he backs that up with a tremendous work ethic.
"The great thing about Jack is that he really loves the sport and continues to develop every year."
This year, Maddux made an even bigger commitment to cycling by withdrawing from Clovis North High. He now takes classes through Clovis Online School, which allows him more flexibility to train during the day and travel to races without the strain of missing class.
Maddux's parents at first weren't too thrilled with the idea. They've since come around.
"His mother and I were a little reluctant at first, but Jack is self-motivated enough that it's really working out," Dave Maddux says.
Jack Maddux trains at least six days a week, averaging about 200 miles. And most of it, he does alone. That's the sort of dedication it takes to be a pro cyclist.
"In cycling, you have to put in so many hours," he says. "But it's paying off now."
The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6218 or firstname.lastname@example.org.