Champion cyclist keeping feet on ground with Torrey Pines High School cross country team

Competitive cyclist Mark Yaroshevsky rode solo to an international championship and a state title at his former home in New Jersey.

But for the next few months he’ll be taking the team approach, hitting hilly trails with his feet and mountains of pasta with his fork.

The 16-year-old East Coast transfer, who just blew into San Diego County earlier this month, will compete on Torrey Pines’ cross country team.

Yaroshevsky is no slouch on the running trails. He was the No. 2 runner at West Essex Regional High (North Caldwell, N.J.) last season. But his future is on the bike. His most notable accomplishments include winning the prestigious Borchtlombeek race in Belgium earlier this summer and the New Jersey state criterium championship in 2013.

He believes running is an integral part of his training regimen, noting that the sport helps build strong bones and strengthens muscles that don’t figure prominently in cycling.

But that’s not the only reason he’s doing it.

“From running you get a great team aspect, you train with your team,” he said. “You have pasta dinners beforehand and you race together. It’s just a huge team sport, and that’s what you don’t get from cycling.”

Yaroshevsky also gets the benefits of cross-training. His cycling coach, David Wenger, encouraged Yaroshevsky to pick up running for that reason.

“Running cross country is only a benefit to my cycling training because riding my bike all year round as a kid really isn’t too good for you,” he said. “Having a cross training like running is really good for your muscles and your development.”

He said cyclists who ride all year don’t develop enough muscle and bone strength.

“Cycling is a such a low-impact sport,” he said. “If you just ride your bike all year round, your muscles really aren’t as strong and running kind of gets you a little stronger that way. That’s why when cyclists crash, more often than not they break bones.

“Looking at the benefits it could have on my cycling, I realized, ‘why not do it?’ It’s such a great thing for me.”

It could also be a great thing for Torrey Pines.

Falcons coach Brent Thorne said it’s not certain what role the Garden State sensation will play on his cross country team, but he’s intrigued by Yaroshevsky’s potential.

“With a guy who’s a junior who’s highly athletic, even if it’s not running , it’s like, ‘how will he adjust to being out here and where will he fit in on the team?’ We’re all kind of interested to see how that will work out.

“He’s very fit and very much an athlete, that’s for darn sure.”

And he’s made friends quickly.

“He seems to be very comfortable,” Thorne said. “Being uprooted and moving right before your junior year can be difficult at times.”

Thorne said he’s had swimmers compete on the cross country team, but doesn’t recall any competitive cyclists doing so. Former Falcons cross country standout Zach Paris went on to be a competitive triathlete. Paris competed for the Olympic Junior Development team.

Decades ago, it wasn’t uncommon for athletes in other sports to run cross country. The numbers of athletes from other sports competing in cross country started dwindling in the mid-1990s, with the proliferation of club and travel teams. These days, it’s a rarity.

“We always talk about how our old teams had baseball players, more soccer players and more basketball players,” Thorne said. “As far as the team; the club sport situation and the specialization at an early age have just changed things so much.”

Yaroshevsky hopes to compete professionally and has Olympic aspirations too, but said it’s too early to project how far his cycling career will go. Cyclists typically peak in their mid- to late 20s, he said, meaning he probably wouldn’t even be considered for an Olympic berth until 2024 at the earliest.

He considers his first-place finish at the Borchtlombeek race earlier this month to be the highlight of his career.

“That was pretty spectacular,” he said. “In Belgium, racing is really, really tough. That’s why all the Americans go there. Best junior racing in the world.”

Yaroshevsky competed in Borchtlombeek for a second straight year after a strong showing in 2014.

“Coming back, I knew if I was going to have good results, I was going to have to work hard and play it right,” he said.

He played it to perfection.

“It was a surprise,” he said. “It definitely surprised a lot of the locals, too, when an American won.”

Yaroshevsky said he brings the same competitive spirit to the running trails as he does to road races.

But he admits there’s less pressure.

“Getting time off the bike is really nice to reboot,” he said. “I get back on the bike in November, and it’s nice to have a fresh start compared to the never-ending grind.”