The successful cycling Chen sisters
Aine and Eire Chen earn podium finishes at USA Cycling Nationals
Carmel Valley sisters Eire and Aine Chen had breakaway performances at this year’s USA Cycling Amateur Road National Championships in Roanoke, Va. and the Track Nationals in Breinigsville, Pa. Aine, an 11-year-old seventh grader at Pacific Trails Middle School, won the national title both on the Road and on the Track, while Eire, a 14-year-old freshman at Canyon Crest Academy, placed third in one of the title races on the road and earned fifth place on the track.
As the winner at Nationals, Aine got the coveted stars and stripes jersey. She will have the honor to wear that jersey for the entire year at the races, like wearing a championship medal all year long.
Big sister Eire started cycling eight years ago but has been around the sport her whole life as her dad Maison is a cyclist: “I started on a road bike and I fell in love with the sport,” she said.
Eire had been playing soccer but quit to focus on the bike. She started riding at the San Diego Velodrome at Balboa Park— admittedly freaked out at first, as it is steeply banked and it was pretty scary to turn, “It felt like you were going to slide off.” Eventually, she became part of a large community of riders that supported and challenged her.
“That really put me in a place where I wanted to start training really hard and beat as many juniors in that community,” Eire said. ”That started everything.”
She made lots of friends and kept going to races, branching out into many different cycling disciplines like mountain biking, cyclocross, road cycling, track and gravel. She has done long distance races such as this year’s Belgian Waffle Ride in San Marcos. The Chen sisters both did the Wafer, an 80-mile race, and Eire took second with Aine right behind her in third in the women 18 and under category.
In addition to the velodrome, on the road Eire goes on rides on San Dieguito Road, the SR-56 Bike Path, Elfin Forest, Fiesta Island, and up and down the coast.
Eire has been competing at USA Nationals for the last four years, often placing in the top five.
“It’s been really fun to go to the races because you get to see a bunch of people from a bunch of different states and they are all the best in their states,” she said.
This past year both she and Aine joined Virginia’s Blue Ridge Twenty24, a professional team with a junior development program that has supported and helped coach them throughout this racing season.
While Eire has tried all the different disciplines, the criterium is definitely her favorite one. The criterium is a loop race on a road, with corners that you have to take “nicely” to keep your momentum and speed up. “It’s sometimes scary to go around the corner because you’re going really fast and you’re in close proximity to people around you,” she said. “It can be exhilarating, almost like a rollercoaster.”
The criterium is also fun due to the excitement of the crowd, cheering you on as you make the loops. At Road Nationals, she took third in the 15-16 Criterium Race. “Number one is always the goal but top three is amazing,” Eire said. “I’m just really happy about that.”
At the Track Nationals, she placed fifth in a very competitive race on an outdoor rack on a very hot day. Team Twenty24 was doing everything it could to keep its athletes cool on a sweltering day: “I did an ice bath which was something new and something very freezing,” said Eire.
As the racing season is over, Eire is going to try something new in her three month off-season—she has joined the cross country team at Canyon Crest Academy and will run with the Ravens until cycling picks up again.
Eire said she is really enjoying being around Aine in competition as her little sister follows in her tracks.
“I love seeing her improve so much, I love seeing when she beats everybody,” Eire said. “She pushes herself to the limit and she’s a super strong racer. She has a bunch of skills at a young age, it’s pretty incredible…She knows how to race.”
Aine did begin young, starting riding at five as she wanted to do whatever Eine was doing: “Once she quit soccer, I also quit soccer.”
Of the many cycling disciplines she likes them all, although she really likes to do cyclocross, where races consist of laps on a natural course on grass or mud with stairs, barriers and obstacles where you sometimes dismount the bike. Aine said it’s not quite the right climate in San Diego for cyclocross (“There’s no mud.” ) so she has focused mainly on road and track racing. As long as she’s going fast, she’s happy.
Aine had been to Nationals before with Eire but she only started racing last year because she was too young to compete. Last year, she placed third in cyclocross and road.
As it was very hot at Road Nationals, she was drinking lots of water and wearing ice vests to keep cool before her race.
The race came down to a fight between her and another girl who had been her main competition throughout the year. Coming into the final corner, she did the longest sprint she has done in a long time and held off the other racer by half a wheel.
“I got really excited because it was my first time winning a national championship,” Aine said of her win in the 11-12 age group. “It’s what I’ve been working for so I was really excited when I won.”
At Track Nationals, Aine competed in the omnium and had three races in one day, two scratch races and a points race with multiple sprints.
Winning this national title was a complete surprise as she doesn’t do track all year long, didn’t know how the competition would stack up and went in with only three weeks of track training. Like her sister said: she knows how to race.
Aine will keep training in the off season, she likes to ride on the 56 Bike Path and loves riding the coast as it stays cool even on hot days. When asked about Olympic ambitions, Aine said she thinks of cycling more like a hobby, not something she would want to make a job. For now, she is just enjoying the ride, especially being alongside Eire.
“She’s really hard working so if she wants to win a race, she’ll work super hard for it, she’ll work every day toward that goal. She’s really determined to get what she wants,” Aine said. “She’s a big role model for me.”
Get the Del Mar Times in your inbox
Top stories from Carmel Valley, Del Mar and Solana Beach every Friday for free.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Del Mar Times.