SPOTLIGHT : Halpern Takes Cycling Head-On : He Sheds Injuries to Qualify for Junior World Trials

Times Staff Writer

Other than speed limits, not much slows down Derryl Halpern and his sleek Eddy Merckx 10-speed bicycle.

Traffic doesn't impede his training rides, as long as there are passing lanes. And slow-moving cars usually yield for the amateur cyclist.

Halpern has paid a price for his aggressive riding. He broke his leg once when a car failed to yield for him, and a twice-broken collarbone and a scarred right arm are the result of other racing mishaps.

But accidents haven't deterred Halpern from competitive cycling. The soft-spoken Northridge teen-ager just shrugs them off.

"Breaking your collarbone, it's painful and all, but you just keep coming back," Halpern said.

In just three years of racing, Halpern, 17, has progressed through the junior ranks (16- to 17-year-olds) of the United States Cycling Federation. An all-around cyclist, he competes in velodrome sprint races as well as the longer 20-kilometer time trials and 40-mile-plus road races.

Halpern begins two weeks of competition this weekend against 50 of the nation's top cyclists in the Junior World Final Trials at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo. Halpern will try to qualify for one of 10 spots at the Junior World Championships in Bergamo, Italy, July 12-19.

On his way to the World Junior Trials, Halpern competed against 500 other junior cyclists for one of five spots from the USCF's largest region, which encompasses Central and Southern California and Southern Nevada. He placed second in a recent series of races in the Santa Clarita Valley to finish among the top 1% of the region's junior racers.

"I'm kind of nervous because I've never been up there," Halpern said of the World Junior Trials. "But we have the biggest district and some of the best racers so I don't think I'll do bad."

Halpern races for the Rainbow Sports Bicycling Team, a Winnetka Park club supervised by Jim Miller, a City recreation and parks director. Halpern, one of 110 riders who train with the club, is the most successful junior to emerge from its ranks.

By qualifying for the World Junior Trials, Halpern earned an automatic berth in the USCF nationals in road racing, time trials and track races. Despite the berth, Halpern competed in and placed third in last weekend's 72-mile USCF District Road Race Championships. The USCF time trial competition will be in Denver on July 7 followed by the national road races on July 11, also in Denver.

After breaking his leg his first year of racing, Halpern earned berths to the nationals in all three events last year. His 16th place in a 72-mile road race was his best finish at the nationals.

Halpern's rapid rise in the USCF is most notable because of his youth and little national racing experience. In addition, his compact 5-6, 130-pound frame is not typical of successful cyclists. But Halpern has made his small size, combined with a competitive spirit, work to his advantage.

In the longer road races, Halpern's small frame helps him power through the hills. He relies on endurance and aggressive sprint finishes.

"The secret of why his kick is better than others is that he has a strong initial kick, what we call getting out of the saddle, and he can hold that speed through the finish," said Steve Ball, Halpern's coach.

Halpern's aggressiveness and strong kick was evident in last year's USCF national track qualifying race. From his front-runner position, Halpern climbed out of his racing saddle, and sprinted the entire 330-meter velodrome to earn a silver medal and qualify for nationals.

"I'm naturally aggressive in sporting events and I just have the will to win," Halpern said. "I've only dropped out of two races and both times I crashed."

When not being clocked in a time trial, however, the Granada Hills High senior gives every appearance of a typical teen-ager--braces flashing from an easy smile, his first whiskers scattered across his face. His laid-back demeanor is more befitting of someone who surfs Malibu rather than loops the Encino Velodrome.

"Off the bike, he's pretty relaxed and mellow," Ball said. "But when he gets on the bike it's a whole different world out there. He's aggressive, but he's also smart. He knows when to use his aggressiveness. That's very important."

Halpern's training regimen consists of 200 miles a week, much of it over hilly terrain.

His ability to come back from injury has also been a factor in his success. He averages a broken bone for each of his three years of racing. His worst crash was in last September's Mayor's Cup Bike Race in Hollywood when he toppled over a fallen rider, broke his collarbone and cut his ear.

Regardless of Halpern's finishes in Colorado Springs, he will be busy racing most of the summer. Despite meeting his preseason goals by qualifying for both the World Junior Trials and USCF nationals, he is determined to work on all aspects of his racing.

"He has some of the physical attributes, but mainly he works hard and takes it very seriously," Ball said. "To make the World Trials as a 16-year-old is very good."

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