Para Newcomer Bryan Larsen Pumped For His World Championships Debut
by Paul D. Bowker
Bryan Larsen trains in Paris for the UCI Para-cycling Track World Championships. (Photo: Casey Gibson)
The Team USA dream began for Bryan Larsen 20 years ago. He was 12 years old and just starting to race in bike events.
That’s why making the U.S. para-cycling track world championships team this fall was such a big deal for the former able-bodied pro. Larsen is one of 11 American riders who will be racing in the UCI Para-cycling Track World Championships on Oct. 20-23 near Paris.
“It’s been, I don’t know, two decades in the making here,” Larsen, who is making his world championships debut, said.
“It’s kind of always this far-off thing to be able to put a USA jersey on and race a world championship of any kind, of any sort,” he added.
That dream nearly disappeared in a race more than three years ago in San Rafael, California. Larsen, who raced professionally for a Dutch road cycling team, suffered a severe crash during a 2019 criterium race. The crash caused severe damage to his brachial plexus and affected his mobility in an arm and a hand.
Eventually he was able to return to the sport, but now as a para-cyclist.
“Having for a period of time thinking that (bike racing) was gone, that the dream was dead, it’s kind of cool to revitalize a dream like that,” Larsen said. “Pulled me back to my youth and my excitement for the sport, that’s for sure.”
Larsen blasted back onto the U.S. para-cycling radar in September when he won the 4-kilometer pursuit and 10K scratch races for his MC5 classification at the USA Cycling Para-cycling Track National Championships at the Velo Sports Center in Carson, California. Those wins earned him a spot on the world championships team for France.
Larsen was back on the 250-meter track at Carson for the world team’s preparation camp in late September and early October.
“Being in a select roster when we know the level of expectation and the level of execution required was both daunting and inspiring,” Larsen said. “I mean, riding with all these athletes who are basically training faster than I see most people race, it was really inspiring.”
Among those fellow world team athletes are Shawn Morelli, a four-time Paralympic medalist and 12-time world champion, and Chris Murphy, a two-time Paralympian who helped Larsen during his transition from surgical recovery to Para-cyclist. The U.S. coaches are all Olympians, including head coach Sarah Hammer-Kroening, a four-time Olympic medalist.
“This will be his first international event as a Para-cyclist, so he’s excited,” Ian Lawless, director of U.S. Paralympics Cycling, said of Larsen. “He came with a ton of knowledge and experience, and then it’s just getting up to speed on the Para-cycling specific aspects of the sport, which he was able to do pretty quickly.”
Larsen said he and Murphy talked via social media before his accident in 2019 and they developed a closer relationship as Larsen pondered his life post-accident.
“Chris has been an ally, he’s been a friend,” Larsen said. “He’s been a mentor, to be honest, with this whole ordeal. Strip away worlds and all this other stuff, I mean, just being someone who’s an advocate for impaired people around the world and just kind of helping them twine their path.”
The path for Larsen and Murphy could include racing together. Both are in the MC5 classification.
“We’re lucky that, in some essence, we kind of complete each other,” Larsen said. “He’s kind of the sprinter, more of the sprinter version of me, and I’m more of the endurance version of him. I’ve been lucky that we haven’t really had to race against each other too many times, so we can stay friends.”
During his transition to para-cycling, Larsen has worked remotely for Medtronic, a global company focused on medical technology equipment. Both Larsen and Ashley Scott, his partner in Windsor, California, have biomedical engineering backgrounds.
“Our degrees kind of empowered us to understand my injury and my recovery process, probably better than most people, just because we understood what was kind of happening,” Larsen said.
That process led Larsen back to the bike and now to his first world championships at France’s National Velodrome in Montigny-le-Bretonneux, the home of the French Cycling Federation and the venue for track cycling at the 2024 Olympics and Paralympics. He’ll compete in the omnium, which consists of flying 200-meter, 4K individual pursuit, scratch and kilo events.
The trip will be Larsen’s second visit to Paris, following a vacation there with his parents as a youth. And it’ll be just his second time competing on an indoor wooden velodrome; Carson was his first.
“Even just riding a new track is kind of cool and exciting,” Larsen said. “As much as it looks the same on paper, everyone knows that tracks are all different. So I’m excited to see, what does that mean?”