Ask David Lombardo to describe himself in three words, and the first one comes quickly: "Shy."
If you watch the Crystal Lake teen race on a cyclocross bike, aggressively taking on obstacles and opponents, that's the last thing you'd expect him to say.
David LombardoAge: 16
Hometown: Crystal Lake
School: Prairie Ridge High School
Who inspires you? My dad, Christopher Lombardo. He's been riding for 20 years, and he knows what to do in all situations.
What's on your iPod? A lot of O.A.R., Umphrey's McGee and Ben Folds.
What book are you reading? I just finished "1984" by George Orwell.
The three words that best describe you? Shy. Humble. Motivated.
"On a bike, I'm just going. Off the bike, I'm normally pretty shy," said 16-year-old David, the reigning Illinois cyclocross champ in the 15- to 18-year-old age group. "Biking just makes me happy. It's always a booster. I'm more confident."
David also won the Chicago Cyclocross Cup for his age group in December, and in January he placed seventh in his age group at the USA Cycling Cyclo-Cross Nationals.
"I wanted top five, which I felt I could have done, but I had a crash, and it put me back to 10th," he said. "Then I had to chase and I wasn't able to catch up."
Cyclocross is a form of bicycle racing that features competitors traveling over various forms of terrain -- from pavement to wooded trails to mud -- while navigating obstacles such as 3-foot-wide barriers.
"You either jump off (the bike) and run over them, or really good people, the pros, can bunny-hop them. I can only bunny-hop one; I've never tried two," David said.
David has matured from a strong junior racer into one of the state's top Category 3 riders, said Loch Miwa, president of the Illinois Cycling Association. Categories go from 4B to 4A all the way up to 1.
"I've watched his progress as a cyclocross racer over the last three seasons," Miwa wrote via email. "His combination of serious training, good coaching, and a lot of natural talent will leave a lot of room for continued improvement."
It was David's father, Christopher Lombardo, who first introduced him to the sport of cycling, starting with mountain biking and then cyclocross. The sport has turned father and son into true buddies, as well as teammates on the Verdigris-Village cyclocross team.
"It's made us a lot closer than I thought we would be," David said. "Every weekend we're with each other going to races, always riding together. (My dad) does all the same things I do. I learned from him; he's taught me pretty much everything I know."
David's mother, Tammy, and his older sister, Danielle, a 19-year-old student at Winona State University in Minnesota, are not into biking, but the family as a whole is very close, he said.
David took part in his first mountain bike races when he was just 4, tagging along for his father's races. David got hooked on cyclocross as soon as he took it up in the seventh grade, following his father's lead.
"It's so much fun," he said. "The atmosphere there is 'let's go and have fun.' It's really laid back."
The races themselves, however, are anything but laid back.
"It can get violent. In a sprint, you could be running against somebody, fighting for a position," David said. "Normally I don't try to get ahead right away. I normally like to be on the group's wheels, and then sprint ahead of them and see if I can get a gap. If not, I come back and attack again."
David trains five to six times a week, often with his father, at places such as Veteran Acres Park in Crystal Lake or on trails in Barrington, Bull Valley and Marengo.
Christopher Lombardo, who works as a tool and dye maker, won the state championship in his age group twice, the last time in 2009. He placed 12th at nationals in his age group in January.
He said he was careful not to force his passion for cycling on his son and encouraged David to play baseball when he was younger so he could be with his peers.
"In the sixth grade, that's when really you could see something happening there. As a parent, I didn't want to put that kind of pressure on him, but I could see something (in him), and so did a lot of other people," he said. "It's great. I'm grateful we spend so much time together."
David made Category 3 two years ago and started racing against adults, even winning events in Carpentersville and Wauconda.
His father credits David's success to the teen's great work ethic.
"He always wants to ride and to go hard," he said. "I never have to hound him at all to get his workouts in -- that's a big reason why he's developed so well. He likes doing it and putting in the hard work that it takes. He understands the sacrifice of it also."
Vince Boyer, who co-owns Village CycleSport in Elk Grove Village, Arlington Heights and Barrington, said David is not just talented but is also very disciplined.
"He's a stud athlete, that's for sure," said Boyer, whose business co-sponsors the team with Tim Boundy of Verdigris Custom Homes Inc. "He's really good. He's a very aggressive, strong athlete, and he's a super nice kid, very humble."
The cyclocross season runs from August to January, and David said his next goal is to do well enough to be recruited for the two-week EuroCross Camp, which last year was held in Belgium.
"In Europe, that's where the racing is really good, and you get to experience different style of cyclocross," David said.
Away from cyclocross, David is a solid B average at Prairie Ridge High School in Crystal Lake, where he ran track his freshman and sophomore years. He said he definitely plans to go to college but that his school of choice must meet one special requirement.
"For me to really look at any college, it's going to have to have a cyclocross team," he said.
As for his future, David hopes it will involve cycling. "If I could do something in cycling and just make that my living, that would be awesome," he said.
• Elena Ferrarin wrote today's column. She and Kimberly Pohl always are looking for Suburban Standouts to profile. If you know of someone whose story just wows you, please send a note including name, town, email and phone contacts for you and the nominee to firstname.lastname@example.org or call our Standouts hotline at (847) 608-2733.
Fierce: Cyclist races with his father