Talent ID Camp alumni take national mountain bike titles


by Mary Topping
Carson Benjamin takes the win at Mountain Bike Nationals! Photo by PB Creative
Carson Benjamin takes the win at Mountain Bike Nationals! Photo by PB Creative
Carson Benjamin arrived at the Mammoth Mountain, California rider staging area pretty jazzed. The 18 year-old had just downed his third cup of coffee, one component of his standard pre-race procedure.
That afternoon he realized his best result against the strongest field he’d ever encountered: first place in the junior men’s 15-18 short track cross country category 1 race at the 2015 USA Cycling Mountain Bike National Championships.
Although from sea-level in San Rafael, California, the Mammoth Mountain thin air struck no fear in his heart. In 2013 he studied high-altitude mountain biking at a USA Cycling Talent ID Camp in Colorado.
Hours before Benjamin’s victory, 14-year-old Nolan Jenkins had entered the same staging area. He greeted the “frenemies” he’d just met at a 2015 camp. Then 15 minutes later he won the Stars-and-Stripes jersey in the junior men’s 9-14 short track cross country race. He went on to score another jersey of honor in the 13-14 cross country event.
These young men are just two of many junior cyclists who combined desire and motivation with a Talent ID camp experience and became champions.
The five to six day Talent ID camps provide a safe and healthy environment for young athletes to progress and thrive in cycling. Riders who show potential for future success may later be selected for international competition and/or a national Talent ID camp. The Colorado Springs camp is one of 13 camps across nine states and three disciplines in 2015, each following a similar formula but offering unique qualities based on location.
Participants at one of USA Cycling's road Talent ID Camps
Participants at one of USA Cycling's road Talent ID Camps
To be eligible for this adventure, juniors of racing age 14 to 19 will ideally possess some racing experience. But riders at different levels can benefit. Benjamin attended camp after one year of mountain bike racing; Jenkins, after about three. In addition to mountain biking, riders can choose from road and track camps, all managed by USA Cycling certified coaches. Guests like former downhill world champion Myles Rockwell offer specialized advice.
Mountain bike camp manager Benjamin Sharp says the secret to profiting from the program is to behave like a sponge while seeking challenge on the trails. “There is a lot of information to be gleaned and the most astute and attentive participants gain the most,” he said.
Jenkins and Benjamin soaked in wisdom of the technical and non-technical varieties.

Making forever frenemies
The racing bug bit Jenkins at about age 11 when he watched Todd Wells and others race by on course at the Leadville Trail 100 MTB challenge. Their high speed turned his head.
“I thought, ‘I totally want to do that one day,’” the Colorado Springs resident said, and started fixing number plates to his bike.
a mountain bike Talent ID Camp in Colorado
a mountain bike Talent ID Camp in Colorado
At the Colorado Springs camp, Jenkins immersed himself in the shared fun and learning atmosphere, practicing drills and bumping over rocky trails with his future competitors. He reaped rewards from instruction in cornering and carrying speed through turns. He also valued the targeted insights coaches offered in a positive manner.
One day’s agenda included an uphill time trial where the campers cheered for each other. That training translated to well-paced hill-climbing efforts that helped him earn the two championship jerseys now hanging on a wall in his room at home.
In the nationals 9-14 short track contest, a crash right after the start left him at the back of the pack. “Using all the skills [I learned] to get back up to the front was really good,” he recalled.
He caught the leader after a few laps and then surged ahead and opened a small gap. “Even though I was hurting so much I just tried to open it up as much as I could,” he said, “and be as smooth as possible on the downhill.” Jenkins pulled off a solo win, as he would in the cross country race.
Riding with his current and future competition in Colorado Springs left him hungry for even more start lines. “Now when I go to races or nationals, it’s really nice because I can talk to them and it’s a lot of fun. You don’t feel like a total outsider.”
Scaling a steep learning curve
A recreational mountain biker before starting high school, at age 14 Benjamin began his freshman year at Sir Francis Drake High as a member of its legendary mountain bike team.
Road camp participants focus on some strength exercises
Road camp participants focus on some strength exercises
After a year on the team Benjamin jumped on the chance to go to USA Cycling Talent ID Camp. “I thought it would be a good opportunity to get a little bit outside my comfort zone,” he said. He was so right.
“It was probably one of the most difficult weeks of my life, especially coming from sea level,” he said, citing the company of kids used to riding and racing at altitude.
“We don’t have very difficult or technical trails in Marin County, so going to Colorado where there are lots of technical trails was kind of a shock,” he explained. “I realized I had a lot of catching up to do to my peers in terms of bike handling ability if I wanted to be competitive at races against them. I’ve been working on it since.”
Those skills came to the fore in his short track nationals race where, as he described it, the single track descent had become a tricky six inch rut bordered with loose dirt and dust.
After a good start he bridged up to the leader from a small chase group. On the descent the leader lost traction. Benjamin, who had been focusing on clearing the downhill cleanly each lap, rushed on. Still pedaling furiously on the final lap, it wasn’t until an official opened the end of the line barricade gate that he realized he’d won off the front.
That win was the culmination of years of hard work and attention to another topic discussed at Talent ID camp: race nutrition. The California resident left Colorado Springs in 2013 armed with practical advice he still uses; he didn’t say if that included coffee.
Assuming Benjamin discovered that preparation weapon later on, that’s further evidence of how Talent ID camp teaches a valuable life skill: seek continuous learning opportunities. Then put the knowledge to work in the pursuit of dreams.
There are two more opportunities in 2015 to attend a Talent ID Camp!  
Campers learn a variety of important skills needed in a bike race.
Campers learn a variety of important skills needed in a bike race.
There are still three camps left in 2015. Better hurry though – two of them begin next week!
Aug. 9-14: ROAD CAMP at the University of California (Davis, Calif.)
Aug. 9-14: ROAD CAMP at Midwestern University (Wichita Falls, Texas)
Read more about the camps, and how to register, here.
Financial aid for the Talent ID Camps may be available for those who qualify from the USA Cycling Development Foundation's Edmund R. Burke Travel and Training Grant. To support a youngster interested in advancing his or her skills in cycling, make a donation to the foundation.

This Article Updated August 9, 2015 @ 04:41 AM For more information contact: